BBG Watch Commentary
Posting feature reports on dog shows, Justin Bieber’s drunk driving, and the British royal family — rather than reporting promptly, comprehensively and with balance on U.S. reactions to events in such hot spots as Ukranie, Russia or Bosnia — is a daily occurrence at the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) under its current leadership.
Former Time magazine editor Richard Stengel who will soon begin working with the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs should make it his priority to address management problems at VOA which have made this once proud news organization a “defunct” bureaucracy.
“Defunct” was the term used by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to describe the agency’s media outreach abroad. While there have been significant improvements, especially at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the situation at Voice of America has gotten even worse since Mrs. Clinton made her comment last year. Mr. Stengel will represent at BBG meetings Secretary of State John Kerry who is an ex officio BBG member.
Mr. Stengel will have to deal with a highly dysfunctional bureaucracy, especially at the Voice of America and the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). Senior staffers at these two federal units have for years assumed that it is they, not BBG members, who should be making important decisions for the agency. They have made the agency “defunct” and “dysfunctional.”
While former BBG member, Ambassador Victor Ashe, BBG’s new chairman, Jeff Shell, Governors Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, as well as newer members, have already taken some actions to reform the bureaucracy — much more remains to be done.
Disregard for law and good management is still rampant among some officials, especially at the Voice of America.
Voice of America executives violate the VOA Charter on a daily basis and embarrass the United States at home and abroad with late and substandard news coverage. Many important news developments in the U.S. and internationally do not get any coverage from VOA, while VOA executives use public resources to report on dog shows and celebrities.
Some of VOA’s executives have been accused by inside and outside critics of intimidating their own journalists who disagree with them on editorial policies and of being responsible for dismally low staff morale as measured by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
There have also been reports of threats against independent outside reporters who criticize management practices at VOA, including attempts to deprive them of their press accreditations and to undermine their professional reputation.
For an organization charged with promoting media freedom abroad, this kind of behavior, programming policies, and public diplomacy image they create abroad, are simply unacceptable.
BBG Watch welcomes Mr. Stengel’s expected participation in BBG work and wishes him best of luck. We hope that he will join BBG Chairman Jeff Shell and other BBG members in addressing management problems at VOA and IBB.
The following press release was posted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
FEBRUARY 12, 2014
Former Time magazine editor Richard Stengel will soon begin working with the Broadcasting Board of Governors as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. His duties will include representing Secretary of State John Kerry to the BBG.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Rick join us on the Board,” said Chairman Jeff Shell. “He brings with him not only a wealth of experience and expertise in international journalism, but also remarkable dedication to public service.”
By law, the Secretary of State serves as an ex-officio member of the BBG. Representing the secretary on the board traditionally has been a duty of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Stengel was nominated to the position in September 2013 and confirmed by the Senate on February 11.
Stengel has served as the managing editor of Time magazine since 2006, overseeing the magazine, Time.com, Time Books and Time for Kids. Stengel received the News and Documentary Emmy Award in 2012 for Time.com‘s Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience, on which he served as executive producer. In 2010, he was awarded Citizen of the Year at the Annual National Conference on Citizenship and the 2010 Lifetime of Idealism Award. He has also authored several books, includingMandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, which has drawn praise from President Bill Clinton, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Deepak Chopra.
From 2004 to 2006, Stengel was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. In 2000, Stengel served as a Senior Adviser and Chief Speechwriter for Bill Bradley’s Presidential campaign. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and studied English as a Rhodes Scholar at Christ Church, Oxford.