BBG Watch Commentary
Voice of America – Information War Lost: Crossing The Line
By The Federalist
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has unanimously passed a bill (H.R. 4490) which would substantially address the dysfunctional and defunct state of US Government international broadcasting.
The bipartisan bill is being opposed by a handful of agency employees of the Voice of America (VOA) Central Newsroom, aided and abetted by senior agency officials who have chosen to ignore the advice of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) chairman Jeffrey Shell to refrain from commenting on the legislation. The Royce – Engel legislation is strongly supported by most rank and file employees represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812. The union suggested only a few minor changes in the text of the bill.
Several national newspapers including The New York Times and The Washington Post have run editorials cautionary of the legislation although even they did not oppose management reforms at the Voice of America.
This legislation is neither ill-considered nor ill-advised. It comprehensively addresses an agency that is in serious disrepair. We support the legislation and urge its passage and enactment. Some minor changes in the wording could make it stronger in protecting VOA and the VOA Charter.
On its face, this opposition effort almost appears as a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the legislation and just as bad, mislead and misinform the American people about the agency’s mission. The campaign presents an incomplete description of the VOA Charter, promotes a sought-after agenda and no concrete alternative to the perpetual mismanagement-without-end within the agency.
The opponents of the legislation have focused almost exclusively on the news provision of the Charter. These opponents have avoided the two other provisions of the Charter which address public diplomacy and discussion of the policies of the United States. You cannot have the one without the other two. It is already required by the current law.
The VOA Charter does not call for public diplomacy as practiced by the State Department, but through news reporting on U.S. policies, presenting opinions both for and against them, and reporting on all segments of American society.
If some VOA foreign correspondents do not like these provisions of the VOA Charter, they should not have accepted their generous Foreign Service limited appointments. They could have resigned and opposed these provisions as any private American citizen can. But the Charter is the current law and its key provisions were included in the new legislation. They have been ignored for too long by VOA executives.
We have made a point to be mindful of the totality of the VOA Charter, quoting it often and with much more thoroughness in contrast to the sleight of hand being exercised by the legislation’s opponents. Any reading of the Charter clearly demonstrates that there are three components to the Charter, including but not limited to broadcasting the news.
The Charter has been in place since July 1976. It distinguishes what the agency should be as differentiated from what the agency has become.
One issue that continues to disturb us is what we see as a misleading and incomplete picture of the agency’s mission portrayed in an op-ed piece to The Los Angeles Times written by agency employee Al Pessin.
Op-Ed Back off, Congress, and keep Voice of America real, By Al Pessin, The Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2014. Al Pessin is the senior VOA foreign correspondent, currently based in London. The views expressed are his own.
In a recent staff meeting, it was revealed that VOA director David Ensor thanked Mr. Pessin for his op-ed piece.
Under the circumstances, this kind of reported endorsement, if confirmed, requires one thing and one thing only:
David Ensor should resign as VOA director.
Giving sanction to what we see as a highly subjective perspective does not serve Mr. Ensor or the agency well. It does not make VOA’s budget position stronger among Democrats and Republicans on the Hill.
Other than the potential negative budget impact for VOA, Mr. Ensor reportedly thanked Mr. Pessin for an op-ed piece that, in our view, clearly was seriously deficient on key points of the agency’s primary guiding legislation, the VOA Charter. Even as an op-ed, it did not meet the basic requirements of the VOA Charter if it were written by a VOA correspondent for VOA. While the op-ed expressed Mr. Pessin’s private views, as stated in the disclaimer, the disclaimer itself linked him with VOA in the minds of readers, both in the United States and abroad.
We do not question the right of VOA officials and employees to express their private views in public, but we question their judgement. Mr. Ensor is fully aware that the BBG chairman advised restraint on the part of agency officials. At least, Mr. Ensor could have exercised more discretion.
He did not.
We also question the actions Matt Armstrong, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, who seemingly set in motion this public display of open rebellion to the legislation by remarks of his own, contrary to guidance from BBG chairman Jeffrey Shell. This raises more serious questions of judgment, intentions and respect for the chairman of the board among senior agency officials.
Mr. Ensor is a genial and personable individual. In better times, he may have done well in his post. Unfortunately, his tenure has been marred by one catastrophe and misstep after another. If he had better managers or “senior advisers” around him, he may have had better results; but that is not going to happen in the agency that exists today. The prevalent management culture inside the Cohen Building is about self-preservation not mission effectiveness.
