BBG Watch Commentary

Mother Jones article by Jenna McLaughlin about the newly-appointed Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) director and CEO Andy Lack — “the Guy Who Brought You ‘Friends'” — is by far the most accurate and most comprehensive treatment of how the agency in charge of U.S. international media outreach works and what needs to change to make it effective in winning “the Propaganda War Against ISIS and Putin.”

Andrew Lack, described as “the media titan who at different times has headed Bloomberg, Sony, and NBC News,” has a mandate to fix the BBG which “has devolved into a widely acknowledged mess: bloated, demoralized, and inefficient.”

The article quotes from “a watchdog website called—which was started in 2010 by Ted Lipien, a former Voice of America editor.” He left Voice of America in 2006 where his last job was VOA acting associate director in charge of news.

“BBG Watch noted that the Voice of Russia, Russia Today, Al Jazeera, and China’s international broadcasting companies ‘are taking advantage of the world’s appetite for American news while capitalizing on VOA’s news failures’.”

The article quotes Ted Lipien, who with Ann Noonan is also a co-founder and co-director of the independent NGO Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – on the importance of U.S. international media outreach for America’s national interests and security.

“‘It’s not something that the United States and US taxpayers can safely abandon thinking that private media and private sector will fill the gap’,” says Lipien from BBG Watch. ‘They will not, and the stakes are very high for US national interests and security which are directly tied to how well free media, human rights and democracy are doing abroad’.”

Mother Jones article also refers to an op-ed last March by Dan Robinson, a former Voice of America Chief White House correspondent, who wrote that the agency’s “record of poor management of taxpayer-funded resources—financial, physical, and human—has undermined the confidence that Congress and the American public have in these efforts.”

The article also quotes Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) co-introduced the bipartisan bill, H.R. 4490 designed to reform the BBG. The bill was unanimously approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and passed by the House of Representatives but was not picked up by the Senate last year. It may be reintroduced. Rep. Royce said at a congressional hearing that the United States is “losing the information battle” with Vladimir Putin, because the BBG is defunct and is weakening the United States’ ability to broadcast the government’s views abroad.

In commenting on the bipartisan bill, Voice of America reporter Al Pessin complained in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that Congress was trying to change the broadcaster into something that is “fundamentally not American,” Jenna McLughlin noted. (“Back off, Congress, and keep Voice of America real,” by Al Pessin)

Jenna McLaughlin also notes in her Mother Jones article specific management and news reporting failures at the Voice of America.

“Last June, Voice of America editors complained to David Ensor, a National Public Radio veteran who now heads Voice of America, that they do not have enough news material for their radio and TV broadcasts and the Voice of America website because of severe staff shortages and mismanagement by senior executives. Maybe that is why during the 2014 midterm elections the BBC and other foreign outlets beat the Voice of America, in reporting the Republican takeover of the US Senate by several hours.”

The message from Andy Lack in the Mother Jones article is about the future.

“With all he has to contend with at the BBG, it’s no wonder that Lack these days is talking about the future. ‘The 21st century’s global war on information is increasingly threatening to our country and our values’, Lack says. ‘I am lucky to join a great group of journalists and news professionals spread across the globe who care so deeply about our critical role in that battle’.”

READ MORE: Can the Guy Who Brought You “Friends” Win the Propaganda War Against ISIS and Putin?, What former NBC head Andy Lack needs to do in his new job at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. —By Jenna McLaughlin, Mother Jones, February 11, 2015