BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Watch Commentary

Tara Sonenshine, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Tara Sonenshine

Voice of America (VOA) interviewed Tara Sonenshine, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Secretary Sonenshine usually represents Secretary of State John Kerry at Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) meetings. She previously represented Hillary Clinton at these meetings. Secretary of State is an ex officio member of the BBG, which includes Voice of America and other U.S. government-funded media entities broadcasting and distributing news and information programs abroad.

The interview with Secretary Sonenshine will be broadcast in full on VOA radio program “Press Conference USA” hosted by Carol Castiel.

This is a short video from the interview. Secretary Sonenshine is being asked what is the biggest challenge in projecting U.S. image around the world?

Link to video.

For more visit Press Conference USA’s website.

We have not seen the full interview, but it is obvious to many that the bureaucrats in charge of U.S. international broadcasting are one of U.S. public diplomacy’s main liabilities.

Voice of America and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives have been trying to eliminate current affairs programs, including VOA’s “Issues in the News.” Their attempt to eliminate this particular program, in which prominent Washington D.C. correspondents discuss topics making headlines around the world, ended in a failure after some BBG members protested. But the senior staff is still trying to end Voice of America radio broadcasts to Iran, to reduce radio transmissions to China, and to eliminate more than 20 positions in the understaffed Voice of America Central Newsroom.

The International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which supports but does not produce any programs and also includes a large and constantly growing bureaucracy, already consumes the largest portion (35%) of the BBG budget. This bureaucracy has become the engine behind program cuts and the main cause of public diplomacy fiascos.

Secretary Sonenshine recently visited Russia where dozens of highly popular and respected Radio Liberty journalists and Internet specialists were fired by the former management of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) with the knowledge and consent of IBB executives. The firing of Radio Liberty journalists triggered protests from famous Russian opposition political leaders and human rights activists, including Nobel Peace Prize nominee Lyudmila Alexeeva, with whom Secretary Sonenshine met recently in Washington.

The incompetence of RFE/RL and IBB senior executives resulted in a public diplomacy disaster for the United States in Russia. According to sources, Secretary Sonenshine was extremely unhappy with the situation and vowed to keep a closer eye on the BBG bureaucracy, which her former boss Hillary Clinton called “defunct.” Despite bureaucratic resistance, BBG members have recently initiated some reforms and have put a seasoned journalist and media executive Kevin Klose in charge of RFE/RL.

Hopefully, if these reforms are successful, the BBG will no longer be a public diplomacy liability for the United States in places like Russia and China, but Secretary Sonenshine still has a lot of work to do at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The bureaucracy does not give up easily.

The following is a description of the VOA’s “Press Conference USA” interview with Secretary Sonenshine.

Carol Castiel
Carol Castiel

Host Carol Castiel and VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns interview Tara Sonenshine, the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. In a wide-ranging interview, Sonenshine speaks about the role of public diplomacy within U.S. foreign policy, projecting U.S. image, and responds to a series of questions.

For updates on Press Conference USA, and other Voice of America programs, follow host Carol Castiel on Twitter: @CarolCastielVOA