House Passes Bill To Overhaul US International Broadcasting — Voice of America take lacks balance

BBG Watch Commentary

VOA Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 9.53PM EDTIt took Voice of America a few hours to post a report, which includes quotes by two outside opponents of the bill: former VOA deputy director Alan Heil and Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire, but has no quotes from any outside supporters of the bill, including human rights NGOs, U.S. community leaders, and former Voice of America journalists who wrote a letter to President Obama in support of the legislation.

So much for balance in Voice of America news reporting as required by the VOA Charter.

For an alternative view, see BBG Watch report and commentary on the House passage of H.R. 4490, called the U.S. International Communications Reform Act of 2014.

If VOA English News quotes non-congressional critics of the bipartisan bill — there was no criticism of the bipartisan bill voiced today in Congress since it is widely supported as essential for saving Voice of America from mismanagement — VOA English News should have also quoted non-congressional supporters of the bill.

But perhaps VOA executives and editors think that former BBG members and current and former VOA journalists who strongly support the reform bill do not count and do not fall under the VOA Charter provision: “2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.”

The VOA report does not say that the VOA employee union also strongly supports the bill with only some reservations about the wording concerning VOA’s mission. The VOA report also does not say that many VOA language service journalists also strongly support the bill and see it as the only way of saving them from mismanagement.

The report does mention Hillary Clinton’s highly critical comment about U.S. international broadcasting, but her comment is quite old and is not connected with the bill passed today in the House. There are, however, many recent statements from U.S. experts, community leaders, former VOA journalists and others, specifically supporting the bill. They should have been acknowledged in the VOA report.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce mentioned the letter to President Obama in a statement posted online by the committee. It was available to Voice of America and anybody else before the VOA report was posted, but VOA chose to ignore it and quoted instead only outside critics of the bill.

Are several former presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed BBG members who strongly support the bill not representative of “significant American thought,” but others not appointed by the President and not confirmed by the Senate are?

There are former Voice of America journalists and high-level managers who strongly support the bill, as well as the VOA Charter. They have been ignored in the VOA news report as if they did not exist. So much for accurate and balanced VOA news reporting as required by the VOA Charter.

This is how Voice of America English News reported on the unanimous House passage of the Royce – Engel bipartisan bill to reform U.S. international broadcasting.

Tweets by VOA Capitol Hill correspondent:


 

House Passes Bill To Overhaul US International Broadcasting – Voice of America Report

 
Cindy Saine
 
July 28, 2014 8:53 PM
 
CAPITOL HILL —The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would overhaul U.S. international broadcasting, including this agency, the Voice of America, four other government-financed broadcasters and the Broadcasting Board of Governors that oversees all of them.
 
Supporters of the bipartisan bill say the United States needs to fight back more effectively in the war of information against countries like Russia and China. But some opponents of the bill say they fear it would undermine VOA’s journalistic integrity and its reputation.
 
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce says international outrage over recent events in Ukraine shows how important it is for the United States to counter what he called continuous Russian propaganda in the region.
 
“Who is going to offset that propaganda? Our best weapon in this informational battle, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the BBG, is totally defunct,” said Royce.
 
The reform bill passed the House Monday by a voice vote. The legislation would reduce the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called practically defunct, to an advisory role and would appoint a full-time CEO to run U.S. international broadcasting. The measure also defines the role of the Voice of America, as Democratic Congressman Gerald Connolly explains.
 
“Voice of America, for example, will now confine itself to its public diplomacy mission, to foster positive relationships between the United States and the rest of the world,” said Connolly.
 
Some current and former VOA journalists say they agree that changes to management are urgently needed, but they are worried about language in the House bill that calls on the Voice of America to promote U.S. foreign policy while being a fair and accurate source of news. The bill also would reduce the scope of VOA’s coverage from world news to U.S. news and policy.
 
Former VOA deputy director Alan Heil says those changes would be devastating:
 
“If that bill becomes law, VOA’s worldwide following on radio, TV and online channels would plummet precipitously. The Voice’s greatest asset, its credibility, would be in shreds,” said Heil.
 
Some media advocacy groups also have expressed alarm. Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire issued a statement in May urging U.S. authorities not to transform media such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia into diplomatic communication tools. Deloire said “adopting the attitudes of information warfare” would be extremely regrettable.
 
A similar U.S. broadcasting bill would have to pass in the Senate, and then be signed by President Barack Obama in order to become law. It is not clear when or if the Senate will take up the issue.

 
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Chairman Royce Statement on Letter to President Obama Urging Support for Legislation to Reform U.S. International Broadcasting

 
JUL 28, 2014
 

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued the following statement on the recently publicized letter to President Obama from a broad coalition of former members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), journalists, and former BBG employees.  In the letter, they ask the President to supportH.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, which improves the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters.  The legislation unanimously passed the Foreign Affairs Committee in April.
 
Chairman Royce said: “I appreciate the wide support given this important piece of legislation.  For too long, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has been dysfunctional, inefficient, and ineffective as noted by numerous reports from the Office of the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office. We are trying to counter Russian propaganda – and that of our adversaries throughout the world – with one hand behind our back.  This is urgent legislation that I expect my colleagues to support when it comes to the floor later today.”
 
In the letter to President Obama, the signatories write, “Today we are engaged in a battle of ideas with state and non-state media… U.S. international broadcasting is an important element of our national power that can no longer be neglected and allowed to decline.  We, the undersigned, urge you to support the forthcoming legislation with resolve and urgency.”
 
Full text of the letter can be found HERE.
 
Note:  In June 2013, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on ways to reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors.  H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, is a bipartisan effort to implement the reforms that were identified during that hearing.

