BBG Watch EXCLUSIVE
U.S. Congressman Kevin Yoder (R-K) has written a letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) expressing concerns regarding the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) decision to phase out Radio Free Iraq, which is part of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the potential closure of RFE/RL media services to Macedonia.
The agency’s bureaucracy within the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) usually makes recommendations to the bipartisan BBG board on media cuts and closures. While greatly expanding its own ranks during the last several years, the IBB bureaucracy carried out numerous cuts of programs and programming positions.
Congressman Yoder serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
In a letter addressed to BBG members, dated May 1, 2015, Congressman Yoder also expressed concerns about the costs of BBG executive searches and the high turnover of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty Presidents. Congressman Yoder requested a breakdown of the total dollars spent on executive searches and a report of the travel expenses of the last six acting and permanent BBG presidents. He was referring to RFE/RL presidents appointed by the BBG. Congressman Yoder said that “this rapid turnover in leadership is likely to be both costly for taxpayers and an indication that the current leadership structure may need to be reviewed.”
In commenting on BBG’s media closures and other programming cuts, Congressman Yoder wrote:
“Given instability throughout the world, it is important that the United States ensures western media and balanced views can reach countries without access to free flow of information. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I know full well the challenges within the government to do more with less, but I urge that BBG seek efficiencies other than discontinuing service in critical locations. The world’s perception of these closures could potentially be viewed as a withdrawal of America’s presence in Iraq and the Balkans,” Congressman Kevin Yoder wrote to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
A new version of last year’s H.R. 4490 bill to reform the structure and the bureaucracy of the Broadcasting Board of Governors was reintroduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Committee Ranking Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). H.R. 2323 – the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015 will be marked-up by the Committee Thursday, May 21, 2015. Easy passage through Foreign Affairs Committee and the House is expected.
H.R. 2323 reiterates the reforms proposed in H.R. 4490, legislation Royce and Engel introduced in April 2014. The Committee unanimously passed H.R. 4490 in April 2014; the House passed H.R. 4490 in July 2014; the Senate never considered H.R. 4490. According to well-informed sources on the Hill, this time the Senate is interested and will take the bill up.
In introducing H.R. 2323, Congressman Royce said that “by clarifying the BBG’s mission, creating accountable leadership, and reducing the bureaucracy, more of the agency’s budget can be spent countering foreign propaganda – and not on Washington bureaucrats.”
Congressman Royce and the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, expressed concerns about program cuts similar to those highlighted in Congressman Kevin Yoder’s letter.
“The Agency’s recent budget request proposed ending its Central Africa broadcast services, contrary to the advice of the State Department, and at a time of Burundi and Rwanda’s greatest need. This shortsightedness points to an agency adrift. We don’t have the luxury of minor tweaks; this legislation responds to the need for complete overhaul,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce said.
Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) said:
“During the Cold War, the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other U.S.-backed broadcasters were the global gold standard for transmitting honest, unbiased news around the world. Today, the need for that information is just as great. Authoritarian governments and extremist groups are flooding airwaves and covering websites with propaganda and misinformation. Modern technologies have provided new avenues for disseminating lies and distortions to massive audiences. Unfortunately, America’s ability to respond effectively hasn’t kept pace. It’s time to breathe new life into American international broadcasting by modernizing and streamlining the BBG. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation with Chairman Royce and I’m eager to push forward with these needed reforms,” Rep. Eliot Engel said.
May 1, 2015
Broadcasting Board of Governors
330 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC. 20237
Secretary of State, John Forbes Kerry
Ambassador Ryan Crocker
Ambassador Karen Kombluh
Dr. Leon Aron
Broadcasting Board of Governors,
I write to express my concerns regarding the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) decision to close
Radio Free Iraq and the potential Macedonia closure. I call attention to my letter regarding FY 2015
funding (enclosed). As you know, on March 6, 2014, I wrote to urge your reconsideration of similar
closures. I applaud your decision and urge similar action this coming fiscal year. Unfortunately, the same
concerns this previous fiscal year still stand.
Given instability throughout the world, it is important that the United States ensures western media and
balanced views can reach countries without access to free flow of information. As a member of the
Appropriations Committee, I know full well the challenges within the government to do more with less,
but I urge that BBG seek efficiencies other than discontinuing service in critical locations. The world’s
perception of these closures could potentially be viewed as a withdrawal of America’s presence in Iraq
and the Balkans.
Additionally, I am concerned about the costs of BBG executive searches and the high turnover of Radio
Free Europe Presidents – both permanent and interim. It is my understanding there have been a total of
six presidents in the past five years.
I formally request a breakdown of the total dollars spent on executive searches. I would also like to
request a report of the travel expenses of the last six acting and permanent BBG presidents. This rapid
turnover in leadership is likely to be both costly for taxpayers and an indication that the current leadership
structure may need to be reviewed.
I respectfiilly request an explanation before any further expenditure is made.
Congressman Kevin Yoder
March 6, 2014
Broadcasting Board of Governors
330 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20237
Attention: Jeffrey Shell, Chairman
Michael P. Meehan
Ambassador Ryan Crocker
Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry, ex officio
Board of Governors:
I write to express my concerns regarding the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ decision to close the
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Balkans Service and Radio Free Iraq. As a member of the
House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, the significant value of these
programs has been made apparent to me. I urge the Broadcasting Board of Governors to reconsider
discontinuing these services.
Recent events in the Ukraine have made it clear: these Broadcast Services are a necessary to support the
ideals of freedom of speech and democracy. I firmly believe that our nation must not only bring about
peace through strength, but also maintain itself as a beacon of free Speech to deliver truthful and
responsible content to those who may otherwise not receive those messages.
RFE/RL is referenced by decision makers throughout the regions where it is accessible. It bolsters the
actions we take and reinforces our nation’s foreign policy at a time when it most needs strength and
continuity. Considering instability and recent Russian aggression, we cannot be seen to retreat from the
world in military or diplomatic activity.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors should reconsider its decision to close the RFE/RL’s Balkans
Service and Radio Free Iraq at this time of critical need. I respectfiilly request that you respond with
explanation for the cessation of these services.
Member of Congress