EDITOR’S NOTE: BBG Watch strongly supports the concept of all BBG programs fully paid for by American taxpayers — that includes in our view not just VOA and Radio and TV Marti but also grantee broadcasters — being available to anybody free of charge in the United States and abroad to use them as they see fit. What we object to is the real threat of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives using their new powers to further abandon service to overseas audiences and to further weaken hard news coverage in favor of marketing soft news and entertainment programs to Americans — adopting the same programming and marketing approach they have been using as their strategy for local placement abroad. The fact that in the past they have also practiced internal censorship in selecting U.S. media reports for Americans to see in their Media Highlights also does not bode well for this project.
by The Federalist
As announced in an agency press release dated July 1, 2013:
Now, American citizens and others living in the United States will have a firsthand opportunity to see, hear and read how almost $800-million dollars of US taxpayer money is being wasted annually, particularly with regard to broadcasts that aren’t needed or particularly relevant within the United States.
This development comes by way of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act which lifts restrictions on dissemination of agency program content within the United States.
The primary target of these broadcasts is the immigrant communities within the United States. Secondarily, the agency clearly intends to leverage this legislation with mainstream Americans, to engage in self-promotion of its operations. In other words: propaganda, particularly with regard to its “successes” which are either fleeting or of such minority impact as to be almost superfluous.
As we have noted in other commentaries, the first order of business for most Americans from among the immigrant communities is advancing themselves and their families within the United States.
Just as importantly, these same communities often have access to alternative media sources for news and information about their homelands. Unlike less-than-free media environments abroad, the United States is a veritable cornucopia of media choices, both in-coming and out-bound.
Making a dent in this massive amount of foreign and domestic media within the US by the agency is, well, not very likely.
This will become increasingly evident as people become acquainted with the agency’s lethargic response to global events.
As we already know from the way senior agency management has decimated the Voice of America (VOA) Newsroom, the agency is often many hours behind breaking and developing news. This is not for lack of effort on the part of the agency’s correspondents and reporters. It comes from being under-resourced in the Newsroom and an approach to prioritizing news items and news production that has been described by staff as “schizophrenic.” The agency hasn’t reached the point of complete implosion, but senior officials are trying very hard and are getting closer by the day.
Our sources report that Steve Redisch, the VOA Executive Editor, now spends a couple hours a day down in the VOA Central Newsroom on the first floor of the Cohen Building. This puts him in the ideal position to survey the damage wrought by a decision-making process both he and David Ensor (the VOA director) have invested in.
It’s not a pretty picture.
Loss of staff through attrition now has the Newsroom reshuffling its coverage and cherry-picking staff from the language services to try to fill the gaps. Of course, the other side of the coin is that this leaves language services depleted since they are often proportionately under-resourced like the Newsroom.
Also, keep in mind that the agency’s FY2014 budget proposal will eliminate Newsroom vacancies that the agency has available, in addition to what might also come in the way of other cuts or further staff erosion through attrition.
Further, the agency’s claim of reinventing itself as a “global news network” is nothing more than empty hectoring. Reality makes it a joke.
We’ve seen many an email from Newsroom staff that sees it this way – and as we have come to expect from the Third Floor of the Cohen Building, no one at the upper management level has the professional courage to admit.
“Professional courage.” Now there’s an oxymoron to apply to the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
Clearly, the IBB is trying to promote the domestic dissemination of its program content as a triumph.
The reality is it’s the agency’s last stand. And it may be one of relatively short duration – sort of like a Fourth of July sparkler in a downpour.
As a result, the inability of the agency to have resonance with a meaningful percentage of global publics is headed for compounding that failure among the domestic American public.
As it is, an increasing amount of agency English website content is recycled reports from the Associated Press (AP), Reuters and others.
The “global news network” is in the recycling business.
What Americans pay for is an agency which has its focus right. And that means on provisions of the VOA Charter and with global publics. That is the mission and results intended for this agency. Less than that – as the IBB has intentionally pursued – results in an agency that is:
It is cacophonous and babbling.
That’s the way it is, and so it shall remain until the agency gets legislated out of existence.
It can’t happen soon enough.
Failure – and more so – failure compounded are unacceptable.