Rep. Zoe Lofgren
Rep. Zoe Lofgren

In a letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) interim presiding governor Michael Lynton, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D – CA) questioned the BBG proposal to combine its grantee broadcasters — Radio Free Asia (RFA), Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) — into a single administrative unit. PDF file of Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s letter.

Rep. Lofgren stated that the proposed consolidation would be contrary to Congressional intent and may have a negative impact on programming. The merger is adamantly opposed by the vast majority of top managers and rank-and-file journalists at RFA, RFE/RL, and MBN. It is strongly supported by some BBG members and their their senior executive staff who see it as a way of increasing central control over the grantee broadcasters.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren's letter to the BBG questions grantee consolidation planRep. Lofgren is the chair of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation and the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam. She indicated that she is particularly concerned about the negative impact of the proposed consolidation on Radio Free Asia, which “provides a valuable service to the people of Vietnam who are in a desperate need of uncensored news reporting.”

Rep. Lofgren, a Democratic congresswoman from California, is one of many Congressional critics of the BBG and its senior executive staff. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman also from California, wrote recently to his colleagues in Congress that he is “at a loss to understand the BBG’s drive to constantly cut broadcasting despite increased appropriations from the Congress and despite clear bipartisan congressional intent in the case of China.” “The BBG has shown itself to be opaque in its decision making and incredibility tone deaf to Congressional priorities,” Rep. Rohrabacher stated in his letter.

The BBG tried to eliminate most of Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts to China and Tibet and to reduce some Radio Free Asia programs, but these plans were blocked in Congress. The BBG recently passed a non-disclosure resolution that would make it more difficult for individual BBG members to communicate their concerns to members of Congress. The resolution was opposed by BBG’s Republican member Victor Ashe. He and some of the other BBG members offered several amendments to the resolution before voting for it, but concerns remain that members of Congress may not be kept fully informed by the BBG’s senior executive staff about U.S. international broadcasting. Ashe expressed concerns that the BBG staff may not be informing members of Congress of his strong reservations to the proposal to merge the grantee broadcasters and to create a position of the BBG CEO who would not be confirmed by the Senate.

“In authorizing Radio Free Asia in 1994, Congress recognized different challenges facing RFA and RFE/RL, and opted to keep the entities separate, indicating its desire to provide RFA with flexibility to fulfill its specific mandate,” Rep. Lofgren wrote to BBG interim presiding governor Michael Lynton.

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