Government Broadcasting

BBG Chairman: customer-oriented, platform-neutral

This week, Walter Isaacson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, gave some remarks (PDF, 41kb) at the celebration of sixty years of Radio Free Europe. Walter, with his long history in the media business and the author of biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Einstein.

Walter acknowledged the newly appointed Board’s launch of a year-long comprehensive review to remake the BBG into “a great virtual global news service” that would provide reliable reporting across mediums and with social media input from the global audience. This is similar to the trend of major media to incorporate readers and viewers into news development and dissemination. The goal, Walter said, is to become “customer-oriented” but “platform-neutral.”

Some key excerpts of his remarks are below

We have to be able to build online communities with our audience that actively engage them on issues of mutual concern and interest. In some ways, this may be yet another paradigm shift in U.S. international broadcasting, because not only will we be disseminating news, handing it down or broadcasting it, we will be sharing news.

We will facilitate the conversations that don’t just disseminate but that share information, news and ideas. And it will be a very tricky mix that our partners in the commercial world have not yet mastered, which is how to merge great journalism with, also, the sharing of communities and peer-to-peer sharing of information.

So we will not only be broadcasters, but facilitators of sharing networks of information, and we will have to marry our role of journalists to this new age so that we can make sure that this is a way for people to have accurate and credible information, something that is not at the moment the strong suit of the Internet.

In addition, I think we can create – and Enders has been thinking through this idea as well – a great virtual global news service that can provide reliable reporting for every medium, for every forum, in every channel, including those created by us but also channels and information services created by our audience, by our listeners, by various people around the world who want to do blogs, who want to do their own feeds. But they also want to know what really happened. And our news service can provide them with the information that they can disseminate in their own social networks.

It’s sometimes said that our international broadcasting is in a difficult position because by law and by tradition it’s tasked with two separate missions that might conflict: first of all, covering the news with the highest journalistic standards and secondly, being a part of America’s public diplomacy by accurately conveying its policies and values to the world. Let me say to you, my fellow journalists, that I will stress and we will stress the primacy of the first of these missions, our mission of being credible journalists, because it is the best – in fact, it’s the only way to carry out the second mission. You can’t do it unless you’re credible and telling the truth, and in the end, the truth is on our side. Credibility is the key to all that we do.

Alan Heil is here, is he? I saw him – I read his book, and it’s when I first read this quote, but it’s something all of you must know by heart, the very first quote, the very first sentence of the very first Voice of America radio broadcast in 1942: “The news may be good, the news may be bad, but we shall tell you the truth.”

Download the complete remarks here (PDF, 41kb), which includes a brief introduction by RFE/RL President, Jeff Gedmin.

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