The decline of both U.S. international broadcasting and U.S. public diplomacy as a result of the creation of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and consolidation of the United States Information Agency (USIA) into the State Department was predicted in 1995 with remarkable accuracy in a letter former Voice of America (VOA) European Division Deputy Director and former VOA Newsroom editor Vello Ederma wrote to Senator Jessie Helms. Ederma was protesting Helms’ efforts in cooperation with the Bill Clinton Administration to eliminate USIA and move public diplomacy functions into the State Department.
Encouraged by its ever-growing bureaucracy, the Broadcasting Board of Governors is again using “consolidation” arguments to resist structural reforms proposed in the bipartisan bill H.R. 2323 which attempts to undo at least part of the damage to U.S. international broadcasting and U.S. public diplomacy as a result of legislative changes in the 1990s which saw the abolishment of USIA and the consolidation of public diplomacy functions into the State Department.
VELLO EDERMA: Thank you for your answer to my plea not to destroy the Voice of America. Your operative answer of course is the last sentence: “However, consolidating the administrative functions for our international broadcasting ventures will allow the United States to more effectively use the resources we have available.” And you state that “the programs will be directed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.” The first statement appears inaccurate and the second a major fallacy. I understand your intentions are budget-driven, but the fat in budgets can be trimmed without cutting the guts or junking the broadcasts.
Unfortunately, the two statements have no connection with the real world and may eventually destroy VOA.
In reality,the programs will never be “directed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.” This group will meet a few times a year for a few hours to ratify whatever is being done. More likely, the Board will create a new bureaucracy. This will open up all kinds of “command and control” possibilities that will very likely infuriate senators like yourself, whether on philosophical or any other grounds Only this time you will have yourself to blame.
The separation of “public diplomacy” functions from traditional, secretive State Department diplomacy has served the U.S. national interest well. The ability of Americans to connect with the foreign media, educational and other open public environments without the tinge of “officialdom, propaganda or intelligence” has created a second tier of friendly relationships among peoples that the State Department has never been able to do nor is that its function. USIA officials have always had the ability to communicate more openly and freely with the public and interest groups, sowing greater confidence and trust. State officials or Foreign Service officers in the field talk to their respective government counterparts, not to the public at large.
The simple fact is that we need a credible VOA now more than ever, not a State mouthpiece. American ideals and values of freedom, democracy and the free market that we want to convey are best done by a free VOA, NOT a State mouthpiece or a CNN. The idea of “consolidating administrative functions” to “allow more effective use of resources” is wide of the mark. Reality is very different. Such consolidation of resources will destroy VOA credibility. When it happens, and it surely will, I’ll remind you of what I said in this letter.
It happened exactly as Vello Ederma had predicted. Now retired, Vello Ederma was a legendary Voice of America reporter, editor and manager who throughout his long VOA career fought hard for journalistic integrity and excellence.
In a major statement delivered Thursday on countering ISIL propaganda, President Obama failed to mention the Broadcasting Board of Governors or any of its media outlets, including the Voice of America.
In a press release issued Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee said about the BBG: “This Broken Agency is Losing the Info War to ISIS & Putin.”
Almost every prediction Vello Ederma made in his 1995 letter to Senator Jessie Helms turned out to be true.
We are seeing history repeating itself for an even worse outcome in 2016 with BBG bureaucracy’s and leadership’s efforts to achieve an even greater consolidation of the agency and resisting bipartisan reform efforts through H.R. 2323 legislation.