BBG WATCH EXCLUSIVE
BBG Watch has seen the H.R. 2323, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015 Draft Report Language, which further clarifies intentions of Republican and Democratic sponsors and co-sponsors of the bipartisan bill to reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with regard to defining the purpose and the mission of the Voice of America (VOA) and the so-called surrogate broadcasters.
“Currently, the BBG cannot effectively fulfill their missions because of its dysfunctional organizational structure,” the bill’s Draft Report Language says.
The Draft Report Language also addresses the issue of International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) employees: “Current federal employees of the Voice of America or the International Broadcasting Bureau (“IBB”) whose positions are eliminated during consolidation should be given every opportunity to be reassigned within the USICA and to the maximum extent possible be reassigned to similar positions within the VOA,” the Draft Report Language says.
The report language seen by BBG Watch is a draft and therefore subject to possible changes.
ALSO SEE: Broadcasting Board of Governors reform bill reintroduced, BBG Watch, May 14, 2015
H.R. 2323 DRAFT REPORT LANGUAGE: “This legislation makes clear that the Voice of America (“VOA”) is an indispensible element of United States public diplomacy efforts by serving as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news on the United States, its policies, people, and the international developments that affect the United States. The VOA will consolidate with the International Broadcasting Bureau into a renamed federal agency – the United States International Communications Agency (“USICA”). This legislation draws a clear distinction between the mission of the VOA to provide news and information on the United States, its policies its people, and the international developments that affect the United States and the mission of the so-called “surrogate” broadcasters (Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (“RFE/RL”), Radio Free Asia (“RFA”), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (“MBN”)) to provide uncensored local and regional news and information to people in societies without an indigenous free media. This legislation consolidates the surrogate broadcasters into a single, private, nonprofit organization with its own board separate from the board of the United States International Communications Agency – referred to in this bill as the Freedom News Network (“FNN”).”
H.R. 2323 DRAFT REPORT LANGUAGE:“Mission of the Voice of America
The Voice of America is entirely funded by U.S. taxpayers to communicate with international audiences. It was established in 1942 as part of the Office of War Information and later moved into the USIA where it remained for forty-six years. When the USIA was abolished, the VOA was subsumed by the newly created BBG where it has remained. Throughout these various iterations, there have been differing interpretations of the VOA mission or “charter”. That charter, promulgated in 1976 reads:
(1) VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
(2) VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.
(3) VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.
VOA’s emphases on the second and third elements of the charter have varied over time. In recent years, its programming has reflected an interpretation of the charter that favors greater autonomy from the U.S. foreign policy apparatus as demonstrated by a reduction in the number of “editorials” that present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively (as mandated in section 303(b) of P.L. 103-236) and the diminution of programming that covers “the official activities of government, Federal or State, including congressional proceedings and news briefings of any agency of the Executive branch” (as authorized in section 505(c)(3) of P.L. 80-402)
The VOA charter also has been interpreted to provide a wider geographic scope that has led the VOA to fill surrogate roles in Africa, Latin America, and other areas while RFE/RL, RFA, and the MBN have been geographically limited. It is the Committee’s position that the Voice of America will no longer conduct “surrogate” broadcasting or broadcasting that provides uncensored local and regional news to people in societies without a free media; that is the role of the Freedom News Network.
In order to address the BBG’s dysfunction and reduce overlap with surrogate broadcasters, the mission of the VOA must be clarified. This legislation takes the position that credible and accurate news funded by the United States government is not an oxymoron and restates the standards contained in the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-236). The Committee believes that the values and interests of the United States are advanced by providing access to accurate news and information; supporting freedom of opinion and expression and respect for human rights. The VOA is not news like any other; its success is not defined by listener market share, ratings, or profit and its audience is international and highly diverse.
Also, the VOA is funded by the United States Government to present the policies of United States effectively, including editorials, pursuant to the VOA charter and the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-236). In supporting the broad foreign policies of the United States, the VOA is to serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source for news and information on the United States, its policies, its people, and major international developments to the people of the world.
The presentation of U.S. foreign policy, as intended in current law and clarified in this legislation, necessitates close coordination with the Department of State, especially the office of the Undersecretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy. This legislation reiterates the mandate, carried in current law, that the Voice of America (as part of the USICA) meet with the State Department to ensure consistency with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States while maintaining a clear distinction between the two agencies. Coordination between the VOA and the State Department is mandated to occur quarterly but should be done on a continual basis.”
H.R. 2323 DRAFT REPORT LANGUAGE:“Journalistic Integrity
The credibility of VOA and FNN news broadcasts is paramount. Therefore,the Committee believes strongly that, above all, the journalistic integrity of the broadcasting employees of the USICA and the FNN must be respected, supported and maintained. Journalists should not be pressured to present news or information that is factually inaccurate or deliberately deceptive. The highest journalistic standards shall be respected at all times and both the VOA and FNN shall produce news and information that is consistently objective, accurate, credible, and comprehensive. VOA and FNN audiences must be confident in the truthfulness and accuracy of the news broadcasts before they will accept as legitimate information presented in other facets of the programming. The boards of USICA and FNN should protect the credibility of the content produced and uphold high standards of journalism, ensuring journalistic integrity is preserved.”
H.R. 2323 DRAFT REPORT LANGUAGE: “Voice of America Operational Structure
The Voice of America’s (“VOA”) success depends on the fulfillment of two objectives: to present the policies of the United States and responsible discussion of and opinion on these policies, representing America (often referred to as “telling America’s story”); and, to serve as a consistently credible, authoritative source of news. Telling America’s story and presenting American foreign policy requires that the VOA provide information to an international audience that would not typically be carried on a private media outlet; information that gives the audience a more complete understanding of the role the U.S. plays internationally. Credibility requires strong adherence to the highest journalistic standards of accuracy, objectivity, and comprehensiveness.
In order to accomplish these objectives, the Committee believes that the VOA should have a
￼division devoted to commentary and analysis, distinct from the News Division.
￼The commentary and analysis division should produce information and programming that presents
the foreign policy of the U.S. and American values. It is the Committee’s belief that the U.S., both through government foreign assistance programs (e.g. Peace Corps, USAID, etc.) and non- government philanthropy, improves the lives of millions around the world. The impact of these programs and philanthropy is not known to many outside the affected areas and private media often do not cover these stories. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the VOA to bring these stories to an international audience – this is a critical element of “telling America’s story”. The commentary and analysis division should provide audiences with a complete and responsible understanding of domestic debates concerning U.S. foreign policy – it should not exclusively report the statements or positions of the Executive Branch.
In addition, the commentary and analysis division should fulfill the VOA’s mandate to carry editorials (section 303(b) of P.L. 103-236); to cover “the official activities of government, Federal or State, including congressional proceedings and news briefings of any agency of the Executive branch” (as authorized in section 505(c)(3) of P.L. 80-402); and to ￼provide information of the States (as mandated in section 2420(a) of P.L. 105-277).
￼￼Programming of the Voice of America must be of the highest journalistic quality. The Committee is mindful of the need for journalists and broadcasters to maintain their professional independence in order to produce factual and balanced news and information. For these reasons, all relevant foreign policy guidance should be transmitted by the Secretary of State to the Board of the United States International Communications Agency and the Agency’s Chief Executive Officer. This is a restatement of the so-called “firewall” language from the Congressional report that accompanies