Broadcasting Board of Governors – The Eve of Destruction

by The Federalist

On March 7, 2012 the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) plans to mark the 70th anniversary of the Voice of America (VOA) and its 70 years of international broadcasting on behalf of the US Government and the American people.
 
It is a hollow and somewhat hypocritical moment because the BBG and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) minions are the spearhead of the Obama administration’s FY2013 budget proposal to decimate 33% of the VOA’s broadcast operations.
 
No doubt, the BBG/IBB will try to make a spectacle of things.  But it will be the hypocrisy that people will remember most, long after things get wrapped up in the Cohen Building auditorium.  It will less of a celebratory event and more like a death watch.
 
An institution of government like VOA rarely recovers from this kind of decimation.  The effect on employee morale and productivity is likely already noticeable.  People are going through the motions, coming to work, doing their jobs but hardly with the kind of robust enthusiasm of the past when employees knew the mission, understood the mission and knew they were making a substantive contribution to vital US national interests.
 
All of these things are in the past.  Now, the BBG/IBB, enthusiastically embracing bonus-mongering and self-interest, has also embraced a corporate mentality that reduces employees to collateral damage in their grand designs.
 
This is at the center of just about everything that is wrong with this agency and is a potent contributor to the agency’s diminished effectiveness.  These guys (the BBG/IBB) have lost the big picture focus.  They traffic in a whole lot of empty words and phrases that have no meaning in terms of execution of the agency’s mission.  
 
In its effect, these guys are engaged in is a phony sales job with the Congress and the American taxpayers.
 
Anything remotely resembling the demolitions effort represented in the administration’s cuts embraced by the BBG/IBB takes the United States out of any meaningful presence in international broadcasting.
 
If one were to talk directly with the agency’s employees, the message would be this:
 
Make no mistake about it – the effort to reverse this proposed destruction is going to be one, tough fight because of the size and scope of what the BBG/IBB wants to do.  For the purposes of this fight, one has to be of the mindset that you have no friends on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.  Senior officials cannot and will not be of any value in this fight.  They have a different agenda.  There may be those who do not agree with the big rollout of the demolitions project, but they are effectively muzzled and of no use.
 
In order to win this fight for the mission of the agency, you have to be totally committed to it.  That is particularly true for all the employee unions and their representatives.  The employees must do their part as well.  It’s time to step up and not sit back in the shadows hoping that someone else is going to do all the heavy lifting and prevail.
 
This is your last stand and you must think of it that way.  Any substantial success by the BBG/IBB in pulling this off and the days of VOA are numbered.  Forget the Third Floor talk that there is still a place for radio at VOA.  That’s a crock.  There will be no turning back.  The mission will not be rescued.  The agency will be permanently broken and rendered ineffective in the most important strategic demographic there is: the global publics in the arena of international broadcasting.
 
So get with it.  You have to make the case that you’re worth saving.  If you are in denial about what is going on around you, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
 
There is support for you in this fight and those forces are already in motion.  Some are above the radar.  Some are operating below the radar – the ones whose actions and initiatives the agency cannot anticipate or counter.  There are people who don’t like the BBG or the IBB bonus-mongers.  They do have an abiding respect for the agency, its mission and its employees who have been under assault for a long time.  They are motivated to “level the playing field” on your behalf for no personal or professional gain.  And you are lucky to have them on your side.
 
The BBG/IBB is already prepared to lay out and ramp up its justifications for the cuts it is making.  You have to be prepared to counter these arguments effectively.  We are not going to walk through every issue represented by these cuts, but here are some general observations:
 
You can start out with a big one: the world is globalized.  Every part of the world is strategic.  There are a whole lot of global players who view the world that way, even if the BBG/IBB doesn’t.  It’s a chess game with major consequences.  One misstep and you can end up a big-time loser.
 
Start with some good visuals.  Use a map and take that map when you go and pay a visit to people outside the building who have an interest in the issue of US international broadcasting.  People have to see what you’re talking about.  Look at the places/countries that are targeted to be cut.  See who their “neighbors” are.  Look at the strategic trade routes that traverse through these areas, the major ports, bodies of water.  Think of the consequences if these areas are “zoned out.”
 