###

President Barack Obama 
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

 
Dear Mr. President,
 
July 27, 2014
11:00PM EDT
 
Ukraine and its regional neighbors are threatened by an all out offensive from Russia’s robust propaganda machine. Unfortunately, Putin’s campaign of misinformation is having the desired effect: stoking sectarian violence, undermining stable democratic governments, and creating the pretext for Russian invasion. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (“BBG”) which oversees U.S. international broadcasting was established to be our country’s first defense in wars of information but the BBG is broken – or as Secretary Clinton stated, “defunct”. Thankfully, legislation to reform the BBG is moving in the House of Representatives. The bipartisan United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, sponsored by Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel, proposes important reforms to address the BBG’s highly dysfunctional management structure, clarify the mission of our international broadcasters, and empower our journalists. We urge you to sign H.R. 4490 into law when it reaches your desk.
 
For years, the failure to improve the BBG has allowed anti-democratic states and non-state actors to effectively use propaganda to undermine our national security objectives overseas. As Hillary Clinton testified to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the BBG “is practically a defunct agency in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world. So we’re abdicating the ideological arena and need to get back into it.”
 
Clarifying the BBG mission is critical. According to its charter, the Voice of America (“VOA”) is charged with providing a “clear and effective presentation of the policies of the United States.” This mission is as relevant today as it was during the Cold War but it has been subjugated to leadership that has allowed for mission drift. We still need the Voice of America to report on the broad foreign policies of the United States and present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies; we need the VOA to expand and strengthen the relationship between the people and Government of the United States and citizens of the rest of the world.
 
We support H.R. 4490’s proposal to dissolve the current BBG structure and consolidate its component entities based on mission and workforce structure. H.R. 4490 retains the federal elements of the BBG, including the VOA and OCB, but makes important management reforms by identifying a Chief Executive Officer to oversee the day-to-day operations. This federal organization is rebranded, jettisoning the “BBG” name that has become synonymous with government dysfunction and inefficiency.
 
Non-federal international broadcasters, such as Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, will be consolidated into a single organization with a common leadership and advisory board. This consolidated organization will be modeled after the National Endowment for Democracy and have the mission to provide uncensored local and regional news and information to people in closed societies. This division will reduce overlap and ensure the complementary yet distinct missions of our international broadcasters are being fulfilled.
 
Unlike the post-war media climate of the 1940’s, today’s media landscape is highly competitive, necessitating a more aggressive U.S. international broadcasting posture. Adaptation will require a more effective and efficient use of finite resources which can only be achieved with significant reforms to the BBG’s management and mission clarification. The United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 draws upon the recommendations put forward by 2011-2012 BBG Board and we urge you to support this much needed reform effort.
 
You have stated that “we need all elements of national power to win a battle of wills, a battle of ideas.” Today we are engaged in a battle of ideas with state and non-state media that U.S. international broadcasting is an important element of our national power that can no longer be neglected and allowed to decline. We, the undersigned, urge you to support the forthcoming legislation with resolve and urgency. We lend our names in our personal, not institutional, capacity.
 
Sincerely,
 
Blanquita Cullum, broadcaster, former Broadcasting Board of Governors member

Ambassador (retired) Victor Ashe, former Broadcasting Board of Governors member

Timothy Shamble, President of AFGE Local 1812

Robert Reilly, former Voice of America Director

Harry Wu, China’s labor camps survivor, Executive Director of the Laogai Research Foundation

John Lenczowski, President and Professor at The Institute of World Politics and as former Director of European and Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council

Rev. Ruben Diaz, New York State Senator

Mark Gjonaj, New York State Assemblyman

Karl Altau, Managing Director, Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. Representing:
Estonian American National Council, Inc.
American Latvian Association, Inc.
Lithuanian American Council, Inc.

Irena Lasota, President of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE), journalist

Janusz Bugajski, Senior Fellow, Center for European Policy Analysis, Washington DC

Ann Noonan, Executive Director of Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting

Ted Lipien, journalist and author, former Voice of America Acting Associate Director, former VOA Eurasia Division Director, former IBB Eurasia Marketing Director, former VOA Polish Service Chief

Ethan Gutmann, journalist and author, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting Advisory Board

Manny Papir, human rights activist, former Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Guliani

Jing Zhang, journalist, President of Women’s Rights in China

Liqun Chen, Women’s Rights in China

Justin C. Yu, journalist, community leader

Reggie Littlejohn, President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers

Enver Safir, former VOA Russian Service Moscow Correspondent, former Director of IBB’s Prague Office of Marketing and Program Placement

Marek Walicki, journalist, formerly with Radio Free Europe and Voice of America

John T. Murphy, former Director Voice of America Eurasia Division, former IBB Global Marketing Director, former Senior Adviser IBB Office of Engineering

Vello Ederma, retired VOA European News Chief and European Division Deputy Chief

Marina Oeltjen, former Voice of America Russian Service Chief

Marie Ciliberti, former Voice of America broadcaster

Jaroslaw Martyniuk, formerly Researcher with InterMedia and an active member of the Ukrainian Diaspora in Chicago and Washington D.C.
 
Additional signatures are being collected.
 
Attachment:
 
We strongly support all three provisions of the Voice of America Charter and restoration of VOA newsroom’s and VOA language services’ ability to report U.S. and international news.
 
VOA CHARTER
 
To protect the integrity of VOA programming and define the organization’s mission, the VOA Charter was drafted in 1960 and later signed into law on July 12, 1976, by President Gerald Ford.
 
It reads:
 
The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts:
 
1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
 
2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought
and institutions.
 
3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350)

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