U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, convened a hearing on Wednesday, February 25, 2015, at which Secretary of State John Kerry testified about the FY 2016 budget request for the State Department. This includes the budget (FY 2016 request of $751 million) for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of U.S. international media outreach through such outlets as the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN – Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV) and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB – Radio and TV Marti).
Rep. Royce asked Secretary of State John Kerry for the Administration’s “active backing” to again push for reform of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “dysfunctional.” Secretaries of State are ex officio members of the bipartisan BBG board.
REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA): “In Eastern Europe, Russia’s military aggression is matched only by the size its propaganda. Russia is spending more than $1.5 billion annually to mislead audiences, sow divisions, and push conspiracy theories out over RT Television. Yet the agency charged with leading our response, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (“BBG”), is – as your predecessor testified to us – dysfunctional. Last Congress, the House passed legislation authored by Ranking Member Engel and me to fix the BBG — the Broadcasting Board of Governors. We hope to have the Administration’s active backing as we again push this reform.”
Secretary Kerry expressed 100% support for Chairman Royce’s efforts to pass legislation this year reforming the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency in charge of U.S. media outreach abroad, while noting some reservations as to whether the agency should have one or two CEOs. Kerry also asked for more money for the BBG “to confront Russian propaganda” and “to get reform that this troubled agency needs.”
In response to a request from Chairman Royce for assistance from in getting a new version of the Broadcasting Board of Governors reform legislation passed by the U.S. Senate this year “to confront Russian propaganda” and “to get reform that this troubled agency needs,” Secretary Kerry said:
“All I can say, Mr. Chairman, I’m with you 100% on this. I look forward to working with you further. I appreciate your leadership.”
The old reform bill, H.R. 4490, unanimously passed the House of Representatives last year but did not emerge from the Senate.
“I’ve had long conversations with our Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Rick Stengel, who is very seized with some things we need to try to achieve,” Kerry added.
Secretary Kerry pointed out that there is some disagreement as to whether the BBG needs two CEOs, one for the federal part of the agency, which includes the Voice of America (VOA), and another one for the non-federal part of the agency composed of surrogate media outlets which are federal grantees. They include Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc. (MBN).
The BBG recently hired distinguished U.S. journalist and media executive Andy Lack as its first director and CEO.
The federal part of the agency, which also includes the enormous bureaucracy, as well as administrative and technical support services of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), suffers most from waste and mismanagement, according to several investigations by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). But surrogate broadcasters have also been affected by interference and poor management from federal bureaucrats. The bloated federal bureaucracy of the BBG lacks specialized knowledge of various countries and regions where media freedom is under assault from government censorship and propaganda.
Secretary Kerry pointed out that in addition to administrative reforms and resolving two CEOs issue, about which Kerry said, “we can find a way to drive this more effectively,” … “the bigger issue is, what is Congress prepared to do in terms of putting some resources on the line to help us do this.”
Speaking about his recent travels to the Baltic region, to Poland, Bulgaria and elsewhere, Kerry said that these countries are “just getting flooded with propaganda.”
Propaganda “has the ability to affect the minds of those who hear it if they don’t hear alternatives,” Kerry added.
The Voice of America has not been broadcasting or providing any other type of news in local languages to the Baltic States and Central and Eastern Europe for many years, but a new 30-minute Russian-language TV program, “Nastoyashchee Vremya,” or “Current Time” as it is known in English, targeting Russian speakers in the countries bordering Russia, was recently launched jointly by RFE/RL and VOA. It began airing in October 2014 and is carried by TV channels and internet portals in Georgia, Lithuania, Moldova, and Ukraine, in addition to Latvia.
Rep. Royce mentioned a request for additional $1.3 million to confront Russian propaganda.
“We’re on the same wavelength, Mr. Engel [Ranking Member, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY)] and I and the Committee with you on this,” Rep. Royce said.
The Administration’s FY 2016 budget request for BBG of $751 million represents a $9.4 million increase over the FY 2015 budget estimate of $742 million. The actual FY 2014 BBG budget was $733 million.
Obama Administration FY 2016 budget document for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) talks about “supporting current foreign policy priorities.”
Such language from the Obama White House and the State Department is not likely to please some senior Voice of America English newsroom correspondents who had strongly objected to somewhat similar wording included in the proposed 2014 bipartisan Royce-Engel H.R. 4490 bill to reform the BBG.
The bill was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives but died in the U.S. Senate. SEE: “Op-Ed Back off, Congress, and keep Voice of America real” by Al Pessin, The Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2014.
Other VOA journalists, particularly those working in foreign language services, were supportive of the bill and its proposed management reforms.
The Obama Administration seems to be determined to de-federalize the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), currently a federal entity within the Broadcasting Board of Governors composed of Radio and TV Marti.
The following sentence is found at the end of the State Department’s FY 2016 budget justification document section dealing with the BBG, although it does not specifically mention the OCB or Radio and TV Marti.
“Finally, the FY 2016 request proposes the authority for BBG to establish and supervise grants to an independent grantee organization to carry out media activities to Haiti and the Latin American region.”
Another section of the Obama Administration document talks about “supporting current foreign policy priorities [Emphasis added.], such as countering propaganda from Russia and the violent extremism of the ISIL.” It also refers to “BBG’s evolution away from shortwave radio transmissions [Emphasis added], and invests substantial new funding in expanding television, digital video, mobile and social platforms, and growing our global FM radio network [Emphasis added.].
