John F. Lansing, Chief Executive Officer and Director of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), testified in front of the U.S. Congress that the Kremlin’s weaponization of information has led to what he calls “the fight of the 21st century.”
Lansing was one of three government witnesses called before the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies for its United States Efforts to Counter Russian Disinformation and Malign Influence hearing on July 10.
“Make no mistake,” said Lansing, in prepared remarks, “We are living through a global explosion of disinformation, state propaganda, and lies generated by multiple authoritarian regimes around the world. The weaponization of information we are seeing today is real.”
However, this threat does not remain unchallenged. Lansing laid out for the subcommittee how USAGM offers an alternative to Russian disinformation with accurate, independent news and information. Examples included the 24/7 Russian-language digital and television network, Current Time, and fact-checking websites Polygraph.info in English and Factograph.info in Russian–all initiatives led by the USAGM networks of the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
Current Time in particular aims to reach Russian speakers globally-not just within the boundaries of Russia-and to inform and engage savvy, younger audiences on social, economic and political issues that state media ignores. This model provides objective news that enables viewers to make informed opinions.
“Russia’s goal is to destroy the very idea of an objective, verifiable set of facts,” explained Lansing to the lawmakers in his oral testimony. “But our impact in Russia is clear.”
In Russia, a nationally-representative 2018 survey found that USAGM content on TV, radio and online was consumed by 7.7 percent of adults each week, or 7.9 million people. Also in 2018, more than half of Current Time’s 520 million video views on social media came from within the Russian Federation.
“Honest and truthful journalism as a catalyst for change represents our best weapon on the information battlefield,” Lansing concluded.
Lansing testified along with two representatives from the U.S. Department of State: Lea Gabrielle, Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center, and Jim Kulikowski, Coordinator for U.S. Assistance to Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia. A second panel featured Dr. Alina Polyakova Director, Global Democracy and Emerging Technology Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and Nina Jankowicz from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Kennan Institute.
[Source: USAGM press release]