BBG Watch Commentary
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) welcomed the House passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 with the provision on eliminating the governing board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. federal agency in charge of the Voice of America (VOA) and other U.S. taxpayer-funded entities engaged in media outreach abroad.
Rep. Royce has led the bipartisan effort in Congress to reform the BBG. He was supported by the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and all other committee members.
The original amendment proposed by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) also included a provision to allow for an eventual privatization of the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti. This provision apparently has not been included in the version of the legislation passed today by the House after the BBG employee Union, AFGE Local 1812, the independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB-cusib.org) and many former VOA employees informed key members of Congress that such as move with regard to VOA and Radio and TV Marti would be counterproductive considering the damage already done to the agency by current and former private sector executives who in most cases lack experience in foreign policy and public diplomacy to be able to lead VOA and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB).
The legislative proposal to eliminate the BBG board still has to be passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Obama to become law.
“The United States’ response to this onslaught of propaganda [from ISIS and Russia] has been crippled, in part, by bureaucracy,” Chairman Royce said in a statement. “Our agencies that helped take down the Iron Curtain with accurate and timely broadcasting have lost their edge,” Royce added. He was referring primarily to the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its media entities, including the Voice of America. “They must be revitalized to effectively carry out their mission in this age of viral terrorism and digital propaganda,” Royce said. “My provision takes an important first step in this process by replacing the BBG’s part-time board with a permanent CEO to help better deliver real news to people in countries where free press does not exist,” Royce added.
The proposal to eliminate the BBG board was strongly opposed by current BBG chairman, Hollywood movie executive, Jeff Shell, and current BBG CEO and director, former entertainment TV manager, John F. Lansing.
The Obama White House initially had sided with Shell and Lansing but reportedly abandoned its support for these two officials, both lacking experience in government operations and foreign policy, after a series of new reports on mismanagement, declining employee confidence in senior leaders, and ineffectiveness of many of the agency’s programs under CEO Lansing. To increase its dismal digital outreach, VOA started to post to social media fluff videos, some of which were lifted from Kremlin propaganda videos produced by Russian RT and Ruptly channels. John Lansing has no prior experience in international inter-cultural communications or U.S. public diplomacy.
The Voice of America led by VOA director Amanda Bennett also has produced numerous one-sided reports during the 2016 election campaign, including unbalanced attacks on Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and even an unproven smear against Senate Majority leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV).
In one of the reports posted online by VOA, Donald Trump was called “pig” and “dog.” President Obama has already expressed his intention to replace Jeff Shell as BBG board chairman.
John Lansing assured BBG staff that there will be no change of leadership at the agency anytime soon, but he is widely expected to be departing after the Trump administration takes power. The transfer of leadership at the BBG may take several months.
At what may have been the last BBG board meeting last Wednesday, Jeff Shell, John Lansing, Amanda Bennett and some of the board members heaped effusive praise on their co-leaders and some of the other top executives of the failed agency. Under the new legislation, the BBG board would only serve an advisory function.
Washington, D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) issued the following statement today after the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, which includes his amendment to begin reforming the Broadcasting Board of Governors:
“I am pleased to support this bipartisan legislation that funds our troops and keeps the country safe by providing critical tools to tackle new threats, including the weaponization of information by ISIS and Russia.
“The United States’ response to this onslaught of propaganda has been crippled, in part, by bureaucracy. Our agencies that helped take down the Iron Curtain with accurate and timely broadcasting have lost their edge. They must be revitalized to effectively carry out their mission in this age of viral terrorism and digital propaganda. My provision takes an important first step in this process by replacing the BBG’s part-time board with a permanent CEO to help better deliver real news to people in countries where free press does not exist.
NOTE: For more on Chairman Royce’s long push for reforms to U.S. international broadcasting, click HERE.