BBG Watch Commentary
In one of the best reasoned and most coherent articles in favor of reforming the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG),(“Fixing U.S. International Broadcasting – At Last!” The Weekly Standard, July 3, 2014) two former Republican BBG members, Dennis Mulhaupt and S. Enders Wimbush, come out strongly in support of H.R. 4490, a fully bipartisan bill in Congress divided on most other issues. H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act “to improve the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters,” was introduced on April 28, 2014 by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), has many co-sponsors among both Democrats and Republicans, and was approved unanimously by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In contrast to another Republican, Matthew Armstrong, who is currently serving on the BBG Board and who called the bill’s criticism of the BBG “dated,” “overly harsh,” “not fair” and its language “less than inarticulate“, [sic] Mulhaupt and Wimbush argue that bipartisan H.R. 4490 represents “serious reform that actually addresses U.S. international broadcasting’s many challenges.” They are right.
While BBG Watch had been critical in the past of some positions taken by these two former public servants when they sat on the Board, their article in defense of management reforms proposed in H.R. 4490 represents a valuable addition to the discussion about an important issue.
We would disagree with them slightly, however, on only two points. First, while they claim that the internal BBG management reform proposal which they had supported as BBG members would have achieved the same goals as H.R. 4490, we strongly doubt that would have been the case.
The old proposal, advanced under BBG’s former Democratic chairman Walter Isaacson, was drafted by the very same International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) bureaucracy that H.R. 4490 blames for the agency becoming dysfunctional and defunct and wants to abolish. The old management reform proposal might have also led to privatization of Voice of America, an exceedingly bad idea which would have effectively destroyed VOA as an authoritative and objective voice of the United States government and society and would have speeded up its decline. The former reform proposal was also very strongly in favor of turning Voice of America into a global news outlet like CNN, another exceedingly bad idea favored by IBB bureaucrats. Worst of all, the old proposal would have kept discredited International Broadcasting Bureau executives in charge of U.S. international media outreach.
Another point we would disagree with Mr. Wimbush and Mr. Multhaupt slightly is the role of the VOA Charter in the current reform bill. While they and the bill’s authors are absolutely right that Congress and U.S. taxpayers do not want to subsidize a few VOA Central English Newsroom journalists who would rather ignore the second and the third provision of the VOA Charter (presenting and explaining U.S. policies and differing views on these policies) because they want to be fully independent, the VOA Charter’s position within the bill needs strengthening to prevent any interference with VOA’s news content from officials of any future U.S. administrations. VOA need not “support” any U.S. administration’s foreign policy, but VOA content must be consistent with the VOA Charter and the long-term goals of America.
We agree, however, with Mr. Wimbush and Mr. Enders that fears being expressed by a few VOA Central English Newsroom federal government employees, some of whom even hold limited U.S. Foreign Service appointments while demanding absolute independence and job security that even The New York Times and NPR reporters do not enjoy, are way overblown. In our view, and in the view of the BBG employee union, AFGE Local 1812, the current bill requires only very minor modifications to make it perfect and it deserves full support. Mr. Wimbush and Mr. Mulhaupt surprised us with their excellent arguments in favor of the bill.
MULHAUPT AND WIMBUSH: “Meanwhile VOA’s public diplomacy function is out of favor with many at VOA, who complain that it should be an independent news agency free of compromising associations with U.S. policy. Back to the taxpayers, who might be forgiven for asking why they should be footing the bill for adding more ‘news and information’ to an saturated global media universe—already exploding from thousands of traditional, new, and social media sources in virtually every corner of the world—without so much as a mention of America’s interests or points of view. What’s the point? Where’s the return on investment?”
READ MORE: Fixing U.S. International Broadcasting – At Last!,” Dennis Mulhaupt and S. Enders Wimbush, The Weekly Standard, July 3, 2014.
Opposite viewpoints have been expressed by two VOA foreign correspondents, one current and one former, Al Pessin and Gary Thomas.