BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Chairman Jeff Shell with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

FOR UPDATE TO THIS REPORT SEE: “Mission and Innovation — Netflix CEO at Broadcasting Board of Governors,” BBG Watch, December 21, 2013.

BBG Watch is reposting a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) announcement of its upcoming Board meeting on December 18, 2013.

The announcement says that “the Voice of America will make a special presentation to the Board, providing an overview of the network’s worldwide activities.” It would be interesting to see whether this will turn into another “dog-and-pony show” as we expect it will, or whether the new BBG Board will assert its leadership over the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) bureaucracy.

We hope that we are wrong in our pessimism after the previous BBG Board meeting, but somehow we doubt that tremendous failures by the VOA English website in reporting news from Ukraine and U.S. reactions to the anti-government protests in Kyiv will be addressed, as well as VOA and IBB top management’s failure to deal with these problems.

A panel discussion on media in the digital age with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings sounds interesting as long as BBG members do not forget that the BBG is primarily in the news business and plan to do something about the defunct VOA and IBB operations.

If that is the case, then Mr. Hastings, who heads a tremendously successful company, may be able to offer some good points. Netflix has taken on a public diplomacy role by showing foreign movies in the United States and American movies abroad. This public diplomacy role by Netflix is not yet sufficiently studied and understood.

The company’s public diplomacy impact is still far greater in the United States than internationally. Foreign nations and governments have a big opportunity to pursue their public and cultural diplomacy in the United States through film placement on Netflix. It promises to be a fascinating presentation.

Netflix has also adjusted well to many digital age challenges, which cannot be said of VOA and IBB executives who have ruined news coverage without making any significant social media impact with their now substandard program offer. They could learn something from Netflix because Netflix executives know exactly in what kind of business they are in. There are in the entertainment business, although Netflix also offers documentaries, many of them excellent. Unfortunately, VOA and IBB executives do not know in what kind of business they would like to be.

Walesa Man of Hope Movie PosterA good example of their confusion was the failure to plan for coverage of the visit of Polish Solidarity leader and former Polish president Lech Walesa to the U.S. Congress. He was there for a special screening of a movie about him by Polish director Andrzej Wajda, “Walesa: Man of Hope,” but he was also there to mark the 24 anniversary of his historic speech to the joint session of Congress after the fall of communism in Poland, to meet with key Congressmen and Senators, and to make political comments on the shortage of U.S. moral and political leadership in the world, Russia’s growing international role under Putin, and the situation in Ukraine.

The Voice of America did not cover any of this, and did extremely poorly in reporting on Ukraine as well. (We mean here VOA English News and its website. The VOA Ukrainian Service has been doing an outstanding job reporting from Ukraine and reporting on U.S. reactions to the events there.)

The VOA English Service posted a short report about the Walesa movie itself in the ‘Arts & Entertainment” section of its website two days after the Capitol Hill event without any reference to the event or Walesa’s political comments. It’s a good example of how confused VOA is about what it wants to do.

Digital innovation is not going to help if VOA and IBB executives remain uncertain about the mission of the organization and keep destroying its core content, which happens to be “news, information and opinions for worldwide audiences.” In the case of VOA, it also happens to be reporting on U.S. foreign policy.

Let’s hope that the upcoming BBG meeting will focus on real issues instead of offering readings of IBB-drafted resolutions praising the work of their own executives and their non-existent “achievements.” This kind of doublespeak was certainly the case during the previous BBG Board meeting. Let’s try to avoid it this time, please!

The role of an oversight board is to provide direction and oversight. Its role is not to facilitate bureaucrats putting on dog-and-pony shows of doublespeak worthy only of the worst apparatchiks.

The BBG announcement offers, however, a ray of hope. It says that the BBG Board will “discuss and vote on an interim management structure for the International Broadcasting Bureau; and receive public comments.”

Let’s hope the new Board will deal with the defunct IBB bureaucracy and will listen to outside experts, like CUSIB’s Ann Noonan, offering constructive criticism and good advice. Let’s also not forget that the BBG is a public institution that receives money from U.S. taxpayers for a specific purpose. It is not a commercial corporation designed to generate profits or to attract audiences through entertainment programming.


Revamped Board Meeting to Feature Netflix CEO, VOA Deep Dive

December 12, 2013

BBG MeetingsWASHINGTON, DC -The Broadcasting Board of Governors will meet at its Washington, D.C. headquarters on December 18, with a new format that will feature an in-depth look at one of its networks and a panel discussion on media in the digital age with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

The meeting will consist of two sessions. In the first, the Board will vote on the full set of amendedBy-Laws reflecting changes previously adopted by the Board, as well as some proposed technical amendments; discuss and vote on an interim management structure for the International Broadcasting Bureau; and receive public comments.

In the subsequent session, the Voice of America will make a special presentation to the Board, providing an overview of the network’s worldwide activities. Afterward, Mr. Hastings will be the keynote speaker for a panel discussion on the transition of international media organizations in the digital age.

The public may attend either or both of these sessions in person as seating capacity allows. Registration to attend is available here, and must be completed by 12:00 p.m. (EST) on December 17.  The meeting will also be streamed live on the BBG website at

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Additional information, including any updates or adjustments to its starting time, will be posted on the BBG website.

Minutes, documents and a video recording will be available shortly after the meeting concludes. For more information, please contact BBG Public Affairs at (202) 203-4400 or by e-mail at

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international media, whose mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).