BBG Watch Commentary
International Broadcasting Bureau – We Just LOVE Our Jobs While Employees May Be Losing Theirs – Information War: Dysfunctional and Defunct – Keep The Implosion Rolling!
By The Federalist
Employees of US Government international broadcasting had yet another presentation by the agency’s “interim management team” on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 regarding prospects for the present and future.
Let’s just call it by what it is:
The details may be found on reports on the BBG Watch website.
Our focus here is on the agency’s press release of the same date (“BBG to Become More Nimble and Streamlined Under the FY15 Budget Request”).
The press release is an exercise in deceit and misinformation. It is intended to mislead people outside the Cohen Building regarding the true nature of the agency which has been correctly labeled and remains: dysfunctional and defunct. Senior agency officials are playing on the public’s lack of knowledge about how the agency has gone about imploding at the hands of International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) careerists and their failed, “five-year,” “strategic plan.”
The public needs to be reminded that this plan has been labeled “neither strategic nor a plan” by the current Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
That constitutes a vote of no confidence. And rightly so.
Nevertheless, the IBB continues to move on that plan which integrates with the Obama Administration’s foreign policy of “leading from behind,” which in our view is nothing other than a policy of abandoning US global responsibilities. Our description of that policy is, “Turn, and RUN!!!”
Obviously, we aren’t the only ones who feel that way. Put a call in to the Kremlin and ask Russian president Vladimir Putin what his views are. He must certainly believe that the White House is filled with effete snobs with no sense of history or a penetrative world view.
Let’s examine some of the things spoken to in the text of the press release.
Right at the start, the whole notion that this agency is “nimble” or going to be nimble in what it does is a joke. Call it: avoiding accountability.
Under the plans for news coverage created by David Ensor, the Voice of America (VOA) director and Steve Redisch, the VOA executive editor, the agency has demonstrated that it is pedestrian rather than nimble, not able to keep up with breaking or developing news. With all the ballyhoo about new technologies and the like, the agency’s Internet operations seriously lag behind other international media. Examples abound on the BBG Watch website, with timeline comparisons between the agency and other media.
It is important to keep in mind that this is not a slam of the agency’s employees working the websites or the VOA Central Newsroom. Both are understaffed and under-resourced, with the talent and ability of these employees wasted in a futile exercise. VOA executives have not provided them with leadership or a vision of what Voice of America mission is under its congressional Charter. No wonder that they respond to pressure from IBB strategic planners and marketing specialists, reinforced by their own executive editor, that what they should be producing are videos of a bloodthirsty Uncle Sam character attacking a Pakistani, Justin Bieber updates, multiple reports on the British royal family, and an occasional dog show report. We know that that is not what they would rather do, but there is no one to provide leadership and tell them otherwise.
Everything that is wrong about this agency is not at all about the employees. It’s entirely about the agency’s management structure, individual VOA and IBB executives, and the agenda of those behind the decisions to make the agency “un-newsworthy.”
Another quote from the press release:
“The agency, which oversees civilian international news and information programs for people in more than 100 countries, is seeking $721.26 million to meet strategic priorities, migrating to media that its listeners and viewers increasingly use, and innovating to reach next-generation audiences.”
The last word we heard on “strategic priorities” is that the BBG is saddled with an IBB plan that is “neither strategic nor a plan.” That is absolutely correct and we support that statement and analysis.
In turn, that leaves it to the BBG – not the IBB – to develop a real strategic plan that seeks impact. Until that happens and is fully articulated, there is no plan. To be sure, there is an agenda, but not a plan.
What Is The Agenda?
That’s easy: to keep the IBB self-aggrandizers employed, bringing in six-figure annual salaries and bonuses while they log time toward retirement and waste millions if not billions of US taxpayer dollars in the process.
Folks, to put it colloquially, “it ain’t happening.”
The agency agreed to spend $50-million dollars in American taxpayer money for a contract with the Gallup polling organization ($10-mill a year over five years).
We track the survey results. Of late, these surveys talk a lot about media and technology and virtually nothing validating the IBB insinuation – not the fact – that the audiences, the news content and the impact it has abandoned on radio and television are being delivered through alternative or new technologies. The news content and much of the impact have for sure disappeared. Zombie videos, Justin Bieber and the British royal family are not likely to produce much mission impact for VOA.
We live in a media and technology saturated society. Many Americans have some measure of spendable income and/or are able to be advanced credit to purchase the latest gizmos from the technology industrial complex. Even young American audiences are not as moronic as what IBB and VOA executives assume the rest of the world is by giving them bloodthirsty zombies.
Large parts of the rest of the world do not dance to that tune. They live in danger and many live in poverty. They look to VOA for a serious message and content. They can get their entertainment somewhere else. The IBB has taken the approach to advance the latest technology and the latest information fad over the right combination of news content and technologies that are likely to reach and attract the largest number of people truly seeking to be informed without censorship over the entire spectrum of broadcast and Internet expanse of territory and, most importantly, to be informed through media that is less expensive to use and less vulnerable to being interdicted.
And The Agenda Is
Simple: it will take decades to approximate the same level of potential audience under old technology with the new technology. That keeps the IBB self-aggrandizers employed all the way to retirement while promising the Congress that if it funds their agenda, they will eventually have audience.
It’s not happening because now, under their strategic plan, the content for both traditional and new media became the same moronic fluff.
What is happening is that the bulk of these abandoned audiences seek out other stations using both old and new media.
To be certain, there are people around the world who do have the wealth and/or the infrastructure to acquire new technology. However, thanks to the IBB dysfunctional and defunct “strategic plan,” in addition to not being seen, heard or read, the underlying message appears to be bleeding resonance with global publics.