Other senior agency officials should resign as well; but for now, in this matter accountability begins – not ends – with Mr. Ensor.
Along with the VOA Charter, the Voice of America has a “Journalistic Code.” It provides substantial detail as to what guides the conduct and performance of the duties of VOA broadcasters and correspondents.
The Code has a variety of headings highlighting its provisions. These include:
- Sourcing (normally having more than one source on a news story)
- Accuracy and Balance
- Context and Comprehensiveness
Mr. Pessin presented the legislation as being partisan, calling it “the Royce bill,” misquoted a key provision with regard to VOA programs being consistent with “the broad goals of U.S. foreign policy,” and failed to mention for the sake of balance a statement by Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY):
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY): “Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this bill maintains the requirement that U.S.-funded programming serve as objective sources of news and information, and not simply as a mouthpiece for U.S. foreign policy. It’s absolutely critical that the news be accurate and seen as credible by the foreign audiences we’re trying to reach.”
In our view, Mr. Pessin’s op-ed piece would fail the litmus test of the VOA Journalistic Code if it were a VOA news report or news analysis on three points:
Accuracy and Balance: Mr. Pessin’s op-ed piece substantially ignored salient provisions of the VOA Charter. On its face, the piece intended to focus on one part of the VOA Charter (the news component) to the exclusion of equally important provisions dealing with reporting on US policies and discussion of US policies.
Fairness: Mr. Pessin’s piece reflects what appears to be a partisan bias, with numerous references to the congressional legislation as “the Royce bill.” The legislation, H.R. 4490, which passed unanimously in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was co-sponsored by Chairman Edward Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) in exemplary bi-partisan cooperation and unanimity by the full committee.
Context and Comprehensiveness: Mr. Pessin chose to ignore two of the three provisions of the Charter which would have explained the agency’s mission with completeness and put his objections to the bill in context.
We also draw attention to this part of the Code,
“…VOA employees recognize that their conduct both on and off the job can reflect on the work of the Voice of America community…”
On his personal Facebook page, Mr. Pessin noted, “The Washington Post is on board!” in reference to a Washington Post editorial on June 8. Mr. Pessin would have to explain what “on board” means. On its face, what the two pieces – his and that of the Post – have in common are inexact and flawed perspectives of the congressional legislation, including its Findings and Declarations, and an incomplete explanation of the agency’s Charter although the Washington Post editorial is more accurate and more balanced than Mr. Pessin’s op-ed. The Washington Post does not hide the fact that this is a bipartisan bill.
Almost universally, the editorial comments represented by the Pessin piece, The Washington Post and others have attempted to parse the news portion of the agency’s mission from the rampant mismanagement that permeates the agency up to and including the VOA Central Newsroom. But The Washington Post and The News York Times devote more attention to mismanagement than Mr. Pessin.
It doesn’t get any plainer than this:
“We can’t get stuff on the air.”
That is what Mr. Ensor was told to his face in a meeting with Newsroom staff earlier this month, preceding the Pessin op-ed piece, when attempting to promote a “digital first” initiative, something Ensor could not define or explain.
Mr. Ensor had no real response to the daily reality in the Newsroom, the cumulative result of decisions by himself and Steve Redisch, the VOA executive editor, built up over the years they have encumbered their positions.
The Pessin op-ed piece represents to us a false apocalypse and a disconnect from the realities voiced by editors in the VOA Newsroom.
The real apocalypse is happening right now, long before H.R. 4490 makes its way out of Congress and onto the president’s desk for his signature.
For the sake of the agency and its mission, this legislation can’t happen soon enough.
As we see it, the agency is presented with a choice: be rehabilitated or be gone.
Actions by agency officials and certain priviliged employees, some of whom hold Foreign Service limited appointments, place the VOA Newsroom in a difficult and negative position. In our view, these actions have damaged what remains of the agency’s integrity and credibility, perhaps as some believe beyond repair or redemption.
It is in the national and public interest that H.R. 4490 be passed by the full House and similarly approved in the Senate, signed by the president and its provisions acted upon without delay.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has published a Letter to the Editor in response to a recent Washington Post editorial about the bipartisan Royce – Engel U.S. International Broadcasting Reform Legislation, in which he said: “The danger to Voice of America is maintaining the status quo.” We could not agree more.
JUN 12, 2014
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed recent support from the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, the Union representing Voice of America (VOA) workers, for H.R. 4490. The bipartisan legislation reforms U.S. international broadcasting and recently passed the Committee unanimously.
Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490), which improves the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters, such as the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN).
In a June 7 letter of support, AFGE Local 1812 wrote: “In the end, some of the currently entrenched senior management represent a far greater threat to VOA’s journalistic independence, indeed to the very existence of the VOA, by abandoning the Charter and trying to turn VOA into something they envisioned as a global variant of CNN. The U.S. taxpayers and Congress are not providing funding for just another news service. That is why there are three parts to the VOA Charter. We support the passage of this Bill.” Read the full letter HERE.
In a June 2 letter under the heading “Congressional Reform Bells are Ringing,” the union wrote: “Why the need for this legislation? Most of us, who have experienced it close-up and personal, know that under the leadership of the past dozen years or so, the Agency has lost its way. It no longer functions as the Voice of America (VOA) but rather as a wanna-be, very pale imitation of CNN and a content supplier to other broadcasters — something it was never meant to be and which is neither contained nor foreseen in the VOA Charter.” Read the full letter HERE.
More information on bipartisan legislation to reform U.S. international broadcasting is availableHERE, including a fact sheet and letters of support.
To protect the integrity of VOA programming and define the organization’s mission, the VOA Charter was drafted in 1960 and later signed into law on July 12, 1976, by President Gerald Ford. It reads:
The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts:
- VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
- VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.
- VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350)
For more information on the Charter, visit our VOA history page about the 1960s and 1970s.
Since 1942, the Voice of America has built a global reputation as a consistently reliable source of news and information. Accuracy, balance, comprehensiveness, and objectivity are attributes audiences around the world have come to expect of VOA broadcasters and their product. These standards are legally mandated in the VOA Charter (Public Laws 94-350 and 103-415). Because of them, VOA has become an inspiration and information lifeline to nations and peoples around the world.
Adhering to the principles outlined in the Charter, VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government. They accept no treatment or assistance from U.S. government officials or agencies that is more favorable or less favorable than that granted to staff of private-sector news agencies. Furthermore, VOA professionals, careful to preserve the integrity of their organization, strive for excellence and avoid imbalance or bias in their broadcasts.
The Voice of America pursues its mission today in a world conflict-ridden and unstable in the post Cold War era. Broadcasting accurate, balanced and complete information to the people of the world, and particularly to those who are denied access to accurate news, serves the national interest and is a powerful source of inspiration and hope for all those who believe in freedom and democracy.
All staff who report, manage, edit, and prepare programming at VOA in both central and language services therefore subscribe to these principles:
VOA news and programming must be rigorously sourced and verified. VOA normally requires a minimum of two independent (non-VOA) sources before any newswriter, background writer, political affairs writer, correspondent, or stringer may broadcast information as fact in any language.
The only exceptions to the double-source requirement are facts directly confirmed by a VOA journalist, or significant news drawn from an official announcement of a nation or an organization. In those rare instances when a secondary source offers exclusive significant news (e.g., a verified news agency exclusive interview with a chief of state or prominent newsmaker), this story is attributed to the originating agency by name.
Accuracy and Balance
Accuracy and balance are paramount, and together, they are VOA’s highest priority. Accuracy always comes before speed in VOA central service and language programming. VOA has a legal obligation to present a comprehensive description of events, reporting an issue in a reliable and unbiased way. Though funded by the U.S. government, VOA airs all relevant facts and opinions on important news events and issues. VOA corrects errors or omissions in its own broadcasts at the earliest opportunity.
VOA is alert to, and rejects, efforts by special interest groups, foreign or domestic, to use its broadcasts as a platform for their own views. This applies to all programs and program segments, including opinion or press roundups, programs discussing letters, listener comments, or call-in shows. In the case of call-ins, views of a single party must be challenged by the interviewer if alternative opinions are unrepresented. In interviews, points of possible discussion are submitted in advance if requested by an interviewee of stature (e.g., a chief of state). However, VOA journalists always retain the right and responsibility to pursue newsworthy angles, including entirely fresh lines of questioning, during such interviews.
Whenever VOA reports a charge or accusation made by an individual or a group against another, or presents one side of a controversial issue, a response and/or balancing information will be included in the first use of a news item or feature containing that material. If the balancing information cannot be obtained by the program deadline, or the subject of the charge declines to comment, that will be made clear in VOA’s account, and the balancing material will be broadcast as soon as it is available.
