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Clinton pushes for more broadcasting of pro-US message, raising questions about agency's mission

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Saturday, January 26, 2013: A protester opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi throws a tear gas canister along Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which leads to the Interior Ministry, near Tahrir Square in Cairo. (REUTERS)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the country must do a better job of transmitting a pro-Democracy message around the world to counteract the "extremist jihad narrative."

Clinton made the comments Wednesday as part of her long-awaited Capitol Hill testimony about the fatal terror attack on a U.S. outpost in Libya that included debate on how the country can prevent similar attacks in the Middle East and other regions in political and civil turmoil.

"I think we've abdicated the broadcasting arena both in TV and radio, which are considered kind of old-fashioned media (but) still very important in a lot of these ungoverned, difficult places where we're trying to do business," she said during House testimony. "We have to get our act together."

Clinton took specific aim the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent, lesser-known federal agency that oversees such groups as Voice of American and Radio Free Europe.

The board released a statement in response to the Clinton's comments that focused largely on funding issues, thanked her for highlighting their challenges and applauded the work of its thousands of journalists world-wide.

"The international media environment is flooded with broadcasters sponsored by other countries and by groups whose values differ from those of the United States," the statement read.

"Many of these broadcasters are extraordinarily well funded and none of them has a mandate like the BBG's, bringing unbiased news and information to more than 100 countries in 59 languages -- and on a shrinking budget."

However, members purportedly disagree with the testimony by Clinton, who as the secretary of state serves on the governing board.

Beyond the sting of Clinton saying the agency is in "desperate need of assistance, intervention and change," members argue that messaging is not part of their mission, dating back to the original Voice of America Charter of 1976 that states programs deliver only "accurate, objective and comprehensive news."  

Clinton suggested U.S. messaging efforts were at their best or near best during the Cold War fight against communism and the Soviet Union and that similar efforts are needed now in such places as Egypt and other Arab Spring nations trying to move toward Democracy and in places like northern Mail, which is being overrun by Al Qaeda-linked extremists.

"We communicated with freedom lovers and advocates behind the Iron Curtain," Clinton said. "We did it through media. We did it through our values. I think we've got a similar challenged even though it's a very different world."

Clinton acknowledged before a Senate committee that the U.S. indeed has private networks such as CNN, Fox News and NBC, then restated "but we're not doing what we did during the Cold War. … We need to get back into it."

The BBG's challenge more specifically is competing against such media groups as the Al Jazeera TV network, which is funded in part by the oil-rich nation of Qatar and has a budget that far exceeds BBG's $759 million a year.

BBG members also seem think that Clinton's testimony might have a silver lining. Stations will get more money and Americans might better understand the challenges, including the need to swiftly respond to the shifting geo-political landscape by adding programs in new languages and dropping others.

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