US losing 'information war' to Russia, China?

When it comes to getting political messages out, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee thinks the United States is falling behind other countries.

According to Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), outlets like the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe “are competing against Russia, China, Iran and others with a hand tied behind their back.”

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“That's because the bureaucratic structure over top of these radios, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is badly broken,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Orange County Register.

The latest battle in the “information war” is happening in Ukraine, he wrote, where the U.S. is unable to match the “propaganda machine,” run by Russian President Vladimir Putin. That effort is going into “overdrive,” Royce said.

“Putin, the former KGB colonel, is playing for keeps.”

Meanwhile, the nine-member board overseeing the U.S. broadcasters meets just once a month, has long suffered from vacancies and is often paralyzed by the lack of a quorum, critics say.

In response, Royce and other lawmakers on the Foreign Affairs Committee recently passed a bill to shake up the broadcasters and streamline some of the operations.

The organizational rearrangement has been widely praised, but a separate measure to clarify the focus of the Voice of America has led to fears that the flagship broadcaster could be turned into a propaganda machine no more accurate than those run by regimes in Russia and China. 

The bill would require that the broadcaster’s reporting “is consistent with and promotes the broad foreign policies of the United States.”

Supporters on the committee say that measure is public diplomacy, not propaganda.

“If done right though, U.S. international broadcasting can decisively undercut the censors and propagandists abroad, helping freedom seekers and strengthening our national security,” Royce wrote.