The union representing Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) employees, AFGE Local 1812, commented on the June 26th hearing “The Broadcasting Board of Governors: An Agency ‘Defunct’.” The hearing was held by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs under the chairmanship of Congressman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Congressman Eliot Engel.
The AFGE Local 1812 union made the following observation: “Before the Congress approves any plans for a CEO, it should examine how to pare down the existing Agency bureaucracy, which has grown by gigantic proportions over the past decade, and transfer much-needed resources to programming. Trimming higher management positions has been recommended by several BBG members but effectively ignored.”
by American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812
On June 26th, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs under the chairmanship of Congressman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Congressman Eliot Engel, called a hearing entitled “The Broadcasting Board of Governors: An Agency Defunct.” Witnesses were three former members of the BBG: James Glassman, Enders Wimbush, and Jeff Hirshberg.
The hearing spotlighted many of the conflicts and differing views on the mission of international broadcasting that have plagued the Agency for the past decade. That dysfunction has surfaced not only in the press, the blogosphere, Inspector General’s reports, articles from prominent think-tanks but has also been the concern of the U.S. Congress which year after year has been forced to step in to stop the annual attempts to cut international broadcasting to the bone. Last year, Secretary of State Clinton testified that the BBG is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world in contrast to many other international broadcasters including Al-Jazeera and Russia Today — stark evidence that the U.S. has abandoned the ideological arena.
One witness advised the Congress to fold international broadcasting into the State Department — a mistake that would doom U.S. international broadcasting, keeping in mind what happened to the U.S. Information Agency when its functions were transferred into the morass of the State Department. Another proposed combining all functions into one quasi-independent Agency, calling for de-federalizing the Voice of America and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting which would make the Agency virtually unaccountable to the U.S. Congress which provides the funds. It would also make the Agency unaccountable to the U.S. taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill for bureaucratic foolishness. Not to mention the serious impact on U.S. national interests and national security.
To the Agency bureaucracy, a grantee/independent broadcasting status means independence from any scrutiny by the U.S. Congress, the prime example being MBN with its entertainment-oriented Radio Sawa and highly-criticized Al-Hurra TV to the Middle East.
The confusion in who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing in international broadcasting originated with the muddled message advanced by the senior executive staff of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the real power behind the BBG thrones. To advance “freedom and democracy” is a totally nebulous and unrealistic concept. Freedom, as shown in the current tumult in Egypt, quickly can deteriorate into anarchy. Democracy?
There’s no real understanding of what that concept even means to countries torn apart by tribal warfare and endless religious disputes between Shia vs. Sunni or totalitarian societies. The real mission of international broadcasting, which the Agency bureaucracy has been successful in squashing, is contained in the VOA Charter utilized when our global voice had some clout in the world. The mission of the surrogates, as Ranking Member Eliot Engel correctly stated at the hearing, was to: “irritate authoritarian regimes, inspire democrats and create greater space for civil society.” That is not the mission of the Voice of America. And trying to combine the missions, as the Agency is trying to do, just will not work.
Here’s some advice for the lawmakers:
1) We cannot afford another band-aid solution like a CEO which may look good in theory but in practice may turn out to be yet another device to increase an already bloated bureaucracy. Before the Congress approves any plans for a CEO, it should examine how to pare down the existing Agency bureaucracy, which has grown by gigantic proportions over the past decade, and transfer much-needed resources to programming. Trimming higher management positions has been recommended by several BBG members but effectively ignored.
2) Instead of cutting VOA English broadcasters, fill the vacant positions to strengthen the often-outdated VOA English Website as well as increasing news commentaries and analyses by VOA Central News. Restore both to their former flagship status coordinating all the different platforms including Internet, TV, mobile devices as well as radio which is indispensable in countries where other transmissions do not get through and ensure that the VOA English Service broadcasts to the world not just to select areas.
3) Restore the effective regional bureaus of VOA in the United States in the main metropolitan areas of the West, Middle West and South so that listeners and viewers get a more complete picture of what we are as a country and as a people. Assign language service broadcasters to those bureaus as they were in the past.
4) Voice of America broadcasts are and should be an integral part of U.S. public diplomacy and are part of people-to-people contacts (the cornerstone of public diplomacy) which the IBB senior executive staff refuses to acknowledge.
The union thanks Congressman Royce for his comment at the hearing that “U.S. international broadcasting employees deserve to work under an organization that makes the most out of their talents.”
We look forward to the day when our employees are not confronted by a hostile workplace, blocked from input into higher management decisions, made to follow flawed strategic plans formulated by bureaucrats out of touch with the realities of the situation in the target countries, having to deal with misplaced higher management priorities, improper allocation of resources, and lack of safeguards for journalistic integrity.
The stakes are high.