Commentary

Bureaucracy Warning Sign

Voice of America – Information War Lost: A Process Moving Forward, And One That Is Dead-On-Arrival

By The Federalist

 

On Monday, July 28, 2014 landmark legislation (H.R. 4490) reforming US Government international broadcasting passed the full US House of Representatives. The legislative process now turns to the Senate where a similar bill is being shaped.

 

This legislation is very necessary. Having passed the House, it must now be crafted into legislation in the Senate and passed, then be presented to the White House for the president’s signature.

 

As reported in Newsmax (“Voice of America Worries House Bill Would Harm Integrity,” by Sandy Fitzgerald, July 30, 2014), former VOA deputy director Alan Heil is quoted as saying,

ALAN HEIL: “If that bill becomes law, VOA’s worldwide following on radio, TV, and online channels would plummet precipitously…The Voice’s greatest asset, its credibility, would be in shreds.”

The article cites an unnamed critic saying the bill would have a “devastating” effect on the agency’s journalistic integrity.

The counterpoint to Mr. Heil’s view is this:

Mr. Heil appears to be behind the curve. The agency is already in shreds and it has nothing to do with this legislation.

“In shreds” is synonymous with being dysfunctional and defunct.

 

No congressional legislation remotely approximates the devastation wrought upon this agency from within itself:

 

  • The rampant waste and mismanagement.

 

  • A “strategic plan” that is neither.

 

  • Decision-making by senior agency officials which continue to reduce the footprint of the agency’s overall broadcasting impact.

 

  • An irrational all-and-nothing-else reliance upon easily interdicted technologies especially those represented by the Internet which can be blocked or controlled by foreign governments hostile toward the United States.

 

  • A management philosophy represented by these and other actions in which being dysfunctional and defunct represents an acceptable standard of performance.

 

  • A staff of bureaucrats who make it clear that their top priority is self-preservation at taxpayer expense and at the expense of the national and public interest.

 

  • A staff of senior officials who make it clear that they are both incapable of fixing the problems they have created and intent upon being wholly unaccountable for their actions.

 

  • An agency with an earned reputation for being one of the worst places to work in the Federal Government.

 

  • A failed agency whose officials cannot properly execute the agency’s mandate, codified in the VOA Charter.

 

  • A staff of senior officials who have made it clear that they are opposed to any measure, congressional or otherwise, to reform the agency and appear to be poised to undermine, obstruct, stall or delay the execution of the legislative mandate.

 

On the issue of “journalistic integrity”:

“Journalistic integrity” is not something self-ordained by people inside the VOA newsroom. It is conferred upon the agency by its audiences.

 

No audience equates with no resonance, no credibility and thus the absence of, or the foundation for, establishing journalistic integrity.

 

As we have remarked previously, the best reporting means very little if it cannot be seen, heard or read.

That is where the agency is now. It is on the ropes. It is,

 

Dysfunctional and defunct.

 

Contrary to the arguments raised by Mr. Heil, it is entirely appropriate for the Congress to step in, assert its legislative authority and attempt a substantial remedial effort to salvage an agency that has imploded.

 

It is equally appropriate for the president to receive the legislation passed by the Congress regarding this agency for his signature.

 

The reality is simply this: either the agency gets fixed or it goes away. There is nothing to suggest that this agency should live on without regard to its performance.

Agency officials responsible for putting the agency in this position face career-ending oblivion. The only place they can go where they can do the least amount of damage to the agency’s mission and waste the least amount of US taxpayer monies is –

Retirement.

Remaining with the agency is not an option.

As it is now, the agency has the appearance of a pre-retirement facility.

 

The Carnival of Wasted Taxpayer Money – Another IBB “Research Briefing”

 

The International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) recently conducted another one of its so-called “research briefings,” this time on media usage in Turkey.

Officials of the IBB have committed to spending up to $50-MILLION dollars in taxpayer monies – over five years – to conduct alleged “audience research” with the Gallup polling organization.

As we have said before – our issue isn’t with Gallup. The organization is at the mercy of the IBB and the way in which these bureaucrats attempt to steer or spin data, via survey questions supplied to Gallup.

Our issue isn’t with Gallup – but we have a very big issue with the IBB.

