BBG Watch is reposting a recent article by, American Federation of Government Employees – AFGE Local 1812, the union representing federal employees of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
AFGE Local 1812 strongly opposes the agency’s plan to create a new grantee that would combine the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB – Radio and Television Marti) and the Voice of America (VOA) Latin America Division.
The union argues that getting rid of the Voice of America brand will be bad for America’s image abroad. The union said that the Voice of America Arabic Division programs abolished some 14 years ago to create a new de-federlized entity enjoyed much greater respect and influence in the Middle East than Radio Sawa and Al Hurra TV programs being produced now by the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). The union also pointed out that VOA Arabic programs cost only a fraction of the current budget for MBN programs. According to AFGE Local 1812 union, Voice of America Arabic broadcasts’ previous reach and intellectual influence could have been extended with a much more modest extra investment under the VOA brand.
By American Federation of Government Employees – AFGE Local 1812
In FY 2016, the Agency has proposed, in its budget submission, to create a new grantee that will combine the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio/Television Marti) and the VOA Latin America Division. The proposed new grantee organization would be called the Spanish Language International Media.
Using the Middle East Broadcasting Network as an example, the Union believes that the Agency is set to make yet another colossal mistake. Some 14 years ago, the Agency eliminated the VOA’s respected Arabic Service to create the peppy, poppy Radio Sawa rather than increase the resources of the VOA Arabic broadcasts. That plan was formulated by a former pop-music-devotee member of the BBG which all but ruined U.S. international broadcasting to the Middle East, discarding a trusted long time brand name and substituting a pop music format for any meaningful commentary about democratic values to the Arab world. A decade later, we may be seeing the disastrous results.
Today, there is wide agreement that Radio Sawa never commanded the respect the VOA Arabic Service did and has not been as successful as promised. It costs U.S. taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more than the former VOA Arabic service. (MBN costs over $100 million a year.) MBN also expanded into TV where its audience figures are comparatively small in the cauldron of the Middle East.
We are hopeful that the Agency is not trying to duplicate its Middle East disappointment. So why the push to de-federalize OCB, VOA Latin America Division, and perhaps other parts of the VOA? Some in the incredibly bloated IBB management, still in control of the Agency, seem to view the idea as irresistible. For the ruling almighty bureaucrats, de-federalization means no more civil service rights, no more pesky unions, hardly any oversight from the Congress, a subjugated workforce made up of mostly contractors answering to managers who will control their positions and their pay and, most importantly, will not dissent. Quality of the product does not seem to be a concern. Already, VOA employees are encouraged to use straight AP, Reuters and AFP stories with little or no editing and sometimes without attribution. Now, the name of the game at VOA appears to be: Anything Goes.
The mission of the Voice of America is to provide objective and accurate news and information and to present America to the people of the world. The mission of a grantee is to substitute for local media where local media are not free. But is that the case in most of Latin America? Is that the case for all of Africa? The Union asks that Congress take a close look at any privatization maneuvers before agreeing to the Agency plan.
In an article in Forbes magazine titled Moral Clarity is Needed in Countering Anti-Western Propaganda, a former listener to the Voice of America during the Cold War shared the following thought: “As a small child in the Soviet Union, I recall listening to Voice of America with my family precisely because it was the voice of America. I wanted to hear an American view. America stood for certain values and ideas; hearing them opened an entirely different world, where a better life was possible.”
The IBB bureaucracy will most likely brush off the above comment, calling it ‘anecdotal’.
Turning the VOA Latin America Division into a grantee will ensure that there is nothing left to present the United States to the countries of Latin America in an objective fashion and no opportunity to hear about the values on which this country was founded and as stated in the above quote, no American views. It is VOA that ensures that we define America to the rest of the world – not our enemies.
As far as the broadcasts of Radio/TV Marti are concerned, the Union and the OCB employees it represents, believe that U.S. broadcasts to Cuba have become a bargaining chip in the supposed ‘normalization’ of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Even Raul Castro stated that ceasing international broadcasting to the island was one of the conditions for ‘normalization’. By de-federalizing Radio/TV Marti, chances are that its effectiveness will be diminished as a powerful voice for those who dream of liberty and human rights in Cuba.
As far as certain Agency broadcasts are concerned, some Agency officials will have finally succeeded in the mission they seem to have adopted for the past dozen years or so: silencing the voice of the people of the United States of America to the world.