The bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors, which managed U.S. government-funded news broadcasts for overseas audiences, has managed something that no one in today’s political climate has been able to do in recent memory. This federal agency, considered the worst-managed in the federal bureaucracy, united Democrats and Republicans in Congress against itself in a spectacular fashion rarely seen in Washington.
Sure, Democrats and Republicans in Congress do sometimes unite to support some uncontroversial causes or in opposition to human rights violations abroad. This time, however, they united against a federal agency with an annual budget of more than $700 million.
The reason for this unusual bipartisan unity? As China pursues aggressive public diplomacy in the U.S. and internationally and clamps down on dissent at home, BBG bureaucrats had a bright idea to propose the termination of Voice of America radio and satellite television broadcasts to China and the firing of 45 journalists who specialize in human rights reporting.
The BBG did not get anything from China in return but promised to spend money on putting more material on the Internet, which the Chinese censors block whenever users want to access VOA political news in Mandarin and Cantonese. Congress did not buy the BBG’s argument that the future of VOA presence in China calls for more English lessons that are not currently being censored.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations, following a similar action in the House of Representatives, told the BBG to drop its plan. “While the Committee recognizes that VOA English language and cultural programs are reaching audiences, particularly youth, via the Internet in the PRC, the Committee is concerned with the lack of clarity about the impact of the China broadcast restructuring proposal on all VOA radio and television programs broadcast to the PRC and Taiwan, and the lack of transparency of ‘the optimize BBG transmission’ proposal.”
The committee refused to accept the BBG proposal and included funding for the continuation of VOA broadcasts and transmissions to China and other BBG-managed programs to countries without free media.
Also worth reading: Senate Committee to BBG: Hands off China Broadcasting by Dr. Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is a bipartisan board comprised of nine members. Eight, no more than four from one party, are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate; the ninth is the Secretary of State, who serves ex officio. The BBG manages all U.S. civilian international broadcasting, including the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio and TV Martí, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)—Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television.