During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe (RFE) broadcast news, information, and U.S. government propaganda to Soviet satellite countries and Radio Liberty (RL) did the same to the Soviet Union. But although the Cold War has been over for 30 years, RFE/RL is still operating.
According to the RFE/RL website,
RFE/RL journalists report the news in 22 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. We provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.
RFE/RL is registered with the IRS as a private, nonprofit Sec. 501(c)3 corporation, and is funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) as a private grantee.
We rely on our networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information in 26 languages and 22 countries. RFE/RL also reaches Russian-speaking audiences in 26 countries (12 beyond the RFE/RL region) and globally via the Current Time digital television network. With over 600 full-time journalists, 750 freelancers, and 20 local bureaus, RFE/RL is one of the most comprehensive news operations in the world.
RFE/RL journalists and experts are a unique source of information about many of the world’s political hot spots. We also host briefings and special events in Washington, D.C., and Prague.
Our journalists are on the front lines in the fight for media freedom in their countries and often put themselves at great risk to do their jobs.
The budget of RFE/RL is $124 million a year. The USAGM also funds — courtesy of U.S. taxpayers — the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). Its mission is “to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”
A new president of RFE/RL was just named. Jamie Fly, currently the director of the German Marshall Fund’s Future of Geopolitics and Asia programs, formerly worked in the National Security Council and the Defense Department during the George W. Bush presidency; was the executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI); and is a contributor to the Weekly Standard, a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); and was an intern for the U.S. Senate, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the American Embassy in London. He was also a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute. In other words, Fly is a thoroughgoing neoconservative.
Writing for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Helle C. Dale, the Heritage Foundation’s senior fellow in public diplomacy, hails the appointment of Fly as “the beginning of a new era in U.S. international broadcasting.” His selection “bodes well for the mission and for management of the Prague-based media operation.” The USAGM is “part of the strategic toolkit of U.S. foreign policy and should prioritize its resources accordingly.”
A few months ago, Dale expressed disdain for the Trump administration’s budget proposal to cut the budget for the USAGM by 15 percent. She now laments that “management under current CEO John Lansing (who did not go through Senate confirmation) has gone downhill, with scandal after scandal rocking the agency, including Lansing’s top aide, Haroon Ullah, defrauding the U.S. government of tens of thousands of dollars.”
Nevertheless, Dale looks for a “new beginning” for the USAGM if Congress moves forward with “the nomination of a new chief executive officer to lead the agency.” She points out that “President Donald Trump more than a year ago nominated documentary filmmaker Michael Pack for the job of CEO” and says that “senators need to move without delay to get Pack’s confirmation hearing under way.”
Typical of most conservatives who preach the Constitution and limited government but not at the expense of their conservative agenda, Dale never once questions the legitimacy of RFE/RL or the USAGM.
There are some serious reservations that Americans should have about the USAGM and its work.
Is it the proper function of government to fund journalists and broadcasting? Isn’t that what the government does in China, North Korea, Cuba, and other authoritarian countries? Does the United States’ having the “right” kind of government make everything okay? If it is a legitimate function of the U.S. government to fund journalists and broadcasting in foreign countries, then it certainly must be a legitimate function of the U.S. government to fund journalists and broadcasting in the United States — and not just the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). But once it is accepted that the government can legitimately fund journalists and broadcasting, no reasonable or logical argument can be made against the government’s funding child care, education, health care, housing, food, Internet access, electric service, phone service, or almost anything else.
Does the U.S. Constitution authorize the federal government to fund journalists and broadcasting? Does it authorize the federal government to have RFE/RL, the OCB, RFA, the MBN, or the USAGM? Does it authorize the federal government to even have a CPB and fund NPR? Of course it doesn’t. Isn’t it hypocritical for the U.S. government to promote freedom of speech and the rule of law in other countries when it doesn’t follow its own Constitution?
We saw earlier that “RFE/RL journalists report the news in 22 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) “is the world’s biggest NGO specializing in the defense of media freedom, which we regard as the basic human right to be informed and to inform others.” Since 2002, RSF has published the World Press Freedom Index. It “ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists” and “is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country and region.” According to the 2019 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, the United States ranks only 48 out of 180 countries — behind countries such as Costa Rica, Cyprus, Estonia, Ghana, Jamaica, Latvia, Namibia, and Uruguay. Isn’t it hypocritical for the U.S. government to preach that other countries should have a free press when the United States is not even in the top ten when it comes to press freedom?
If American individuals, groups, or organizations want to broadcast news, information, weather, sports, or propaganda to people in foreign countries then they should do it on their own dime.