Congressional and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) sources have confirmed that the bipartisan Royce – Engel bill, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, to reform the management of the U.S. broadcasting agency, including the Voice of America (VOA), is scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives next week.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Report language for H.R. 4490 can be accessed here:
Report language 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 International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the center of the agency’s current dysfunction, will be effectively abolished as a separate entity. This provision, as well as a cap on high-paying senior jobs in the new agency, are reportedly causing tremendous concern among IBB executives. Sources told BBG Watch that IBB executives have tried to warn members of Congress through the BBG that the agency will not be able to keep and attract high-quality managers. The committee rejected these concerns.
The VOA will consolidate with the International Broadcasting Bureau into a renamed Federal agency–the United States International Communications Agency (USICA).
Report language “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.”
The 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 the bill as the Freedom News Network (FNN).
The House Foreign Affairs Committee noted that in recent years, Voice of America “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 House Foreign Affairs Committee also noted that “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.”
Report language makes it clear that the Voice of America will not duplicate surrogate media outreach, but it also states that the Voice of America will report on “the international developments that affect the United States,” which can have a broad meaning.
The old USIA ranking of language service priorities was reconstituted in a new form. Report language contains a provision that full-time federal staff employees have a priority over contract workers when jobs are eliminated during consolidation.
In response to concerns over Voice of America’s journalistic integrity, all three provisions of the VOA Charter were put in in the report language. The old congressional requirement for VOA programming on U.S. states, which IBB and VOA management has ignored for years, was put into the report language as well.
The following summary of H.R. 4490 has been posted online:
Summary: H.R.4490 — 113th Congress (2013-2014)
Bill summaries are authored by CRS.
Introduced in House (04/28/2014)
United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 – Revises U.S. international broadcasting and communications structures, missions, and objectives.
Repeals the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994, and amends the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948.
Replaces the Broadcasting Board of Governors with the United States International Communications Agency, and establishes in the Agency a Board of Directors and a Chief Executive Officer.
Expresses the sense of Congress that the Voice of America (VOA): (1) has been an indispensable element of U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy efforts and should remain the flagship brand of the Agency; and (2) would benefit from a recalibration of federal international broadcasting agencies and resources which would provide it with greater mission focus and flexibility.
Expresses the sense of Congress that RFE/RL, Incorporated, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network share a common mission with distinct geographic foci, and should therefore be merged into a single organization with distinct marketing brands to provide news and related programming and content in countries where free media are not established.
Consolidates RFE/RL Incorporated, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network into the (non-federal agency) Freedom News Network.
States that RFE/RL, Incorporated, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network shall remain brand names under which news and related programming and content may be disseminated by the Network.
Sets forth Agency, VOA, and Network requirements regarding: (1) duties and authorities, (2) programming and policy objectives, (3) administration and reporting, and (4) coordination.