BBG Watch Commentary
Hillary Clinton gave the final major speech Thursday as the outgoing Secretary of State at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and later expressed her disappointment with the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and its growing abandonment of radio and television broadcasting as a means of reaching and influencing audiences abroad.
Hillary Clinton’s successor John Kerry will be sworn in on Friday.
In response to a question toward the end of the program at the Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary Clinton made a highly critical comment about the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting. She repeated her statement made earlier during a congressional testimony that the BBG has “abdicated the broadcast media.” She also said that “if we don’t have an up-to-date, modern, effective Broadcasting Board of Governors, we shouldn’t have one at all.”
Limiting broadcasting and expanding online programs has been part of the BBG’s five year strategic plan, which is still being strongly pushed by the BBG’s executive staff at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) despite growing opposition to its various portions from several BBG members. IBB director Richard Lobo, a presidential appointee in charge of administration at the agency, but not a BBG member himself, is viewed as a largely disengaged figure who allows his staff to manage and make major decisions, often without consulting the Board.
IBB executives have been rated in numerous Office of Personnel Management (OPM) employee viewpoint surveys as being the worst managers in the federal government and the agency has the lowest employee morale. Lobo is rumored to be looking for another job in the Obama Administration, sources told BBG Watch. Some BBG members would like to replace Lobo with a more engaged CEO, but such a change would require congressional action.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been an ex officio member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Recently, top IBB executives have launched an unprecedented attack on BBG members who disagree with them by providing highly critical opinions to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Their comments, reflected in the OIG report, blame BBG members for questioning the strategic plan and mismanagement at the agency. The OIG report has been sharply criticized by the BBG employee union and outside experts as biased, unprofessional and an attack by the IBB staff on the authority of BBG members.
In addition to blaming BBG members, IBB executives also blame the Congress for forcing them to bring unbiased news and information to more than 100 countries in 59 languages on a shrinking budget. But the BBG budget continued to grow in recent years, as IBB executive staff kept eliminating broadcasting services, increasing the number of non-programming positions and losing audiences at the same time. The BBG’s global audience has not increased in several years despite increases in the BBG’s budget followed by the growth of IBB bureaucracy at the expense of broadcasting services.
Secretary of State Clinton may have been referring to this trend in her critical remarks about U.S. international broadcasting.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: “And what we have tried to do, as I briefly mentioned, is to get in there with them, to undermine them, and to rebut them. It is something we did quite well in the Cold War. You know, the more I’ve done this job, the more lessons I think we can transfer from the Cold War to today.
No, we don’t have some monolithic Communist Soviet Union. But we were engaged minute by minute in pushing out our ideas, our values, refuting Communist propaganda. The Cold War ended, people said, “Oh, my goodness, thank the lord, democracy has triumphed, we don’t have to do any of that anymore.” That is a terrible mistake.
We have basically abdicated, in my views, the broadcast media. I have tried and will continue from the outside to try to convince Congress and others, if we don’t have an up-to-date, modern, effective Broadcasting Board of Governors, we shouldn’t have one at all.
Other countries — Russia, China, and I mentioned Al Jazeera already — they have government messaging that is now predominant in so many places in the languages of the places. And we — you know, we — you know, we transport our culture and entertainment around the world, which doesn’t always, unfortunately, convey our best values…
… but, you know — and we abdicate in really investing in and modernizing what our broadcasting potential could be.
So, you know, I think there are many more examples, but I would say that, if you look at how successful we were in the Cold War — thankfully, we never went to war with the Soviet Union, we never stopped negotiating with the Soviet Union — and we engaged in a lot of very sophisticated diplomacy around the world.
And we did things like support certain people in elections, because they were more democratic than other people. We did a lot. I mean, George Shultz was here the other day. And, you know, we did so much to kind of help those who were on the side of democracy and freedom survive behind the Iron Curtain and then thrive when the Iron Curtain fell.
And I have a long list of things that I would love to see us doing in a modern way that we have not yet adapted to this new time.”
Ambassador Victor Ashe, one of BBG members who consistently questioned mismanagement combined with the abandonment of broadcasting and was attacked by the IBB staff in comments included in the OIG report, made these observations to the media about Secretary Clinton’s statement:
BBG GOVERNOR VICTOR ASHE: “Secretary Clinton is right on target here. BBG overhaul is long overdue as long as it is done in a way which promotes international broadcasting and does not perpetuate the bureaucracy. The Board must be a functioning Board which actually meets and is engaged. For the record, Michael Meehan and Susan McCue are incredibly engaged. They do yeoman work. I have attended every BBG meeting since I was appointed.
Legislation to create a CEO for all of BBG must be carefully considered and congressional hearings need to held on the concept so a variety of views are heard. Right now, no real hearing for public input has been held.
Hopefully, this will be discussed at our February 22 scheduled BBG meeting assuming it happens.
“I anticipate Secretary Kerry will be very engaged with BBG. I hope he actually attends a meeting which would be a first for any Secretary of State.”
Ashe, McCue and Meehan joined forces to reform Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) after the tenure of former RFE/RL president Steven Korn who favored the IBB plan of reduced broadcasting and more fluff online journalism. Korn fired dozens of experienced Radio Liberty journalists, mostly in Russia, but also in services broadcasting to Central Asia and to a few other countries with restricted media.
Many analytical and human rights RFE/RL programs were replaced with videos, some with suggestive sexual content, as well as light feature reports, some of them about sex with images of attractive women in skimpy costumes, to appeal to a younger audience.
But after audience losses and widespread protests against Korn’s plan from human rights activists, democratic opposition leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, and independent journalists in Russia and in other countries, BBG members have appointed a distinguished journalist Kevin Klose to replace Korn as acting RFE/RL president.