BBG Watch Commentary
Politix Editor-in-Chief David Mark reported in an article Tuesday that Rep. Matt Salmon. The Arizona Republican is offering legislation to eliminate federal funding for the Voice of America (VOA).
Politix is an interactive political news and discussion site. David Mark, Editor-in-Chief of Politix, was previously a senior editor at Politico for six years. He is also author of Going Dirty: The Art of Negative Campaigning which was featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
“Salmon said that broadcasts from Voice of America, which was founded in 1942, were no longer necessary in the current media environment,” David Mark wrote.
While originally commissioned to provide a “clear and effective presentation of the policies of the United States”, the VOA has veered from its original mission and has, sadly, become another duplicative, federal program,” Salmon said in a statement. “Rather than working to fulfill its original mission, VOA has fallen into the rut of merely mimicking other news outlets by simply reporting news. Unbiased news reporting is important in countries where freedom of the press is limited. Because of this, the United States already funds organizations tasked with disseminating unfiltered news to regions of the world that lack a free press. While a worthy cause, it is not one VOA was primarily tasked to do.”
Comments under the article seem to be divided between those who want to see VOA shut down and those who support its overseas news mission.
READ MORE: GET RID OF VOICE OF AMERICA, LAWMAKER SAYS, David Mark, Politix, May 20, 2014.
ALSO READ: First ever bill to defund Voice of America for violations of VOA Charter and mismanagement, BBG Watch, May 14, 2014.
Rep. Salmon described his initiative to defund VOA as the fifth “Shrink Our Spending” (SOS) bill in a series of bills to be introduced over the next few months to cut wasteful and duplicative spending.
Another bill dealing with the Voice of America, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490), has already been unanimously approved in a fully bipartisan action by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of which Rep. Salmon is a member, and sent to the whole House for consideration.
H.R. 4490 introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce, with Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel and seven other co-sponsors, would not abolish the Voice of America but would subject it to much stricter management controls. Some fear that some of these controls may also limit VOA’s journalistic independence, although elements of the VOA Charter, which calls for accurate and objective news, have been incorporated into H.R. 4490.
The Voice of America as a federal news organization serving overseas audiences has been managed in recent years by VOA Director David Ensor, VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch and a large team of senior SES and GS-15 executives. Policies and management of VOA are also affected by highly bureaucratized International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), where the previous management has been recently replaced with a three-person interim team in an attempt by the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to reform its executive and technical support federal entity.
Both VOA and IBB report to the BBG board, but the part-time board has been largely powerless and unable to control or reform the federal bureaucracy under the current legislative setup. H.R. 4490 is designed to enable the BBG board to hire a full-time executive and to assume thereafter only advisory functions.
H.R. 4490 would effectively abolish the IBB. It also mandates that no USICA employee other than the USICA CEO and the VOA director be paid at a rate higher than grade GS-15, step 10 of the General Schedule under section 5332 of title 5, United States Code. It also freezes the filling of positions rated grade GS-14 or GS-15 for five years, with exceptions.
Rep. Matt Salmon wants to take a much more drastic step and to abolish the Voice of America entirely while preserving the BBG’s surrogate grantee (non-federal) broadcasters, such as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), which have been much better managed but have also suffered to some degree from mismanagement at the federal level. H.R. 4490 would give surrogate grantee BBG broadcasters more autonomy and combine them under a separate CEO. They would no longer be as directly exposed as they are now to mismanagement at the federal level affecting their operations.
Rep. Matt Salmon wants surrogate broadcasters to continue providing news to countries without free media but does not see a need for the Voice of America that does not follow its Congressional Charter to report news about the United States and U.S. policies. As far as we could determine, under no previous Voice of America director has a bill been introduced in Congress to defund the Voice of America specifically for mismanagement and violations of the VOA Charter.
In announcing his intention to seek defunding for the Voice of America, Rep. Matt Salmon issued the following statement:
“For my fifth SOS bill, I introduced legislation to eliminate federal funding for VOA. While originally commissioned to provide a ‘clear and effective presentation of the policies of the United States’, the VOA has veered from its original mission and has, sadly, become another duplicative, federal program. Rather than working to fulfill its original mission, VOA has fallen into the rut of merely mimicking other news outlets by simply reporting news. Unbiased news reporting is important in countries where freedom of the press is limited. Because of this, the United States already funds organizations tasked with disseminating unfiltered news to regions of the world that lack a free press. While a worthy cause, it is not one VOA was primarily tasked to do.”
“Furthermore, Cold War relics, such as VOA, have been rendered obsolete with the rise of the Internet and social media, especially in closed countries which have connected our world in ways we could have never imagined. With the success of social media and other U.S. taxpayer-funded broadcasting programs, it makes fiscal sense to eliminate this superfluous federally funded entity.”
Background: The Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts began in 1942 as a response to the need for people in closed and war-torn societies to obtain reliable news. After World War II, VOA was preserved and transferred from the Department of War to the Department of State. According to its Charter, signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976, VOA is to “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news, … present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions, present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, [as well as offer] discussions and opinion on these policies.” VOA is now is one of a group of federally funded broadcasting entitles that reports to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). In addition to overseeing the VOA, the BBG is responsible for supervising, directing, and overseeing the operations of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB, operating the Radio and TV Martí services to Cuba), and funds and provides oversight to the grantee broadcasters Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). The VOA received $196,375,000 in FY13.