BBG Watch Commentary
In a testimony prepared for delivery later today for a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by Rep. Ed Royce (R – CA), former chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) James Glassman is expected to say that the agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting is not “defunct” as stated earlier by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. BBG Watch has received an advance text of Glassman’s testimony.
In a statement that is likely to raise controversy, Glassman is planning to say that the BBG must be part of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus and to call for putting it back into the State Department. The BBG’s leading U.S. international broadcaster is the Voice of America (VOA).
“My own view is that the BBG must be fully integrated into the foreign policy apparatus of the United States Government. There should be no equivocation or confusion about its role. The 1998 act created the modern BBG primarily by eliminating the U.S. Information Agency and folding most of its functions into the State Department.
The main VOA function that did not end up at State was international broadcasting, which was consolidated into a separate body, the BBG, which in turn was further endowed with protections for its role as an independent journalistic organization.
The best way to remove any confusion about the BBG’s mission is to put it back into the State Department – either as its own Office of International Media Outreach (the term “broadcasting” is hopelessly outdated in an Internet age), under an assistant secretary (playing something close to the CEO role that the current board envisions), or as part of a reconstituted USIA. In either of these cases, this new BBG agency should have an advisory board composed of members with expertise in media technology and in disseminating ideas in general.”
In addition to being a former BBG chairman, Glassman is also a former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
During his tenure as BBG chairman, the board voted to end all Voice of America radio and satellite television broadcasts to Russia. The cut happened in 2008, several days before Russia invaded part of the territory of the Republic of Georgia. Glassman refused calls from media freedom and human rights groups to resume VOA broadcasts to Russia and the war zone in Georgia.
In his prepared remarks, Glassman is expected to counter former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assertion that the BBG is “defunct.”
“Let’s be clear. By no stretch of the imagination is the BBG defunct, if the meaning of that term is ‘dead, ‘no longer existing,’ or even ‘moribund.’ The Secretary’s statement was made shortly after the release of a report on an inspection of the BBG by the Office of Inspector General. That report notes, ‘The BBG is one of the world’s largest newsgathering and reporting operations, with 50 news bureaus and offices worldwide. The five broadcast entities it supervises employ more than 3,500 journalists, producers, technicians, and support personnel full time in Washington, Miami, and Prague. It employs approximately 1,500 freelancers around the world.’
The BBG broadcasts in 59 languages – more than twice as many as any other democratic-nation broadcaster12 — in more than 100 countries.13 On June 20, the BBG announced its total audience was more than 203 million, a new record and a 23 percent gain from 2010.14 The agency’s fiscal 2013 budget is $720 million.”
Critics argue that putting BBG with the Voice of America into the State Department would likely make VOA completely ineffective as a credible journalistic enterprise.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, VOA was under State Department’s editorial control. It was viewed then as ineffective in countering Soviet propaganda. Radio Free Europe and later Radio Liberty were established in the 1950s under the CIA but with a much larger measure of editorial independence. They became highly successful as surrogate broadcasters. RFE/RL’s link to CIA was removed by Congress in the early 1970s and the broadcaster continued to be a major source of uncensored news to the Soviet block. Voice of America improved its performance and credibility when its Charter was approved by Congress in 1976 giving VOA editorial independence.
International broadcasting experts also point out that contrary to Mr. Glassman assertion, critical parts of BBG are highly disfunctional, including its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), consistently rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey as having the worst managers in the federal government.
Latest reporting by BBG Watch also revealed that Al Jazeera and Russia Today have an overwhelming advantage over Voice of America in reporting in English on international news and in social media engagement. Russia Today news reports and news video get hundreds of thousands of views and hundreds of readers’ comments while VOA English fails to cover major news stories with on the ground reporters, reports on them late and gets very few views or comments for its news videos and news items, many of which consists of condensed news wire service reports.
Experts also view as suspect the release by IBB of new audience figures just days before the Congressional testimony. They suspect that IBB changed its audience counting methodology to include an audience in Latin America that already existed. Previous counts showed that BBG’s global audience was the same in 2012 as in 2008 despite increases in IBB’s budget and severe cuts to programming.
Hearing: Broadcasting Board of Governors: An Agency “Defunct” 2172 House Rayburn Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Jun 26, 2013 10:00am.
In commenting on the hearing, Rep. Royce noted that “‘tinkering’ and ‘band-aid’ solutions are not an option, because the stakes are too great” in how America’s story is told to the world and how news is delivered to societies living under press censorship.
“International broadcasting is a key tool of U.S. diplomacy. Unfortunately, it’s broken. As Secretary Clinton rightly pointed out earlier this year, ‘the BBG is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world.’ It is time to take a hard look at the BBG and ask if our resources, nearly $750 million annually, are being spent wisely – are we getting what we need from these broadcasting efforts? We aren’t, and it is time for broad reforms; ‘tinkering’ and ‘band-aid’ solutions are not an option, because the stakes are too great.”