Meet Radio Free Europe's Tech Justice League

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is turning to Silicon Valley to help revitalize Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America. A new innovation commission includes big names from Facebook, Twitter, TED, and the media.

The United States government has quietly gathered a collection of tech and media superstars to advise on propaganda and public diplomacy. Just think of the new Broadcasting Board of Governors' Commission on Innovation as the Justice League of Public Diplomacy—the commission's unpaid members include Twitter and Facebook's cofounders, Steve Jobs's biographer, media and foreign policy gurus, and high-ranking muckety-mucks from all aspects of cultural life.

Members of the commission met at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Washington, D.C. bureau on February 10 to discuss how changes in digital media may create new audiences in "specific markets." So who is on the board, exactly? Attendees at the February meeting included Walter Isaacson (himself a former chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors), foreign policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter, RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser, Twitter cofounder Evan Williams, Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, media expert and Twitter standby Clay Shirky, Hari Sreenivasan of PBS Newshour, and officials from Google Ideas, TED, the Knight Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. State Department, ONE, the Mozilla Foundation, the Personal Democracy Forum, New York's Museum of Modern Art, and Civic Commons.

Williams' involvement is somewhat surprising; at a The Atlantic symposium attended by this journalist in October 2011, Williams publicly expressed unease at Twitter's close ties to the State Department. The BBG's upper echelons mainly consist of career appointees who got their start in the Cold War and Clinton eras; although they have made amazing strides into the web age, they are still hobbled somewhat by institutional inertia. The commission is an attempt to change that.

The Innovation Commission has an ever-changing membership; participants at the group's first meeting in September 11 included Randi Zuckerberg, former federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, and Kiva president Premal Shah. Members are tasked with advising the Broadcasting Board of Governors on their ongoing transition from radio broadcasts to Internet content; the BBG is responsible for, among others, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America. Although shortwave transmissions still go out, web radio and web content appear to be the BBG's future outside of exceptional cases such as Burma/Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

Although those names are most associated with the Cold War, BBG networks and brands are extremely relevant to residents of many countries today. Ongoing intelligence and cyberwarfare efforts regularly take place against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Just this week, suspected operatives from Uzbekstani intelligence attempted to phish information on RFE's Uzbek readers through a cloned website.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter and Google+.

[Image: Flickr user SovabodaIT]

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  • Prime Number

    God knows Radio Free Europe can use all the help they can get.  Everyone knows about Walter Isaacson now after his famous book about Steve Jobs.  But a little googleing on Steve Korn shows that he was most likely fired from CNN 12 years ago ( and has pretty much been selling shoes since then before landing the top spot at RFE (  Not the best media chops.  As President of RFE he has made repeated blunders that reveal he is ageist and sexist.  If he makes a racist remark he will hit the trifecta ( I am glad someone is showing "old white guys" how the Internet works. And Bette Boomer sounds like an RFE or BBG insider tooting their own horn.

  • Bette Boomer

    We are optimists about using the power of free speech to communicate values our country was found upon. Broadcast leaders challenging the powerhouse  tech thinkers & doers of Silicon Valley to revitalize this medium for freedom  is another example of how capitalism works for positive change. This is showing the world how to do good things while doing well.