The BBG/IBB is tone deaf, dumb (really dumb) and intentionally blind to history.  All the places targeted by the BBG/IBB for cuts have history.  Long history.  Some treat the last couple of millennia as if it were yesterday.  You have to know the players and know their history.  They see themselves in an historical context.  The BBG/IBB mindset is inside the Beltway.  You have to look and think globally and demonstrate how the BBG/IBB is on a fool’s errand.
 
We know what the BBG/IBB doesn’t want to do: radio in 14 of 43 VOA languages and other reductions among the grantees.  Let’s take a look at what they do want to be doing.
 
They want to spend $9-million dollars on television to Egypt.  This is supposed to accomplish what?  Anyone in the American government who believes that the Egyptians are interested in seeing things our way needs to do some serious recalibration.  This is another one of those audiences that is lost to the US.  Forget all the Western-media hyped “Arab Spring” nonsense.  The region is embroiled in revolution.  The wind isn’t blowing in the direction of American-style democracy.  The real deal is something else.  The players to be watching are the Egyptian military, a tradition-based, conservative organization and the Muslim Brotherhood, formerly and long-oppressed and now rejuvenated.  These organizations will not go quietly into the night.  They will not turn the country over to some flash mob in the streets of Cairo.  We are likely to see a country guided by its traditional beliefs.  It may be “democratic,” but most assuredly it won’t be passive, particularly with regard to its policy toward Israel.  $9-million dollars is chump change as far as television is concerned.  Some people on the Third Floor believe they can do television cheaply.  In reality, what they are doing is cheap television badly.
 
By the way – Egyptian authorities recently arrested 16 Americans working for non-governmental organizations and charged them with “subversion.”  There’s your “Arab Spring” in Egypt.  They have been spirited out of the country after the US Government paid $300-thousand dollars bail for each one.  Some might look at this as less of bail money and more of a ransom payment.  And it could be the precursor of other things to come.
 
And here’s another thing. VOA reports are calling uprising leaders in Yemen “citizen journalists.”
 
You know what this is?  It’s taking a side in sectarian violence. Glorifying a participant as a “citizen journalist” is a crock.  That person referred to as a “citizen journalist” is an Islamic revolutionary, not a reporter. That’s what’s going on.  Get real.  This kind of “angle” to a story buys a lot of trouble.
 
And buying more trouble is a “Faces of the Fallen” feature being kicked around in the VOA Newsroom regarding the conflict in Syria.  It’s not even an original thought, since the Washington Post has long run such a feature with regard to American military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
But the essential point remains the same as the Yemen “story:” the VOA is taking sides in a sectarian conflict.  The VOA is no longer a neutral observer of events, a balanced chronicler of these events.  In sectarian violence – particularly in the Middle East – there are no winners.  These kinds of conflicts have a long, long shelf life where the name of the game is to get even when the opportunity presents itself.  It has been embedded in Middle East history for well over a thousand years.  It’s a fact.
 
Advocacy in a sectarian conflict comes with consequences.  In the immediate sense, it could endanger agency personnel in the field.  More broadly, it could provoke attacks against other Americans as soft targets for terrorists.
 
What the BBG/IBB is doing is bad, stupid, reckless and irresponsible.
 
We may view certain regimes as despicable and their actions heinous.  But for the work of VOA, the agency must appear outwardly neutral and stick to fair and balanced reporting of events.
 
And then there are those pesky Iranians.  The latest in that saga is the BBG/IBB wants to take the Persian News Network (PNN) program “Parazit” and move it to the VOA New York News Bureau.  This is going to cost money.  How much money remains to be seen.  That’s one issue.  The other issue is: of what value does this program have to the agency’s mission as regards Iran?  Okay, it’s a campy satire program that has gotten the agency some media exposure.  The exposure is over.  Now what?
 