VOA has, in the words of the Founding Fathers, “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” VOA is required to present a full and fair account of events. VOA broadcasters evaluate information solely on its merits, rejecting incitements to violence, sensationalism, personal value judgments, or misleading emphases. Attributions are specific and complete.
VOA journalists (including correspondents, news and language stringers, political affairs writers, and program hosts) avoid at all times the use of unattributed pejorative terms or labels to describe persons or organizations, except when the individuals and groups use those labels to describe themselves or their activities.
In news, features, and current affairs programming, VOA broadcasters will meticulously avoid fabricating, distorting, or dramatizing an event. If sound at an event illustrates the reporter’s account of that event and is edited for time, the remaining sound effect reflects what occurred in an accurate and balanced way. If there is a risk of misleading the audience, no use will be made of sound effects not actually recorded at the event being described.
Context and Comprehensiveness
VOA presents a comprehensive account of America and the world, and puts events in context. That means constant vigilance to reflect America’s, and the world’s, political, geographical, cultural, ethnic, religious, and social diversity. VOA programming represents the broadcast team’s best effort to seek out and present a comprehensive account of the event or trend being reported.
VOA broadcasters will avoid using announcing or interviewing techniques that add political coloration or bias to their reportage or current affairs programming. Music will not be used to make editorial statements. VOA journalists and all those preparing news and feature programming avoid any action or statement that might convey the appearance of partisanship.
When performing official duties, VOA broadcasters leave their personal political views behind. The accuracy, quality, and credibility of the Voice of America are its most important assets, and they rest on listeners’ perception of VOA as an objective source of world, regional, and U.S. news and information. To that end, all VOA journalists will:
- Always travel on regular, non-diplomatic passports, and rely no more and no less than private-sector correspondents on U.S. missions abroad for support, as set out in the guidelines for VOA correspondents.
- Assist managers whose duty is to ensure that no VOA employee, contract employee, or stringer works for any other U.S. government agency, any official media of another state, or any international organization, without specific VOA authorization.
- Adhere strictly to copyright laws and agency regulations and always credit the source when quoting, paraphrasing, or excerpting from other broadcasting organizations, books, periodicals or any print media.
- In addition to these journalistic standards and principles, VOA employees recognize that their conduct both on and off the job can reflect on the work of the Voice of America community. They adhere to the highest standards of journalistic professionalism and integrity. They work to foster teamwork, goodwill, and civil discourse in the workplace and with their colleagues everywhere in the world, all to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Voice of America.
In the bipartisan United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, the bill’s sponsors and co-sponsors listed what they consider to be wrong with the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Many of their findings apply specifically to the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau.
SEC. 2. FINDINGS AND DECLARATIONS.
Congress finds and declares the following:
(1) United States international broadcasting exists to advance the United States interests and values by presenting accurate, objective, and comprehensive news and information, which is the foundation for democratic governance, to societies that lack a free media.
(2) Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘‘[e]veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression’’, and that ‘‘this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’’.
(3) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives on January 23, 2013, that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) ‘‘is practically a defunct agency in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world. So we’re abdicating the ideological arena and need to get back into it.’’.
(4) The BBG, which was created by Congress to oversee the United States international broadcasting in the wake of the Cold War, has, because of structural and managerial issues, had limited success to date in both coordinating the various components of the international broadcasting framework and managing the day-to-day operations of the Federal components of the international broadcasting framework.
(5) The lack of regular attendance by board members and a periodic inability to form a quorum have plagued the BBG and, as a result, it has been functionally incapable of running the agency.
(6) The board of governors has only achieved the full slate of all nine governors for seven of its 17 years of existence, which highlights the difficulties of confirming and retaining governors under the current structure.
(7) Both the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have issued reports which outline a severely dysfunctional organizational structure of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
(8) The Inspector General of the Department of State concluded in its January 2013 report that dysfunction of the BBG stems from ‘‘a flawed legislative structure and acute internal dissension’’.
(9) The Inspector General of the Department of State also found that the BBG’s structure of nine part-time members ‘‘cannot effectively supervise all United States Government-supported, civilian international broadcasting’’, and its involvement in day-to-day operations has impeded normal management functions.
(10) The Government Accountability Office report determined that there was significant overlap among the BBG’s languages services, and that the BBG did not systematically consider the financial cost of overlap.
(11) According to the Office of the Inspector General, the BBG’s Office of Contracts is not in compliance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, lacks appropriate contract oversight, and violates the Anti-Deficiency Act. The Office of the Inspector General also determined that the Broadcasting Board of Governors has not adequately performed full and open competitions or price determinations, has entered into hundreds of personal service contracts without statutory authority, and contractors regularly work without valid contracts in place.
