The U.S. Agency for Global Media needs more than just a USAGM Advisory Board. It needs a board with real powers. Biden has nominated Kenneth Jarin as chair and Luis Botello as a member of the USAGM Advisory Board.
USAGM Watch Commentary
By Ted Lipien
The perennially mismanaged and dysfunctional U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) needs much more than an advisory board. It needs a board with real powers to replace the senior management and, if necessary, the CEO. With Putin’s war on Ukraine, USAGM also requires an experienced and tested CEO capable of completely reorganizing the agency. The agency does not need officials linked with past scandals and dysfunction, such as the hiring of ex-broadcasters of Putin’s disinformation channels, who, while employed in Russia and Belarus, spread anti-U.S. and antisemitic propaganda and conspiracy theories. USAGM also does not need an official who was not sure whether Russia’s RT should have been required to register in the United States as a foreign agent.
President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Kenneth Jarin as Member and Chair of the International Broadcasting Advisory Board, United States Agency for Global Media, and Luis Botello as USAGM Board Member. Under the current legislative arrangement, Jarin, Botello, and any other member of the USAGM Advisory Board will have no real powers to transform the ailing agency. Kenneth Jarin is a partner in the law firm Ballard Spahr LLP. Luis Botello is a journalist with more than 30 years of experience. He currently serves as Deputy Vice President of Global Impact and Strategy at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)
In 2014, USAGM, then known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), and its main broadcasting entity, the Voice of America (VOA), actually supported Putin’s propaganda narrative that the vast majority of Russian-occupied and illegally annexed Crimea wanted to join Russia. VOA also promoted the faulty public opinion poll ordered by BBG in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Some former BBG Board members and senior officials had corporate or family business interests in Russia, China, or both. In 2022, longtime USAGM and VOA officials were unprepared for events in Afghanistan, Russia, and Ukraine. Many USAGM employees were left stranded in Afghanistan as the country was overrun by the Taliban.
Kenneth Jarin and Luis Botello do not appear to have links to such scandals or business operations in Russia and China, but as advisory board members, they will not be able to affect the change the agency needs. What USAGM requires is a highly experienced, high-energy CEO and a bipartisan oversight board with real powers.
To deal with the crisis in Ukraine, the Voice of America needs to be separated from the surrogate broadcasters, such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Such a separation would make USAGM more manageable. The agency could also be eliminated, and the board would oversee only the Voice of America. Most importantly, breaking up of the dysfunctional agency could make the so-called “surrogates” truly effective against propaganda and disinformation from Russia, China, and Iran.
This was posted on Facebook a few years ago by a now-former Voice of America director. The post later disappeared. It did not age well.