BBG Watch Media
Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) employees have been rating their agency in Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys as one of the worst managed in the federal government. In the latest, 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), employees have further lowered their assessment of the agency’s senior leaders, which include BBG CEO John F. Lansing and Voice of America director Amanda Bennett and deputy director Sandy Sugawara. Both Bennett and Sugawara have past connections to The Washington Post.
The Washington Post published an editorial defending the Broadcasting Board of Governors — the federal agency that even Hillary Clinton called “practically defunct” when she was still Secretary of State and BBG Board member.
The Post wrongly referred to the congressional effort to reform the dysfunctional agency as being led by the Republicans in Congress when in fact the legislative effort has been strongly bipartisan, with all Republicans and all Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee voting last year in favor of the original reform legislation which was introduced by HFAC Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and the committee’s Ranking Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY).
The Washington Post also failed to disclose that current VOA director Amanda Bennett and VOA deputy director Sandy Sugawara were previously linked with the newspaper through professional and personal connections.
WP: “The Obama administration — perhaps anticipating a Hillary Clinton presidency — supported these changes. Now its outgoing public-diplomacy officials will have to hope that Mr. Trump chooses an executive committed to the U.S. broadcasting tradition of independent and reputable journalism rather than a political loyalist or alt-right ideologue. Either way, there is likely to be an exodus of seasoned professionals from the surrogate broadcasters as well as VOA — meaning that U.S. international broadcasting, whatever its current deficiencies, is likely to get worse.”
READ MORE: A big change to U.S. broadcasting is coming — and it’s one Putin might admire, The Washington Post, “The Post’s View,” December 9, 2016.
Two former Voice of America journalists have commented under The Washington Post‘s editorial. Dan Robinson is a former senior VOA White House correspondent. Ted Lipien, who is one of the co-founders and supporters of BBG Watch, is a former VOA acting associate director.
DAN ROBINSON: The Post Editorial Board raises valid concerns about what President-elect Trump may do with what is now referred to as U.S. International Media. But it’s a bit disappointing to see the Post going down familiar rabbit holes when it comes to this subject.
Government-funded broadcasting under the BBG, which was created after the former USIA disappeared under President Bill Clinton, has been mismanaged for decades.
VOA, in particular, was severely impacted by this mismanagement, and years ago missed an opportunity to become a major destination of choice for global audiences, like the BBC.
VOA has no 24/7 television operation. In recent years its coverage has been embarrassingly weak and often late. In fact, the current CEO, Mr. Lansing, arrived vowing that so-called “day of” coverage would be de-emphasized, though now he appears to have reversed himself on this.
The Post editorial failed to mention that current VOA director Amanda Bennett, and deputy director Sandy Sugawara, both have former employment connections with the Post.
Bennett was forced to order bias training for VOA journalists in the wake of clear examples of bias by agency reporters.
She is now pushing a questionable plan to have government-paid staff begin investigative reporting.
As reported by BBG Watch, an independent watchdog website, VOA was seen to be “posting. . .one-sided hit pieces against Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and even a smear against Senate Democratic leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). . .”
The BBG, which would disappear under new legislation, replaced by a new advisory board, has claimed major increases in its weekly audience size, figures that are highly doubtful.
The Post should give readers the entire picture, come clean about connections it has with current agency officials, and not just use Vladimir Putin as justification for perpetuating a broken federal agency.
TED LIPIEN: “I’m afraid the Post got it wrong this time, probably due to not knowing all the facts or being misinformed about the Broadcasting Board of Governors. This is not a partisan issue. The effort to reform the BBG — Hillary Clinton called it “practically defunct” in 2013 when she herself was a BBG Board member and Secretary of State — has been consistently bipartisan.
The part-time BBG board has been spectacularly ineffective. Some of its members engaged in private company business in Russia and China while being charged at the same time with supporting free media in those countries through the BBG. One does not do private business in Russia or China by offending the local regime.
Contrary to your assertions, the BBG Board has done very little to protect the Voice of America from partisan bias or political interference. During the 2016 election campaign, VOA published one-sided hit pieces, attacking both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. There was even a smear in a VOA video against Senate Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). The BBG Board did nothing to stop such unbalanced attacks and allowed these violations of the VOA Charter to continue.
While the legislation to reform the BBG is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction, assuming that the agency can be and will be reformed. President Putin is not likely to rejoice if under more effective leadership the Voice of America stops unwitting replaying of RT and SPUTNIK propaganda videos, as it has done on a few occasions because it is so poorly managed. The independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) has worked with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to improve this legislation. Many of our suggestions have been incorporated into the amendment in its final form, including the preservation of the Voice of America’s status and its Charter.
Ted Lipien, former VOA acting associate director and VOA Polish Service director during Solidarity’s struggle for human rights.”