BBG Watch Commentary

GAWKER LogoAn article by Hamilton Nolan in Gawker about a bipartisan bill designed to reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) is quite good. There is no hysteria in defense of 100% independent journalism paid for 100% by U.S. taxpayers. Not even professional journalists in the U.S. think that a few Voice of America English Newsroom reporters who have this view are living in the real world.

Can Publicly Financed Journalism Ever Be Honest?, Hamilton Nolan, Gawker, July 3, 2014.

(Some of the strongest opponents of the bipartisan H.R. 4490 bill, which this article discusses, are full-time U.S. federal government employees, draw six-figure salaries with cost-of-living supplement, have generous health care and retirement benefits, practically unlimited sick leave, long vacations, strong job security, and for those few who are on U.S. Foreign Service limited appointments, even housing costs abroad, primary and secondary education for children and home leave.

Their vehement public opposition to a very reasonable although perhaps not 100% perfect (95%) fully bipartisan bill may lead to Voice of America being defunded by frustrated members of Congress. One Congressman has already proposed it.

Most VOA employees, especially those in VOA foreign language services, do not have anything close to such salaries or benefits, especially underpaid and abused contract employees. They are the ones who know what the real world is like, who know their audiences abroad, and who strongly support management reforms in H.R. 4490. They are especially hurt by bad management from VOA and International Broadcasting Bureau executives.)

The Gawker article also includes this comment by former VOA White House correspondent Dan Robinson:

FORMER VOA WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT DAN ROBINSON: The legislation now making its way through Congress was a direct response to numerous examples in recent years of mismanagement and rudderless leadership at and by the BBG (Broadcasting Board of Governors, which replaced the old USIA in the 1990’s), and under it, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). Some of the reasons for my decision to retire from VOA earlier this year were outlined here:…

The reporters who are protesting the loudest against HR 4490 have also, but more quietly and out of the view of mainstream media, struggled against this mismanagement for a number of years. Unfortunately, the image of the VOA, and much of U.S. government-funded media, has plummeted in the face of superior competition from BBC, and other media organizations.

But as I observed to my former colleagues, change often comes from unexpected places (and often at the most inconvenient times). In this case, it could have been entirely predicted that members of Congress would say, quite simply, enough is enough in what is recognized as the most dysfunctional of government agencies, despite all the hoopla about how much “bang for the buck” the taxpayer gets from these services.

I am no fan of some of the language in HR 4490, and steps have been taken and still are to address these issues. Nor have I been supportive of calls by idealogues of the right to even more extensively subsume VOA and other services into the national security and foreign policy structure.

But I have also opposed the evidence from the mouths of some BBG and VOA officials, that their intention is to take VOA out of the business of providing uniformly timely breaking news. The current VOA director himself has said so, while by the way also stating that “VOA is not neutral” — a transparent attempt to throw a bone to what VOA journalists are now describing as a “neocon takeover.”

It is clear that this legislation has strong bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. Opponents of the bill were quite content for decades to draw government salaries as journalists working for what many others throughout government, including the White House and State Department, always saw as a weapon to be wielded.

For a more extensive discussion of all of this, I invite those interested to read my commentary published in May at:…

Dan Robinson

Former VOA White House, Congressional, and Foreign Correspondent