This latest survey is another perfect example why these bureaucrats should be handed their own one-way tickets on the Oblivion Express, which in fact the pending legislation would do.

If you examine the agency’s PowerPoint presentation associated with this “research briefing,” you will notice that there is no information regarding US Government-funded media in Turkey.

Members of Congress should note the absence of questions and responses pertaining directly to US Government international broadcasting, which one would (mistakenly) think should be the primary focus of the IBB.

Instead, the Turks and other international audiences get the following headline and information thanks to IBB:

NEW SURVEY REVEALS TURKS CONFIDENT OF MEDIA FREEDOM

New research by a U.S. government agency shows Turks are “satisfied” with the state of media in Turkey, contrary to claims that media freedoms are stifled by the government

Ragıp Soylu, DAILY SABAH, Istanbul, Turkey, August 1, 2014.

Using U.S. taxpayers’ money, IBB has successfully undermined claims by the U.S. State Department and media freedom organizations that media in Turkey are not completely free and many outlets practice self-censorship in order to avoid reprisals from the government.

A U.S. government agency mentioned in this Turkish media report is the International Broadcasting Bureau within the Broadcasting Board of Governors. It’s rather clear that IBB audience research does not support this statement about the lack of media freedom in Turkey issued by the State Department in March 2014.

Turkish Government’s Blocking of Social Media Sites

Press Statement
Jen Psaki
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
March 21, 2014

The United States supports freedom of expression in Turkey and opposes any action to encroach on the right to free speech. We urge the Turkish Government to unblock its citizens’ access to Twitter and ensure free access to all social media platforms.

An independent and unfettered media is an essential element of democratic, open societies. Today’s shutdown of Twitter is contrary to Turkey’s own expressed desire to uphold the highest standards of democracy.

We have conveyed our serious concern over this action to Turkish authorities.

The State Department 2013 Human Rights Report states:

Authorities indicted journalists for: refusing to provide information about their sources and investigations; taking part in antigovernment plots; being members of outlawed political groups; attempting to influence the judiciary; insulting the Turkish nation, the Turkish Republic, its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or organs and institutions of the state; and discouraging individuals from doing their military service.

Reporters Without Borders declared in March 2014: “TURKEY DRIFTS DANGEROUSLY AWAY FROM FREE PRESS.”

Even assuming that the poll results in Turkey were more or less accurate — unlike results of the IBB-commissioned poll in Russia-annexed Crimea that supported the Kremlin’s propaganda claims — why would U.S. taxpayers pay for IBB to do PR work for the Turkish government or for Vladimir Putin?

 

Every IBB research survey should lead with the following:

 

  • Are you familiar with the Voice of America?

 

  • Do you listen to VOA programs on the radio?

 

  • Do you watch VOA television programs?

 

  • Do you go to VOA websites on the Internet for news and information?

 

  • Can you identify VOA programs on local radio and television stations?

 

  • Is the Internet controlled or blocked in your country?

 

  • Are VOA websites blocked in your country?

 

  • Are there government controls on television programs in your country, especially those provided by foreign governments?

 

In the absence of such questions, we might conclude the IBB is omitting a serious body of data.

When questions of this kind are omitted either during polling or in presenting audience research, one might conclude the agency does not have a representative audience in the target country or to be so small that it barely registers against other media outlets.

In so many words, the IBB appears to intend to mold the agency into an “Office for Dysfunctional and Defunct Information,” (or “ODDI”) by ignoring core data most important to the agency’s mission.

On its face, the IBB research surveys are doing a superlative job of creating the impression that global publics are not paying attention to program content offered by the agency, particularly with regard to VOA programs.

Perhaps the Senate can add language to its bill requiring that any future surveys conducted by the agency include these questions, in order to facilitate examination of the agency’s effectiveness, or perhaps the lack thereof.

Of course, no legislation is foolproof in the hands of this agency. With the current officials, one needs to be wary of an effort to present incomplete or erroneous data.

Like we said, it’s time for the current cast of characters to quick step their way out of the agency and pursue “other interests.”

But first things first: the legislative process must run its course to a successful outcome.

And we are moving forward.

 

The Federalist

August 2014

 

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