BBG Watch Commentary

Epoch Times The Epoch Times, a newspaper published by the multi-language, international media organisation associated with the Falun Gong, has an article in its English-language edition on the controversial handling of Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts to China in the midst of Hong Kong protests.

Critics have pointed out that instead of immediately expanding VOA Mandarin television broadcasts and updating repeat VOA TV programs with live news, the management of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the Voice of America waited and took no action on any kind of surge broadcasting to China. Subsequently, already many days into the protests in Hong Kong, the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) turned over some of the satellite TV time slots used for repeats of VOA Mandarin television programs, as well as satellite channel time slots used by many hours of English language programs, to Radio Free Asia (RFA) radio programs, but without alerting VOA satellite TV and VOA web audiences in China to the change.

According to inside sources, the agency’s management had decided on the change well before the Hong Kong protests started. The decision on satellite TV channel schedule changes was not related to the protests and has not been widely known, debated or analyzed within the Voice of America. VOA management failed to consult with VOA China Branch rank and file journalists and kept them in the dark about the new schedule until the change was made. VOA China Branch journalists found out about it from TV viewers in China.

While outside observers have applauded placing RFA audio programs (later supplemented with some live video stream from Hong Kong) on the satellite TV channel in time slots previously used for English language programs (most of the satellite channel time slots substituted with RFA audio were used for English language entertainment programming), they have criticized the VOA senior management for not responding immediately to the crisis in Hong Long with increased live Mandarin television news to China and for making program schedule changes without consulting VOA China Branch staff. Critics also said that the BBG/IBB management should have tried to secure a new satellite television channel for Radio Free Asia and should have insisted on VOA increasing live television broadcasts as a proper response to the protests in Hong Kong.

READ MORE: Voice of America Alters Broadcasts After Hong Kong Protests Begin, By Joshua Philipp, Epoch Times, Oct. 11, 2014

One former VOA broadcaster posted this comment on Facebook in response to The Epoch Times article:

“Hampered by a bureaucracy of monstrous proportions, VOA can no longer cope with broadcasting domestic or international news. Higher management which has little or no knowledge of the impact of international events or VOA’s and RFE/RL’s role in reporting on them, consider their positions to be perk-filled comfy nests where they collect their six-figure salaries, annual bonuses, and sip their lattes and compose flowery press releases while rank-and-file in English and language services alike are made to multi-task: radio, TV, web, social media with few resources to fulfill the mission of VOA and U.S. international broadcasting. Sad commentary.”

BBG Watch Commentary

Part-time members of the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors oversight Board are not involved in day-to-day management of the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau. Day-to-day management is in the hands of VOA and IBB executives. Both VOA and IBB are U.S. federal government entities. Radio Free Asia and other non-federal BBG entities are generally well managed, but they are to a large degree dependednt on the IBB for program delivery support. BBG’s broadcasting entities lack sufficient resources and independence from the expanding government bureaucracy which has little knowledge of or connection to any overseas audience.

The BBG Board has recently selected Andy Lack, a distinguished media executive and journalist, to be the agency’s CEO and to carry out management reforms. He has not yet started his job. Sources told BBG Watch that it may be a few weeks before he can assume his position because the federal government hiring process for executives is long and complicated.

Sources also told BBG Watch that in addition to having an executive office in the BBG headquarters in Washington, Andy Lack has asked for a second office within the Voice of America poorly functioning and decimated Central English Newsroom. Main BBG, IBB and VOA offices are located in the same building near the Capitol Hill.

Members of Congress from both parties are also pushing for management reforms at BBG, IBB, and VOA. They want to make better-managed non-federal entities like RFA more independent of the federal bureaucracy. RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty is another U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlet overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Other BBG media outlets are: the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB – Radio and TV Marti) and Middle East Boadcasting Networks (MBN – Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV) BBG, VOA, IBB, and OCB are federal government entities. RFE/RL, RFA, and MBN are non-federal grantee entities.