During its meeting at the headquarters of Radio and TV Martí in Miami on April 20, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) discussed the plan to merge administrative functions of the surrogate broadcasters — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
The merger plan is highly controversial. Critics of the plan argue that the surrogate broadcasters have been successful in large part due to their independence and regional specialization. These broadcasters were established by various U.S. administrations and the U.S. Congress to operate independently. Their independence has always been viewed as their greatest asset in serving information needs of people living in countries without free media.
Here are some of the major points made by the critics of the merger:
Bureaucrats and bureaucratic generalists will replace professionals who are experts on their target countries and regions and care deeply about their specific missions.
There are strong concerns that BBG and IBB executives want to take control over the surrogate broadcasters and to limit public and Congressional scrutiny.
The same BBG and IBB executives who drafted the merger proposal also wanted to end radio and television broadcasts to Tibet and proposed other cuts to U.S. international broadcasting while protecting and expanding their bureaucratic operations. Due to overwhelming public criticism, the Board rejected their proposed programming cuts to Tibet and China.
The proposed merger could become an administrative disaster if the same officials are in charge of implementing the plan and are put in charge of the new administrative structure.
The projected savings are questionable and the final costs of the merger could be much higher due to expected administrative complications resulting from the merger.
It is unclear how the new CEO would be selected.
The role of the International Broadcasting Bureau with its director, deputy director and a growing number of highly-paid officials is not explained in the merger proposal.
A reform of IBB could achieve much greater savings for U.S. taxpayers without undermining the independence and effectiveness of the surrogate broadcasters.
IBB executives are wasting millions of dollars and pay themselves high bonuses despite being rated in OPM employee opinion surveys as the worst leaders and managers in the entire federal government. Putting them in charge of the merger represent a serious risk to U.S. international broadcasting assets which are also national security assets.
The BBG is also planning to waste millions of dollars on the redundant Global News Network.
Even individual BBG members have strong misgivings about the merger plan and the Global News Network.
Heads of some of the surrogate broadcasters have also expressed strong misgivings about the merger plan. They fear that the plan will make their organizations much less effective.
The official BBG announcement says:
“The consolidation would combine certain behind-the-scenes functions at the media outlets supported by grants from the BBG — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. The top management of these grantees, together with key BBG senior staff, teamed up to produce a plan based on directions from the Board in a resolution passed in January. Their work will be reviewed by all Board members and discussed at a meeting of the Strategy and Budget Committee in late May. The interim report is to be posted for public comment by May 1.”
The interim report can be viewed here: Click to View