BBG Watch Commentary[aside]
BBG Press Release
Editor’s Note: Agency sources told BBG Watch that according to the official explanation from IBB, the Columbia Journalism Review article did not show up in an online search when those who compile the BBG Media Highlights released them Monday morning. But in the past, IBB officials had censored out numerous media articles out of the BBG Media Highlights. Sources told BBG Watch that the Columbia Journalism Review article will be included in the BBG Media Highlights tomorrow.
As of today, officials of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) – the management and administrative arm of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting – can legally market and distribute Voice of America (VOA) and Radio and TV Marti news reports and programs to Americans. The same officials have been accused of practicing internal and external censorship, damaging the quality of VOA news, and being the worst managers in the federal government. They will now be in charge of feeding news, not just to foreign audiences, but also to Americans.
International Broadcasting Bureau officials have been hiding from members of their bipartisan BBG oversight board and from American public news reports critical of their performance. The latest example of what can be seen as their censorship is an article in Columbia Journalism Review, which they failed to include in the BBG Media Highlights, a press roundup compiled under supervision of IBB officials. These officials cannot be trusted and should be replaced.
Contacted by reporters, a BBG Board member, former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe who has been critical in the past of IBB management practices, said that not including the Columbia Journalism Review article in the BBG Media Highlights distributed to the American public is difficult to understand. Ashe said that he does not know why it happened.
The latest example of what can be seen as International Broadcasting Bureau’s censorship practices came on the first day they are able to distribute news in the United States. An article by a former Voice of America journalist Gary Thomas in Columbia Journalism Review was omitted from the BBG Highlights.
The Columbia Journalism Review article was posted online several hours before the BBG Media Highlights were sent out today to subscribers. It is highly unlikely that IBB officials were unaware of its existence since their online search is exhaustive and includes even the most esoteric publications as long as the articles present them and the agency in a positive light. In any case, this is not the first time such censorship happened under their watch.[aside]
For information about domestic distribution of VOA and Radio and TV Marti news programs by IBB officials, see:
– Law change means thousands of new hours of broadcast-quality content By John Eggerton — Broadcasting & Cable, 7/1/2013 12:01:00 AM.[/aside]
In a practice reminiscent of how members of the Soviet Politburo secretly received sensitive information, IBB officials would sometimes — but not always — include links of critical articles in private emails to BBG members. During the Cold War, secret news roundups for Politburo members consisted largely of transcripts of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America broadcasts.
On several occasions, members of the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors complained to IBB executives about their censorship practices. These complaints were ignored. The BBG board currently lacks a quorum with only one Republican and three Democratic members (it should have nine members and needs five for a quorum). The board cannot replace IBB Director Richard Lobo and his top deputies or even order them to take actions they disagree with.
But these IBB bureaucrats cannot be left in charge of distributing news to Americans and foreign audiences. Congress needs to step in and legislate reforms to allow the BBG board or some other oversight body to re-establish control over the IBB bureaucracy.
IBB executive staff has censored its Media Highlights on numerous occasions in the past by not listing articles critical of their management of the U.S. taxpayer-funded media agency. Articles in both mainstream media publications and in widely-read blogs, including The Heritage Foundation blog and World Affairs Journal, were censored out by IBB officials in the past from the BBG Media Highlights.
Gary Thomas’ article in Columbia Journalism Review is one of the most significant recent analyses of what is wrong with Voice of America news under the current management and what is wrong with the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its International Broadcasting Bureau. Unless the current IBB management is soon replaced, American journalists and broadcasters using Voice of America news and other programs should definitely become familiar with some of these issues outlined in the Columbia Journalism Review article.
SEE: Mission impossible – Is government broadcasting irrelevant? by Gary Thomas, Columbia Journalism Review, July 1, 2013.