Editorial: Foreign Service

The media landscape is awash with TV and digital network launches. But one particular new entry caught our eye: a State Department-backed satellite network in Nigeria called Arewa24. As The New York Times recently reported, it is aimed at countering the corrosive effects of radical group Boko Haram.

TV is a central tool of societies of every political persuasion, so it’s logical and laudable that the U.S. government would opt for this kind of diplomatic mission. Offering viewers alternatives to the hateful messages and recruiting efforts of radical groups like Boko Haram (which has claimed responsibility for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls) certainly has merit. Plus, the goal of the net, whose launch cost a reported $6 million, is to showcase locally produced fare and a healthy amount of kids content.

There are many limitations and more than a few potential pitfalls of the effort, however. Access to power grids and satellite systems is spotty. Then there is the larger question of whether allowing the government to program TV networks— with specific political intent—is a good idea. We have seen enough of the dark side of propaganda to say no, it often is not. “More independent media voices in Nigeria are a value-added,” said a representative for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees government-supported independent international media outlets.

In some cases, it’s worth spending an amount equal to a fighter jet or batch of missiles in the hope that the U.S. can spread messages of freedom and opportunity without firing any actual shots.