BBG Watch Commentary

CUSIB.org - The Committee for U.S. International BroadcastingIn a press release issued today, the independent and nonpartisan Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) called for more Congressional hearings on reform of U.S. international broadcasting.

CUSIB welcomed the hearing last week convened by the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) but expressed its disappointment in the testimony of the witnesses, all three former members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

“We applaud the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) for drawing a clear distinction between the missions of the Voice of America and U.S.-funded surrogate broadcasters. It was disappointing that during the hearing, former BBG Governor S. Enders Wimbush attempted to blur the lines between surrogate broadcasters and the VOA. Each was clearly designed by Congress for very good reasons,” CUSIB said.

CUSIB also noted that “many of the problems blamed on the BBG are in fact created by the IBB bureaucracy, which BBG members cannot control under the current legal and administrative setup, nor are they able to change it without support from Congress.”

CUSIB called for another hearing for which different witnesses would be called and alternative points of view expressed.

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CUSIB Press Release

CUSIB - Supporting journalism for media freedom and human rights

CUSIB Welcomes Congressional Hearing: “Broadcasting Board of Governors: An Agency ‘Defunct’,”  Disappointed in Witness Testimony

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting has released the following statement:

Rather than galvanizing the House of Representatives, there was no consensus among the three witnesses who testified on June 26, 2013 before the U.S. Congress about how to achieve real reforms at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Despite a statement to the contrary from former BBG Chairman James Glassman and his recommendation that the BBG, including Voice of America (VOA), be integrated into the State Department – which  in our view would destroy all effectiveness and credibility of U.S. international broadcasting and would become a public diplomacy disaster for the United States – CUSIB believes that former U.S. Secretary Clinton was right when she said that the “Broadcasting Board of Governors is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world.”   The BBG suffers from bad management by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and woefully insufficient funding to compete with nations such as China and Russia. It is still unable to offer good-quality news programming to Iran, as some members of the House Foreign Relations Committee pointed out.

While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a right observation about bad management and insufficient funding for U.S. international broadcasting, as ex officio BBG member she had not attended any BBG Board meetings and to our knowledge had not raised management issues with other BBG members and International Broadcasting Bureau executives when she met them on perhaps only two occasions.

CUSIB hopes that Secretary of State John Kerry will attend future BBG meetings and be more engaged in this important U.S. national security, media freedom and democracy project. 

We applaud the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) for drawing a clear distinction between the missions of the Voice of America and U.S.-funded surrogate broadcasters. It was disappointing that during the hearing, former BBG Governor S. Enders Wimbush attempted to blur the lines between surrogate broadcasters and the VOA.  Each was clearly designed by Congress for very good reasons. Surrogate broadcasters have a special role to play as an alternative to suppressed internal media and they can’t do the job of the Voice of America. CUSIB remains determined to defend them both because people in countries critical to our national security need them both. Savings can be found through a real and comprehensive reform that preserves the separation between VOA and the surrogates.  Otherwise, none will be effective in a centralized setting supported by IBB, which would be very close to the current failed IBB bureaucracy.

Chairman Royce’s praise of BBG journalists and his observation that many of them risk their lives to report uncensored news is especially significant since the former management of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) fired dozens of such journalists in Russia in September 2012. Due to actions of current remaining members of the BBG and RFE/RL’s new acting president Kevin Klose, some of these journalists have already been rehired, but not all.

Also, the longstanding problem of discrimination against foreign RFE/RL employees in the Czech Republic in their labor law protections has not yet been resolved. This issue, also ignored by IBB management, has become a public diplomacy embarrassment for the United States abroad and continues to draw negative media coverage. 

CUSIB notes that the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau allowed the crisis with Radio Liberty in Russia to develop and continue. Many of the problems blamed on the BBG are in fact created by the IBB bureaucracy, which BBG members cannot control under the current legal and administrative setup, nor are they able to change it without support from Congress.

CUSIB expresses its appreciation for contributions to the BBG by outgoing Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine. We are grateful for her work with Governors Ashe, McCue and Meehan on initiating management changes and other reforms at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. 

CUSIB applauds the efforts of US Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) for the launching of a Sindhi language service by the agency.  CUSIB believes that resources can be found within IBB without cutting any broadcasting. The low employee morale under IBB’s management is a also a very serious issue raised during the hearing, not by the witnesses, but by a member of Congress. 

CUSIB remains concerned that presently there are not enough nominees before the U.S. Senate to fill the BBG vacancies, and if all vacancies are not approved, the Board will still face challenges in order to function properly unless Congress reforms the agency’s management structure.  We support such reforms as long as they do not undermine BBG’s media freedom mission.

CUSIB believes BBG Governor Victor Ashe should remain on the Board until all 4 Republican seats are filled. We are a nonpartisan organization, but if nominee Ryan Crocker is confirmed to replace Victor Ashe, and Matt Armstrong is confirmed to the BBG, two Republican vacancies will still remain.  This is unacceptable.  

In order to fulfill its mission, American taxpayers deserve to have all nine seats filled in a bipartisan manner, as the law requires. For the same reason we strongly support continued presence on the Board of two outstanding Democratic members, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, who together with Victor Ashe have initiated much needed and much overdue management reforms but who face continued resistance from the bureaucracy with the International Broadcasting Bureau.  These three dedicated Governors, American taxpayers and victims of oppression and censorship worldwide, do need help from Congress to change significantly the structure of U.S. international broadcasting so it can fulfill its mission.

CUSIB respectfully recommends for members of Congress to review the $50 million contract with Gallup and other wasteful spending within the International Broadcasting Bureau, which uses up the largest portion of the BBG budget. We believe that taxpayers’ money should be spent on media programs rather than the overblown bureaucracy which contributes to low employee morale.

CUSIB strongly supports audience research, but we doubt that a company already under scrutiny by the U.S. Government for overcharging its departments, that also does other business in nations ruled by authoritarian regimes, can provide useful and cost-effective surveys or be capable of measuring impact and mission-support, which is something that IBB still fails to do.

CUSIB continues to be gravely concerned by potential conflict of interest issues that emerged during the tenure of some of the former BBG members. We will work with current and new BBG members to avoid such conflicts in the future.

CUSIB is hopeful that another Congressional hearing will be held where another side of the story can be told, and other witnesses will be welcome.

For more information, contact:

Ann Noonan, Executive Director and co-founder [phone: 646-251-6069] Ted Lipien, Director and co-founder [phone: 415-793-1642]

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) is a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization working to strengthen free flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries with restricted and developing media environments.

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