Andy Lack, the new CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. international agencies such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, has identified Russia’s propaganda offensive as one of his job’s major challenges, along with the rise of ISIS on social media and Boko Haram.
“We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram, “ Lack said. “But I firmly believe that this agency has a role to play in facing those challenges.”
“We are extremely outraged that the new head of the BBG mentions Russia Today in the same breath as the world’s No.1 terrorist army,” said Margarita Simonyan, Russia Today’s editor-in-chief. “We see this as an international scandal and demand an explanation.”
Lack has a point. Although Russia is a major power, not a terrorist organization, its brutal military offensive against the people of eastern Ukraine and its total censorship of local media violate every international treaty on border security and human rights. Russian intervention is a major challenge to the global order of the 21st century.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia Today spews a vitriolic mix of fiction and psychological manipulation. By eliminating access to other media sources, such as Voice of America and other international government and commercial broadcasters, Russia tries to control the minds of populations in Ukraine and other neighboring countries. All this was recently described by Peter Pomerantsev, a former employee of Russia Today, in Politico magazine.
Equally challenging is Russia’s global television surge, through its global news channel. It now broadcasts in five major languages—English, Russian, Spanish, French and German—hoping to challenge the media dominance of western broadcasters. And a new propaganda website, Sputnik, has become a major vehicle for anti-American propaganda.
Interestingly, the U.S. is not the only country concerned about Russia Today’s expanded reach. China refused to allow Russia access to its airwaves or to broadcast to its population in Chinese.
Lack’s comments, perhaps indelicate but certainly true, have drawn some criticism here at home, and the State Department lost no time distancing itself. But as the incoming CEO of a dysfunctional agency, he has a lot of more important things on his plate. No need to apologize for speaking the truth about Russian propaganda.