With no disrespect to the people who do the show, the question is: what is this supposed to accomplish?  Yes, people back in Iran – the 6% who may or may not be watching PNN – might be getting a good laugh at some of the things the “Parazit” producers target.  But at the end of the day, things are getting really tense between Iran and the West – and with Israel in particular.  Recent elections in Iran find the hard-liners making substantial gains.  These are the guys who are the most belligerent toward Israel and the West.  The audience that is laughing now may find itself getting in the way of some heavy ordnance and becoming collateral damage.
 
 
So, let’s put a question to the BBG/IBB “brain trust:”
 
Do you think that war with Iran is a good idea?
 
The Iranians play hardball.  They have assets prepositioned all around the globe.  One of their nuclear scientists gets assassinated and then the next thing you see is the Iranians retaliating with their own hit squads going after soft targets of their suspected adversaries, particularly the Israelis.
 
Remember what we talked about some months ago: six minutes to Armageddon.  That’s flight time for an Iranian ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead to reach Israeli territory.  That causes a whole lot of sleepless nights in the higher echelons of the Israeli government in Tel Aviv.  And it probably does the same in Washington, DC if you pay attention to the high-level delegations going back and forth between the two countries.  The Israelis most certainly have a plan in place for a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.  That plan is being revised and refined.  The Israeli government has already told the United States that it won’t be consulted if the plan goes operational.  The only question is when it will be executed.  It’s not even a question of “if.”
 
The point is this – “Parazit” is entertainment.  It isn’t news.  The Iranians aren’t watching PNN for news.  For that they turn to the BBC.  “Parazit” is supposed to be a “hook” to get Iranians to watch PNN news programs.  Obviously, it isn’t working.  And there is no absence of hard news coming out of Iran and the rest of the Middle East.
 
The BBG/IBB “brain trust” also wants to “elevate and expand social media.”  That is revealing.  “Social media” is entertainment, not substantive news and analysis.  It is Internet-based.  Among other things, there is the inherent vulnerability of the Internet to cyber-countermeasures.  Some of these operations are individuals or non-government organizations.  Some, however, are state-sponsored.  In addition, governments, including those in the West, are taking a look-see at what people are viewing on the Internet, often without the user’s knowledge.  And in other cases, it is just plain unavailable, inaccessible and/or unaffordable.
 
Clearly, the BBG/IBB wants to “elevate and expand social media” because at present it is the weakest link in their media assets.  It has the smallest audience by far, according to the agency’s own research – a paltry 10-million compared to 100-million plus for radio and similar numbers for television.  And let’s not forget, the global population is around 7-billion.
 
And didn’t the agency recently get burned badly by a phony “interview” with a Russian opposition leader that got posted on the VOA Russian Service website?
 
This is clearly the direction the agency wants to go in: to be an entertainment source, not a source for news and information.  If the BBG/IBB wants to do that, it should do it on its own dime and not at public expense because they are not doing what they are charged to do: international broadcasting.  And in the case of the VOA, executing its mission via the VOA Charter.
 
And forget that nonsense that the BBG/IBB wants to be a “leading global news network.”  That’s cheap talk designed to get the Congress to pony up big taxpayer dollars.  In reality, it’s the –
 
Global Nothing Network.
 
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the best thing that can happen for US national and public interests is to make the BBG/IBB “advisory,” find them office space in the far reaches of the Washington suburbs and forget about them.
 
For those supportive of the VOA, its mission and employees, there are some good issues to bang on.  You don’t tap these issues gently.  You pound on them relentlessly.  You give Congress and others a good reason never to want to hear the BBG/IBB and US international broadcasting mentioned in the same breath.
 
You let the fat cats and the bonus-mongers of the IBB know that you’ve come to play hardball.
 
If you want to see the 71st anniversary of your language service: it’s time to get busy.
 
And remember this: there is nothing more insidious than having an institution with 70 years of serving US national and public interests destroyed from within.  Your so-called “leaders” have spoken:
 
The mission is expendable.  You are expendable.  
 
The Federalist
March 2012
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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