(12) The size and make-up of the BBG workforce should be closely examined, given the agency’s broader broadcasting and technical mission, as well as changing media technologies.
(13) The BBG should be structured to ensure that more taxpayer dollars are dedicated to the substantive, broadcasting, and information-related elements of the agency’s mission.
(14) The lack of a coherent and well defined mission of the Voice of America has led to programming that duplicates the efforts of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, RFE/RL, Incorporated, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network that results in inefficient use of tax-payer funding.
(15) The annual survey conducted by the ‘‘Partnership for Public Service’’ consistently ranks the Broadcasting Board of Governors at or near the bottom of all Federal agencies in terms of ‘‘overall best places to work’’ and ‘‘the extent to which employees feel their skills and talents are used effectively.’’ The consistency of these low scores point to structural, cultural, and functional problems at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
(16) The Federal and non-Federal organizations that comprise the United States international broadcasting framework have different, yet complementary, missions that necessitate coordination at all levels of management.
(17) The Broadcasting Board of Governors has an overabundance of senior civil service positions, defined here as full-time employees encumbering GS–14 and GS–15 positions on the General Schedule pay scale.
(18) United States international broadcasting should seek to leverage public-private partnerships, including the licensing of content and the use of technology owned or operated by non-governmental sources, where possible to expand outreach capacity.
(19) Congressional action is necessary at this time to improve international broadcasting operations, strengthen the United States public diplomacy efforts, enhance the grantee surrogate broadcasting effort, restore focus to news, programming, and content, and maximize the value of Federal and non-Federal resources that are dedicated to public diplomacy and international broadcasting.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Markup of H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 April 30, 2014
(As prepared for delivery)
Let me begin by thanking Ranking Member Engel for his work in moving this bipartisan bill forward.
The two of us, and others on the Committee, have just returned from Ukraine. That visit underscored the need to reform U.S. international broadcasting. Traveling to Eastern Ukraine, our delegation witnessed the Russian propaganda machine – now in overdrive – and its attempts to undermine regional stability. The Russian closure of local Ukrainian radio and television stations and the jamming of uncensored sources of information demands an effective response. This Committee recently worked on legislation – signed into law – to ramp up programing into Ukraine.
But unfortunately, U.S. broadcasters – the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and others – are competing with a hand tied behind their back. That’s because the bureaucratic structure over top of these radios – the Broadcasting Board of Governors (“BBG”) – is broken.
So while our enemies are working 24/7 on their public information campaigns, the organization at the helm of ours meets once a month. That’s a recipe for failure. Indeed, then-Secretary Clinton told this Committee last year that the BBG is “practically defunct.” Reports from the Inspector General and GAO have agreed. As does nearly everyone with experience in this field, Republicans and Democrats alike.
This legislation makes dramatic changes to the current organization by clarifying the missions of our U.S. international broadcasters – consolidating six organizations into two.
One organization – “The United States International Communications Agency” – will remain a federal entity and will consist of the Voice of America and the associated technical services our broadcasters depend on. We make clear that the mission of the Voice of America is to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively” – exactly as it was intended.
Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network, the so-called “surrogates,” have a different mission: to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies and to be “a megaphone for internal advocates of freedom,” whether it’s in Iran, North Korea or elsewhere. These “freedom broadcasters” will keep their names, but consolidate into a private, nonprofit corporation that will become the “Freedom News Network.”
Both the U.S. International Communications Agency and Freedom News Network will now have empowered CEOs – and purely advisory boards. Ripping away the bureaucracy will reduce administrative overlap and allow both organizations to thrive. This legislation also mandates important reforms to the contracting practices of the BBG, and increases public-private partnerships.
Unlike decades past, today’s media landscape is highly competitive. Other countries are sprinting forward, but we are standing still. If we’re going to adapt, we need a more effective and efficient use of our finite resources, which this legislation lays out through its mission clarification and management reform.
Again, I want to thank Ranking Member Engel, who I will now turn to for his remarks.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) denied that the bill is designed in any way to limit VOA’s journalistic independence. The VOA Charter, which lawmakers have accused VOA executives of ignoring, was incorporated into the bill.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY): “Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this bill maintains the requirement that U.S.-funded programming serve as objective sources of news and information, and not simply as a mouthpiece for U.S. foreign policy. It’s absolutely critical that the news be accurate and seen as credible by the foreign audiences we’re trying to reach.”