Thus, the questions for the Board are:
- How many millions of US taxpayer dollars do you intend to ask for in order to grow new audiences on new media?
- How many years or decades is that going to take to establish these audiences?
Wait, There’s More
The IBB press release drones on:
“…the BBG has proposed investments of just over $24 million to expand journalism and content distribution efforts for audiences in Africa, East Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as to boost infrastructure and expand popular English language lesson programs.”
Let’s put the IBB “juggernaut” in some kind of realistic context.
The Chinese spend upwards of $8-BILLION dollars on their overseas media operations. That means they are outspending the BBG by a ratio slightly over 8:1.
And that’s just the Chinese.
This doesn’t take into account what the Russians are doing with their highly successful RT (“Russia Today”) effort.
It also doesn’t take into account what the Iranians are doing with their PRESSTV, particularly regarding their outreach broadcast efforts in Latin America.
In all three examples, these international broadcasters are capitalizing on two things: (1) the global retreat of the United States and (2) a significant uptick in global anti-American sentiment.
And remember: Chinese and Russian program content is readily available in the United States. IBB programming doesn’t have the same kind of reciprocity with the Chinese and Russians.
Cumulatively, the IBB effort is softball. The other guys are throwing heat with a 90-miles-an-hour fastball.
The press release also notes the BBG intends to spend $5-million dollars on “youth-oriented video and digital initiatives for Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam.”
It’s a good thing they didn’t mention Pakistan, our memories fresh with that horrid video promo for the agency’s “Zindagi 360” Urdu program. You know: the one that featured someone dressed in the character of “Uncle Sam” (the United States) as a bloodthirsty zombie.
Maybe “youth oriented” should be changed to adolescent and juvenile.
And the press release notes,
“The BBG will continue its growing and successful Internet anti-censorship efforts in FY 2015 with $12.5 million in funds.”
Some of that request would be directed toward China.
Let’s see: the IBB versus the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), which does most of the Chinese cyber warfare offensive and defensive operations. We have to say that the good money is probably on the PLA.
And by the way, they do export some of their cyber warfare technology.
In IBB doublespeak, “growing” means spending more US taxpayer dollars, not effectiveness and “successful” is what the agency wants you to believe. It isn’t the reality.
More IBB press release:
“By reducing administrative operations, eliminating needless language service overlap, streamlining central news operations, optimizing information technology and reducing ineffective transmissions, the agency would save about $32.9 million under this budget request. Such reductions will be taken in order to sustain core journalistic operations.”
The first thing to point is that there is no language service overlap. The BBG is responsible for a number of different entities including the VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Sawa/Alhurra television in Arabic, and other broadcast projects.
The reality is that all these entities have specific missions mandated by Congress. The missions are not the same. They have different intended outcomes. Generally, VOA is intended to have a broad global vision. The other entities are supposed to perform as area or country-specific “surrogates;” that is, acting as free media targeted to countries where media is not free and controlled by various governments. The difference is not subtle and has been seen clearly during the latest crisis in Ukraine when RFE/RL and VOA programs to Ukraine and Russia are compared. A vast difference.
What the IBB always intended to do was to co-mingle VOA content with the surrogates in violation of Congressional intent and the VOA Charter. This presents problems of distinguishing who provides the content and under what editorial controls. We look at this as symbolic of a news content bipolar disorder.
And this is particularly true when considering the statement,
“…streamlining central news operations…”
The IBB does not intend to streamline the VOA Central Newsroom. The intent is to destroy it. Remember the plan advocated by David Ensor (VOA director) and Steve Redisch (VOA executive editor) known as “43 newsrooms,” referencing the number of VOA language services each intending to replicate what the VOA Central Newsroom does for all of VOA.
We have a term for this: jacks of all trades and masters of none. The agency’s “43 newsrooms” do not now and will not ever have the requisite knowledge or expertise to put together the news content the VOA Central Newsroom used to do. Today, the Newsroom has been so mangled by these two guys and their plan that it no longer functions optimally as a newsroom at all. Examples abound all over the BBG Watch website. VOA oversees audiences may not get the latest news from the White House and the State Department on Ukraine, but they are treated reliably under the guidance of Mr. Ensor and Mr. Redisch to feature reports on Justin Bieber.
As we have said before, the VOA Newsroom ignominiously is now:
As to funding issues, the agency proposes to spend $24-million to “expand” program content while “saving” about $33-million dollars. To outward appearances, it’s just a shell game where the actual “savings” on paper may only be about $10-million. And that’s only if you believe the agency is mission effective.
It is not. It is dysfunctional and defunct.
Last but not least:
Memo to the BBG:
The March 26, 2014 staff meeting was presided over by Andre Mendes who seemingly speaks for the rest of the “interim management team.”
Our observation is that Mr. Mendes is way too chipper in delivering bad news – which is the track record of these staff meetings. While Mr. Mendes runs down the specifics of bad news, the lasting impression is,
“My job is safe and yours is not. Too bad for you.”
The same applies to Barbara Brady, the VOA Chief of Staff,” who claims that the employees have to “reinvent” themselves. That’s another way of putting the onus on employees to make up for the deficiencies of senior agency management.
The agency’s employees are not stupid. They see right through these people.
At The End Of The Day
It is clear to us that the intent of the IBB is to erase all memory of what the agency used to be. To be sure, they will attempt to continue to traffic in the traditional names of US Government international broadcasting, but the reputation for content and mission effectiveness will no longer exist.