BBG Watch Commentary
BBG Watch is reposting reminders about Wednesday’s events in Washington, DC focused on U.S. international broadcasting and other media outreach abroad.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015, at 10 a.m., U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will convene a hearing to examine Russia’s use of media to destabilize Ukraine, Eastern Europe and beyond, and the U.S. government’s inability to respond effectively.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Tuesday, “Countering Putin’s Information Weapons of War,” Chairman Royce argues that Kremlin propaganda is far outstripping U.S. ability to get the truth out.
CHAIRMAN ROYCE: “The BBG [Broadcasting Board of Governors] undermined the U.S. broadcasting services, hollowing out those in Europe and leaving them unable to defend against Russia’s resurgent information war.
Responding to the invasion and occupation of parts of Ukraine, the BBG launched a joint VOA and RFE/RL venture in October called ‘Current Time’—a 30-minute Russian-language news television program that was broadcast to Lithuania, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine and Latvia. But after only four months, the program was taken off the air in Latvia due to a lack of viewership.”
“Righting this ship must be an urgent foreign-policy priority. I will soon introduce bipartisan legislation to do just that. The bill would charge one U.S. broadcasting organization (VOA) with reporting U.S. policy and other global news, and another, including RFE/RL and similar services, to act as the free press in repressive societies like Russia. Each organization will have its own CEO and its own board, with accountability that is clear to all.”
READ MORE: Countering Putin’s Information Weapons of War Kremlin propaganda is far outstripping our ability to get the truth out. The U.S. needs a new approach. Ed Royce, The Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2015
Some former and current VOA English newsroom reporters and managers expressed strong reservations about the language in last year’s bipartisan bill to reform the BBG, H.R. 4490. The bill won unanimous approval from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House of Representatives, but it was not voted on in the Senate in 2014. It must be reintroduced and passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President to become law.
Al Pessin, a VOA foreign correspondent, criticized the original bill in his The Los Angeles Times op-ed, “Back off, Congress, and keep Voice of America real.”
While the title of the op-ed was probably chosen by the editorial staff, the author, who represented only himself, kept referring to the bill as “the Royce bill,” even though the legislation was fully bipartisan. It was introduced in 2014 by both Chairman Royce and Ranking Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY).
In July 2014, Voice of America reported on the controversy over the bill’s language.
VOA NEWS: “Some current and former VOA journalists say they agree that changes to management are urgently needed, but they are worried about language in the House bill that calls on the Voice of America to promote U.S. foreign policy while being a fair and accurate source of news. The bill also would reduce the scope of VOA’s coverage from world news to U.S. news and policy.
Former VOA deputy director Alan Heil says those changes would be devastating:
‘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,’ said Heil.”
Despite reservations about some of the language in H.R. 4490, the union representing Voice of America and other BBG federal employees, AFGE Local 1812, expressed strong support for the bill because of its management reforms provisions.
A broad coalition of former members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, journalists, and former BBG employees sent an open letter to President Obama expressing support for H.R. 4490 management reform provisions and for the VOA Charter.
Also on Wednesday, April 15th, at 3 p.m., Hudson Institute will host the five recipients of the 2014 Václav Havel Journalism Fellowship for a discussion of the challenges of reporting in the shadow of the Kremlin. The Václav Havel Journalism fellows—one each from Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova—will offer their unique perspectives on reporting in restrictive and perilous media environments. Kenneth R. Weinstein, president and CEO of Hudson Institute and member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), will moderate the discussion. Jaroslav Zajicek, Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy of the Czech Republic, John Giambalvo, Vice President and Interim Manager of RFE/RL, and John Todoroki, Founder of the Prague Freedom Foundation, will give introductory remarks.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs Press Release
Chairman Royce to Convene Hearing on Russia’s “Weaponization” of Information Tomorrow (Wed.) at 10 a.m.
APR 14, 2015
Hearing to Focus on Russia’s Disinformation Strategy and the U.S. Response
Washington, D.C. – Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 15, 2015) at 10 a.m., U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will convene a hearing to examine Russia’s use of media to destabilize Ukraine, Eastern Europe and beyond, and the U.S. government’s inability to respond effectively. The hearing, entitled “Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information,” will be held in 2172 Rayburn House Office Building.
Chairman Royce on the hearing: “For years, Putin has used the Russian media to consolidate power at home and divide societies abroad. The strategies employed today by the Kremlin are highly sophisticated and well-funded with an estimated annual budget of more than $600 million. Russia’s media machine has polluted the media environment, the truth is lost, listeners don’t know whom to believe, and fear divides society. Unfortunately, the U.S. has been slow to respond to this challenge and the agency charged with leading the effort – the Broadcasting Board of Governors – has a well-documented history of dysfunction. We need to reform the BBG if we are to have a chance against this ‘weaponization’ of information.”
Note: During the 113th Congress, Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel introduced “The U.S. International Communications Reform Act of 2014” (H.R. 4490) which passed the House unanimously. H.R. 4490 proposed to overhaul the Broadcasting Board of Governors, create cost savings, and increase agency efficiency. This legislation will be reintroduced in the coming weeks.
Hearing: “Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information”
10:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday, April 15
2172 Rayburn House Office Building
Mr. Peter Pomerantsev
The Legatum Institute
Ms. Helle C. Dale
Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Heritage Foundation
Ms. Elizabeth Wahl
Former RT Anchor
Freelance Journalist/Public Speaker
***See www.foreignaffairs.house.gov for updates.
***Coverage note: All Foreign Affairs Committee proceedings are webcast live at www.foreignaffairs.house.gov/live-video-feed.
Hundson Institute Announcement
On Wednesday, April 15th, Hudson Institute will host the five recipients of the 2014 Václav Havel Journalism Fellowship for a discussion of the challenges of reporting in the shadow of the Kremlin. The Václav Havel Journalism fellows—one each from Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova—will offer their unique perspectives on reporting in restrictive and perilous media environments. Kenneth R. Weinstein, president and CEO of Hudson Institute, will moderate the discussion.
This event is sponsored by Hudson Institute, the Embassy of the Czech Republic, Prague Freedom Foundation, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Jaroslav Zajicek, Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy of the Czech Republic, John Giambalvo, Vice President and Interim Manager of RFE/RL, and John Todoroki, Founder of the Prague Freedom Foundation, will give introductory remarks.
The Václav Havel Journalism Fellowship is an initiative of RFE/RL and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and is generously supported by the Prague Freedom Foundation. Launched in 2011, it is inspired by the late Czech leader’s belief in the transformational power of free speech and builds on RFE/RL’s legacy of promoting more open societies through journalism. The Fellowship strengthens the capacity of aspiring journalists to use their journalism in support of pluralism in RFE/RL’s broadcast region, where media freedom continues to be stifled and where journalism often remains a dangerous profession.
Journalism in the Shadow of the Kremlin
2014-2015 Václav Havel Journalism Fellows
Evgeny Kuzmin (Russia), Hanna Liubakova (Belarus),
Ana Lomtadze (Georgia), Olga Malchevska (Ukraine),
and Natalia Sergheev (Moldova)
President, Hudson Institute
Jaroslav Zajicek, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the Czech Republic in the U.S.
John Todoroki, Founder, Prague Freedom Foundation
John Giambalvo, Vice President and Interim Manager, RFE/RL, Inc.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
3:00pm – 4:30pm
1015 15th Street NW, 6th Floor, Washington, DC