“The FY 2016 request includes reductions and investments that rebalance BBG resources towards more aggressive use of television and digital media platforms. The BBG’s budget focuses on supporting current foreign policy priorities, such as countering propaganda from Russia and the violent extremism of the ISIL. The requested funding will continue BBG’s evolution away from shortwave radio transmissions, and invests substantial new funding in expanding television, digital video, mobile and social platforms, and growing our global FM radio network.”
The document also talks about the BBG establishing “new strategic performance measurements to further evolve away from outputs to outcomes and impacts with key strategic audiences.”
READ: Administration FY 2016 budget request for Broadcasting Board of Governors, BBG Watch, February 25, 2015
Secretary of State
Testimony Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
February 25, 2015
REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA) CHAIRMAN OF HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: LAST CONGRESS THE HOUSE PASSED LEGISLATION AUTHORED BY RANKING MEMBER ELIOT ENGEL AND ME TO FIX THE BBG, THE BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS. WE HOPE TO HAVE THE ADMINISTRATION’S ACTIVE BACKING AS WE AGAIN PUSH THIS REFORM.
REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA) CHAIRMAN OF HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I WANT TO JUST TURN TO BROADCASTING REFORM TO DISCUSS THAT WITH YOU BECAUSE I KNOW IN AN EXCHANGE YOU HAD YESTERDAY IN THE SENATE YOU EXPRESSED YOUR FRUSTRATION THAT OUR EFFORT TO CONFRONT RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA IS SIMPLY NOWHERE NEAR WHERE IT OUGHT TO BE. IT’S AN AREA WHERE MR. ENGEL AND I ALSO SHARE FRUSTRATION ON THAT. WE KNOW THAT PUTIN IS DOMINATING THE ESSENTIAL INFORMATION BATTLE ON THE GROUND. THAT’S NOT — THAT’S — BUT THIS ISN’T JUST ABOUT RESOURCES. IT IS ALSO ABOUT WHAT WE CAN DO WITH AN INITIATIVE THAT, FOR THE BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS, TO OVERHAUL THAT INSTITUTION, AND MAKE IT EFFECTIVE, MYSELF AND MR. ENGEL PUT THAT BILL IN TO THE SENATE LAST YEAR. WE WERE NOT ABLE TO GET IT UP AND PASSED. AND THE QUESTION I WANTED TO ASK WAS, FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE ON THE SENATE SIDE, IN GETTING OUR LEGISLATION THROUGH THIS YEAR, SO THAT WE CAN GETS REFORM THAT THIS TROUBLED AGENCY NEEDS, AND GET UP AND RUNNING WITH THE TYPE OF BROADCASTING THAT YOU AND I, I THINK, WANT TO SEE TO OFFSET WHAT PRESIDENT PUTIN IS DOING RIGHT NOW.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: ALL I CAN SAY IS, MR. CHAIRMAN, I’M WITH YOU 100% ON THIS. I LOOK FORWARD TO WORKING WITH YOU FURTHER. I APPRECIATE YOUR LEADERSHIP.
YOU’VE BEEN CHAMPION OF REFORM ON THE BBG AND I AM ABSOLUTELY COMMITTED TO THE REFORM OF THE BBG AND OUR NEXT MEETING IS ON APRIL 29th. I’VE HAD LONG CONVERSATIONS WITH OUR UNDERSECRETARY FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY RICK STENGEL, WHO IS VERY SEIZED WITH SOME THINGS WE NEED TO TRY TO ACHIEVE. NOW THERE ARE TWO ISSUES HERE. ONE IS SORT OF THE REFORM OF THE BBG AND THE SECOND IS WHAT WE OUGHT TO BE DOING ON A GLOBAL BASIS WITH RESPECT TO THE PROPAGANDA THAT’S COMING OUT OF RUSSIA. ON THE BBG, WE’VE JUST — WE’VE HAD A SLIGHT DIFFERENCE WITH YOU ON THE ISSUE OF WHETHER OR NOT WE ARE — WHETHER IT’S IMPROVED TO HAVE A SITUATION WHERE YOU HAVE TWO BOARDS AND TWO CEOs. I THINK YOU KNOW I RAISED THAT. AND ALSO, I THINK STATE, GIVEN OUR ENGAGEMENT WITH IT, NEEDS TO BE PART OF THAT PROCESS. I’M CONFIDENT WE CAN FIND A WAY TO DRIVE THIS MORE EFFECTIVELY. THE BIGGER ISSUE IS, WHAT IS CONGRESS PREPARED TO DO IN TERMS OF PUTTING SOME RESOURCES ON THE LINE TO HELP US DO THIS? I HAVE FOUND, WHEN I HAVE TRAVELED TO THE BALTIC REGION, OR TO POLAND, OR TO BULGARIA RECENTLY AND ELSEWHERE, THEY’RE JUST GETTING FLOODED WITH PROPAGANDA. AND PROPAGANDA IS EXACTLY THAT. IT’S PROPAGANDA. IT HAS THE ABILITY TO AFFECT THE MINDS OF THOSE WHO HEAR IT IF THEY DON’T HEAR ALTERNATIVES.
REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA) CHAIRMAN OF HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: WELL, MR. SECRETARY, WE’RE ON THE SAME PAGE WITH YOU. I THINK YOUR REQUEST WAS $1.3 MILLION TO CONFRONT RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA IN THIS BUDGET. WE’RE ON THE SAME WAVELENGTH, MR. ENGEL AND I AND THE COMMITTEE WITH YOU ON THIS.
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