On Thursday, February 11, 2016, the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University hosted the debate: “How Can the United States Win the Information War?” Debaters included Matt Armstrong, Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors; David Ensor, Former Director, Voice of America; Alberto Fernandez, Vice President, Middle East Media Research Institute; and Jeffrey Gedmin, Former President and CEO, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Jeff Cunningham, Board of Trustee at the McCain Institute and Professor of Practice at Arizona State University, served as moderator.
Matt Armstrong stressed the importance of understanding that the isolationism that existed between the United States and other countries during the cold war is no longer in place. This is a global environment and what happens in the United States influences countries around the world and what happens there influences the United States. Americans need to pay attention to foreign policy and how it’s communicated around the world. What the U.S. government says it is doing needs to align with what it is actually doing.
David Ensor argued that the first step to winning the information war is to take the problem more seriously. Whether it’s broadcast journalism or Hollywood films, Americans need to evaluate the information put out into the world for consumption and make sure it aligns with the values the United States tries to promote.
He supports considering the re-installment of the United States Information Agency, which provided the official views of the government to the public in other nations.
Alberto Fernandez was a staunch supporter of recreating the United States Information Agency. He stressed how important it is to U.S. interests to have an entity within the U.S. government whose job it is to advocate for the United States. A representative of this agency would ideally be a part of cabinet meetings and have access to the top levels of government. Creating such an agency would treat the information war with the seriousness and passion adversaries of the United States do.
Realizing the need to be careful of censorship, Jeffrey Gedmin recommended Americans take stock of the information that they are putting out to the world. Americans need to consider thoughtfulness and restraint in regards to what is put out for consumption. Not only do some cultures around the world do not like the dreadful, gratuitous, violence and dehumanization of people that are often portrayed in Hollywood films, maybe some Americans want to give it a second thought too. In summary, he stated that the United States has the challenge to get back to the idea that it stands for something, that it is universal, that it is okay to advocate accountable government, pluralism, tolerance, respect for diversity, and that Americans tolerate everything except for hatred and violence that is being promoted.
Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors
Former Director, Voice of America
Vice President, Middle East Media Research Institute
Former President and CEO, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
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