The following op-ed by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, appeared in this morning’s Orange County Register.  The op-ed discusses the need for strong and effective U.S. international broadcasting to combat propaganda from Vladimir Putin and other repressive regimes around the world.  The Chairman recently returned from a bipartisan trip to Ukraine where he heard first-hand about the importance of U.S. international broadcasting in countering Russian propaganda in eastern Ukraine.

Ed Royce: Combating Putin’s misinformation machine

By Ed Royce / Contributing Writer

“We are not going to cooperate.” That one sentence letter from the director of Russia Today, Moscow’s state-run news agency, to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. international broadcasting, kicked the Voice of America off the AM dial inside Russia. VOA will now have to work around this block.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine is in overdrive, an effort reportedly costing Moscow over $100 million. Television and radio broadcasts, funded and supported by Russia, have circulated conspiracy theories suggesting Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s removal was part of a grand plan by Western powers to suppress Russian minorities. Following Russia’s invasion of Crimea, Putin’s government seized more than a dozen television and radio stations and began to broadcast around-the-clock news and information that was misleading, at best, and hateful incitement at worst.

Elsewhere in the region, Russian media has been promoting secession for a portion of Moldova. In Lithuania, Russian television was suspended for “inciting ethnic hatred and war propaganda.” I recently travelled to eastern Ukraine, where Russian-speaking Ukrainians told me about the depth and breadth of Moscow’s information war against the government in Kiev, and democratic values in general. Putin, the former KGB colonel, is playing for keeps.

Unfortunately, U.S. broadcasters – the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia – are competing against Russia, China, Iran and others with a hand tied behind their back. That’s because the bureaucratic structure over top of these radios, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is badly broken. In this 24/7 era, the BBG meets only once a month to make management decisions. Directives can languish if the Board does not have a quorum, which is often, rendering it “rudderless,” according to the Heritage Foundation. Indeed, then-Secretary Clinton told the Foreign Affairs Committee last year that the BBG is “practically defunct.”

It was not always this way. During the Cold War, U.S. international broadcasting was world class, an inspiration to freedom seekers in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. I know. While visiting East Germany, I heard the appreciation for U.S. efforts to counter Soviet propaganda. Czech dissent-turned-president Vaclav Havel spoke of Radio Free Europe’s power. The world has changed, but not our interest in supporting freedom seekers abroad.

So, the Foreign Affairs Committee passed bipartisan legislation I introduced to reform the BBG and increase the effectiveness of U.S. broadcasts around the world. It makes dramatic changes to the current dysfunctional organization. Ineffective boards are scrapped, and a CEO is empowered to run day-to-day operations.

Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network were established to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies and be “a megaphone for internal advocates of freedom.” These “freedom broadcasters” will keep their names, but consolidate into a private, nonprofit corporation that will facilitate the free flow of information in places without an independent media. Whether it is supporting the young Iranian protesting the regime in Tehran with news about their repressive government, or penetrating North Korea with information about life outside that closed and brutal society, or helping Vietnamese understand the way their government represses religious freedom, these broadcasts can empower citizens to demand basic human rights and other accountability from their governments.

Russia’s propaganda in eastern Europe is just the latest battle in the information war playing out across the globe. It is a struggle the United States is losing, due in large part to the determination of enemies of freedom to shut down the free flow of ideas. But we have done ourselves no favors by burdening international broadcasters with a failed bureaucracy. That has to change.

Repressive governments worldwide are doing all they can to keep their citizens in the dark, manipulating their access to information. Democracy is doomed under those conditions. If done right though, U.S. international broadcasting can decisively undercut the censors and propagandists abroad, helping freedom seekers and strengthening our national security.

Rep. Ed Royce is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.