BBG Watch Commentary
The Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives will hold a hearing next Wednesday in an attempt to find radical solutions to mismanagement and lack of purpose within U.S. international broadcasting, a federal agency — the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) — which former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “defunct.”
The hearing is an initiative of the Committee’s Chairman, Representative Edward Royce (R-CA) and his staff. They should be applauded for this effort, which is long overdue.
The entrenched executive staff of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the BBG’s administrative arm which is blamed for many of the problems facing U.S. international broadcasting, appears to be in an open rebellion against some of the few remaining Broadcasting Board of Governors members. The board no longer has a sufficient number of members to have a quorum, and the White House, at the apparent intervention of IBB officials, is trying to get rid of the board’s only remaining Republican member, Ambassador Victor Ashe, who annoyed the bureaucrats by calling for greater transparency and accountability.
The Committee should also be applauding for selecting former BBG members as witnesses since they in large part share the responsibility for the current dismal state of U.S. international broadcasting and can answer questions about their own shortcomings.
One of the most critical questions is whether BBG board in its current form should even exist and whether BBG positions should be a reward given out to political supporters rather than international broadcasting experts, free media and journalism experts, and human rights advocacy specialists.
We believe strongly that the so called surrogate broadcasters should maintain their independence and ability to specialize in news gathering in countries without free media.
We also believe strongly that centralized bureaucracy is the greatest enemy of effective U.S. international broadcasting.
Witnesses should be asked whether individuals who have business interests in media-restricted countries like Russia and China should be allowed to serve on this or any future board in charge of U.S. international broadcasting.
Can doing private media business deals in countries where governments control media be reconciled with promoting media freedom as a BBG member?
It has been reported that BBG had such members and that there were instances of BBG members conducting private business talks in countries ruled by authoritarian governments while they were abroad on official BBG trips.
While looking for new radical solutions, members of Congress can learn what went wrong in the past. The current panel of witnesses will allow members of the Committee to ask pointed questions about former BBG members’ involvement in some of the BBG’s most controversial decisions.
BBG Watch has learned that this may not be the only panel of witnesses on the reform of U.S. international broadcasting and that other witnesses may be called to testify later. But members of Congress can start to get a picture of how defunct BBG is by asking some of these questions:
1. Who stopped all Voice of America radio and satellite TV broadcasts to Russia 12 days before Russia invaded a disputed part of the Republic of Georgia in 2008?
2. Who wanted to eliminate all VOA programs to the Republic Georgia before the Russian military attack?
4. Who refused to resume VOA radio and TV broadcasts to Russia even after the Russian invasion and occupation of parts of Georgian territory?
5. Who among former BBG members missed numerous BBG meetings and even admitted that it had been the case?
6. Who among former BBG members strongly supported ending VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China, a proposal rejected in a bipartisan move in Congress?
7. Who among former BBG members supported ending VOA radio broadcasts to Tibet?
8. Who among former BBG members was a strong supporter of a former RFE/RL executive who fired dozens of experienced Radio Liberty journalists in Putin’s Russia, ended their pro-human rights programs and was responsible for sexually suggestive content being posted on RFE/RL websites in Kazakhstan, a largely conservative and Muslim country?
9. Who among former BBG members ignored protests from Mikhail Gorbachev, Lyudmila Alekseyeva and dozens of other Russian pro-democracy and human rights leaders who objected to the firing of Radio Liberty journalists?
10. Who among former BBG members urged other BBG members to take unspecified actions against publishers of a watchdog website for reporting that IBB executives responsible for BBG’s failed China strategy were being promoted and received large bonuses while journalists were being fired?
11. Which former BBG members had business interests in Russia and China and conducted private business negotiations while on official BBG (USG) trips?
12. Who among former BBG members objected to replacing the management of RFE/RL responsible for turning Radio Liberty into an enemy of the Russian human rights movement?
Answers to some of these questions may forthcoming at the House Foreign Affairs hearing on the BBG next week.
FULL COMMITTEE HEARING NOTICE
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WASHINGTON, DC 20515-6128
Edward R. Royce (R-CA), Chairman
June 19, 2013
TO: MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
You are respectfully requested to attend an OPEN hearing of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, to be held in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building (and available live on the Committee website at http://www.ForeignAffairs.house.gov):
DATE: Wednesday, June 26, 2013
TIME: 10:00 a.m.
SUBJECT: Broadcasting Board of Governors: An Agency “Defunct”
The Honorable James K. Glassman
Founding Executive DirectorGeorge W. Bush Institute
(Former Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs)
The Honorable S. Enders Wimbush
Executive Director for Strategy & DevelopmentNational Bureau of Asian Research
(Former Governor of the Broadcasting Board of Governors)
The Honorable D. Jeff Hirschberg
Chairman, The Northeast Maglev, LLC
(Former Governor of the Broadcasting Board of Governors)
*NOTE: Witnesses may be added.
By Direction of the Chairman
The Committee on Foreign Affairs seeks to make its facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. If you are in need of special accommodations, please call 202/225- 5021 at least four business days in advance of the event, whenever practicable. Questions with regard to special accommodations in general (including availability of Committee materials in alternative formats and assistive listening devices) may be directed to the Committee.