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today made the following remarks regarding H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this mark-up of bipartisan legislation that will enhance the ability of the United States to facilitate the free flow of information and share our values with people around the world.
“Mr. Chairman, on the recent trip you led to Ukraine, we saw firsthand that the competition of ideas and the battle for hearts and minds are alive and well. Over the past few months, Moscow has used its state-controlled media to broadcast totally baseless propaganda that’s been used as a pretext for Russia’s invasion of Crimea and its destabilizing activities in eastern Ukraine.
“But Ukraine is far from the only place where objective news is in demand. In Iran, the regime closely controls the free flow of information and has actively jammed U.S. satellite transmissions. And in North Korea, the regime locks radios on certain frequencies to prevent people from listening to the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
“Unfortunately, our efforts to disseminate objective news to societies that lack a free media are not as effective as they should be. Last year, a report by the State Department Inspector General found that the Broadcasting Board of Governors—the agency that currently oversees all U.S. international broadcasting—was ‘failing in its mandated duties’ due to a flawed structure and strong internal dissension.
“The bill that Chairman Royce and I introduced, with support from many of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, will help fix this structure by improving management, enhancing coordination among the different broadcasting entities, and empowering journalists and editors to produce high-quality programming that keeps pace with the rapidly changing international media landscape.
“Specifically, the legislation creates a chief executive officer to manage the day-to-day operations of the new U.S. International Communications Agency, an umbrella organization for Voice of America and Office of Cuba Broadcasting. And it also creates a CEO to run the Freedom News Network, a new organization comprised of the three existing private grantees, which are – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
“The bill also defines the missions of VOA and the Freedom News Network to reduce the duplication of programming, and requires robust coordination between the federal and private entities—including the sharing of content and strategic plans—to maximize efficiency.
“Under the new organizational structure, Voice of America—VOA, the flagship of U.S. broadcasting for more than 50 years—will remain the primary source of information about the United States and our culture, while the three grantees that form the Freedom News Network will continue to provide news to audiences about developments in their own countries. Only by working closely together will these broadcasters be effective in providing comprehensive news and information to those who need it most.
“When I was recently with Chairman Royce in the eastern part of Ukraine, we met a lot of people who said that they really would welcome more information from the United States… that they really don’t get the balanced type of information. And we know Radio Free Europe and others were the ones that helped the Soviet Union collapse. And so this is a really smart thing for us to do.
“Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this bill maintains the requirement that U.S.-funded programming serve as objective sources of news and information, and not simply as a mouthpiece for U.S. foreign policy. It’s absolutely critical that the news be accurate and seen as credible by the foreign audiences we’re trying to reach.
“Mr. Chairman, I’d like to thank you again for holding this important markup and really for your leadership over the course of many years on international broadcasting issues. This is one ball that you’ve run with for many years, even before your were chairman of this committee. And it’s very much noticed and very much appreciated. I’d also like to thank you for working with us on this legislation in a bipartisan manner. I have some votes in my other committee so I may be in and out, but this legislation is so important and should be passed with no dissension because I think this is the type of legislation this committee can be proud of, again, on a bipartisan basis.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman.”
Latest Title: United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014
Sponsor: Rep Royce, Edward R. [CA-39] (introduced 4/28/2014) Cosponsors (14)
Latest Major Action: 4/30/2014 House committee/subcommittee actions. Status: Ordered to be Reported (Amended) by Unanimous Consent.
Rep Chabot, Steve [OH-1] – 4/28/2014
Rep Connolly, Gerald E. [VA-11] – 4/28/2014
Rep Deutch, Theodore E. [FL-21] – 4/29/2014
Rep Engel, Eliot L. [NY-16] – 4/28/2014
Rep Keating, William R. [MA-9] – 4/28/2014
Rep Lowenthal, Alan S. [CA-47] – 4/30/2014
Rep McCaul, Michael T. [TX-10] – 4/29/2014
Rep Poe, Ted [TX-2] – 4/29/2014
Rep Rohrabacher, Dana [CA-48] – 4/28/2014
Rep Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana [FL-27] – 4/28/2014
Rep Salmon, Matt [AZ-5] – 4/28/2014
Rep Sherman, Brad [CA-30] – 4/28/2014
Rep Sires, Albio [NJ-8] – 4/29/2014
Rep Stockman, Steve [TX-36] – 4/30/2014