BBG Watch Commentary

International Broadcasting Bureau Director (IBB) Richard Lobo has responded to an earlier Wall Street Journal op-ed article in which former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member S. Enders Wimbush argued that the bipartisan BBG board, which provides public oversight over U.S. international broadcasting, should be abolished. IBB is BBG’s managerial and executive arm and accounts for the largest portion (over 35%) of BBG’s budget.

Director Lobo’s argument appears to be that neither he nor his top executives are responsible for any remaining problems at the agency, which former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “defunct” and “dysfunctional.”

Mr. Lobo says that these are “deep-rooted” issues, implying that they were inherited by him. He also says that they are being addressed and that he is taking U.S. international broadcasting into the digital age.

Research shows, however, that while Voice of America (VOA) English news is now available on Facebook and Twitter, which are largely free services and did not require hundreds of millions of dollars in spending by IBB over the last few years, VOA’s ability to produce interesting original news coverage for foreign audiences has been undermined by IBB-initiated cuts. The VOA English news website usually can barely get a few dozen Facebook “Likes,” “Tweets” and comments from readers for its top news stories while competing international media outlets such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today can get thousands or even tens of thousands of “Likes,” “Tweets” and comments.

VOA managers argue that Al Jazeera and Russia Today have a large following in the U.S. while VOA English programs target overseas audiences, but it appears that VOA English gets a large portion of its social media engagement from U.S. readers while Al Jazeera and Russia Today get a large portion of their English comments from readers outside of the U.S.

Nevertheless, Mr. Lobo makes a strong argument that “impressive strides have been made in adapting our content to digital media.”

“The board has been working closely with the operational leadership of the BBG and its broadcasters to reduce duplication in use of resources, increase efficiencies, and promote innovation. Impressive strides have been made in adapting our content to digital media so that our broadcasters’ award-winning, unbiased news and information programs can be delivered on all the platforms that our audiences increasingly prefer, according to solid research.

Of course, as Mr. Wimbush indicates, there are vexing problems that have built up over decades and that will be more difficult to resolve—overlap of language services where it is not needed in local markets, questions of control over taxpayer-funded grantees and other matters that have been documented elsewhere.”

“Duplication in use of resources” and “overlap of language services” are buzzwords for justifying continued reductions of programs and programming positions which largely benefit the IBB bureaucracy and its continued growth while Voice of America (VOA) keeps reducing original news reporting due to decreasing resources.

When Mr. Lobo was appointed by President Obama in 2010 to be IBB Director, to the surprise of many he kept the executive team and awarded it with bonuses despite the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results showing year after year that employee morale and confidence in the leadership of his executive team kept dropping within the agency. The agency’s overall FEVS scores for employee morale and leadership and management skills are some of the lowest in the entire federal government.

IBB executives argue that BBG employees may have problems with understanding the meaning of the term leadership and may confuse dissatisfaction with their immediate supervisors with the high quality of leadership IBB executive team provides.

READ MORE:

BBG Is Adjusting to Modern Times – The federal government’s broadcasting services are moving with the times, by Richard Lobo, IBB Director, Letter to the Editor of The Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2013.

S. Enders Wimbush: The Fading Voice of Liberty – A dysfunctional Broadcasting Board of Governors hampers America’s radio message just when the need for it is urgent, by S. Enders Wimbush, former BBG member, The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2013.

Richard M. Lobo’s bio on the BBG website.

Read Dick Lobo’s blog, ViewPoint. As of July 28, the blog has not been updated since March 28.

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