WASHINGTON -- May 19 -- Kenneth Tomlinson is a very busy man, holding down the board of directors chairs at two US government-connected agencies. While better known outside the Beltway for his role as chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Mr. Tomlinson also oversees the U.S’s official propaganda arm—the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). He has served as chair and member since August 2002. |
As chair of BBG, Tomlinson oversees all “U.S. government and government sponsored (non military) broadcasting,” reaching more than 100 million people each week. Among the outlets run by BBG are the Voice of America (which Tomlinson used to run), Radio and TV Marti (broadcasting to Cuba), and a host of Middle East services, including Radio Sawa, Alhurra (“a commercial-free Arabic language satellite TV channel”) and Radio Farda (aimed at Iran’s Persian-language audience). Tomlinson sees the U.S. government international media effort as “our most effective means of public diplomacy aboard and a critical component of the Global War on Terror.” (http://www.bbg.gov/_bbg_
Tomlinson’s choice for CPB president--Patricia Harrison, the Acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs--is also playing a major Bush Administration role in shaping the U.S. global media (and news) apparatus. As reported May 1, 2005 by the New York Times, Mr. Tomlinson “has made clear to the board” that he wants Ms. Harrison, who is also a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, to replace Kathleen Cox (who was terminated by Mr. Tomlinson and his colleagues after only serving a few months). Ms. Harrison has worked closely with Tomlinson’s BBG to develop the administration’s post-9/11 “Public Diplomacy” strategy.
But the efforts of Mr. Tomlinson and Ms. Harrison to actively shape public perception of the US abroad are exactly the wrong qualifications to lead CPB. CPB is not supposed to promote the official position of the U.S. government. It’s role is to support public TV and radio’s efforts to provide serious journalism, in-depth opinion, and a wide-range of cultural and community programming. Yet Ms. Harrison’s expertise is clearly focused on the manipulation of public opinion. As she noted before Congress, “[M]edia in all of its forms, from the Internet to print and broadcast, is an important component of public diplomacy.” She has said that “[T]elevision and video products … are … powerful strategic tools for bringing America’s foreign policy message to worldwide audiences.”
In testimony before the House International Relations Committee on August 19, 2004, Ms. Harrison spoke of the post-9/11 government plan to use “all the tools of technology” … to … “increase understanding for American values, policies and initiatives.” This work has included strong U.S. financial and technical support to produce programming, including “documentary productions” and what she calls “good news stories on reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan….” She described how the U.S. is “helping Arab and Muslim journalists produce balanced reports and documentaries.” Using services similar to Video News Release distributors in the U.S., Ms. Harrison said the government is working with the NewsMarket service to help distribute “our products to more than 2,000 broadcasters and news agencies worldwide” (and which “provides routine monitoring and placement reports”). She also talked glowingly of new programs targeted at “youth influencers,” including education ministers, classroom teachers, coaches and parents. (http://mumbai.usconsulate.gov/
In testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two weeks after then Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out the U.S. case for the Iraq war, Tomlinson called it “beyond doubt among the most important statements in the war on terrorism, one that everyone in the world needed to hear.” We now know, of course (and many did then), that Mr. Powell had not real facts--just U.S.-inspired falsehoods--as the basis for his arguments. On the CPB board at the time, Tomlinson’s endorsement illustrates how incapable he is of making independent editorial judgments. CPB is not a government propaganda agency, although surely that is the intention of Mr. Tomlinson and its proposed president Ms. Harrison. Mr. Tomlinson has, to put it kindly, conflated his role as America’s Propagandist-in-Chief with the running of what is supposed to be a non-governmental agency that “most effectively assures the maximum freedom” of public broadcasters. He has spent his time manipulating CPB to advance a narrow ideological agenda. (http://www.iraqwatch.org/government/US/Hearings
Mr. Tomlinson has a serious conflict of interest. He should resign from CPB. Nor should Ms. Harrison be endorsed as the next CPB president. The position requires someone whose background indicates real support for an independent public broadcasting service.
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Broadcasting Board of Governors###