BBG Watch Commentary
The best way for a small group of well-meaning but completely misguided and unrealistic Voice of America (VOA) Newsroom staffers, their bosses and at least one Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member to ensure that Congress defunds or de-federalizes Voice of America (VOA) is to insult members of Congress and accuse them of incompetence or a crime they had no intention of committing, and then tell the world about it.
One way or another, Congress will reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors, but if a small group of VOA Newsroom staffers, encouraged by their boss and a BBG Governor with a different agenda, continues to put out extreme and false claims that Congress wants to turn VOA into a propaganda machine for the current or any future U.S. Administration, legislators may very well defund or de-federalize VOA, leaving the vast majority of VOA employees and contractors who support management reforms without work or without federal employment benefits.
Those who think that Congress will allow VOA to be wholly without any function on behalf of the U.S. government and U.S. taxpayers, as well as those who want a government PR role for VOA, are both delusional and threaten the future of this important public institution.
The most vocal opponents of H.R. 4490, the bipartisan Royce-Engel United States International Communications Reform Act represent a small minority among VOA employees. They did not complain with anything approaching the same vigor or outside publicity when dozens of positions were being eliminated in the VOA Newsroom, when VOA news reporting from Washington essentially collapsed, or when dozens of their Radio and TV Marti and Radio Liberty colleagues were unjustly fired. The only help these employees got was from their union, AFGE Local 1812, some outside groups, and a few BBG Governors.
With their six-figure federal government salaries, seniority, benefits and job security, internal VOA Newsroom critics of H.R. 4490 are disconnected from the rest of VOA and completely disconnected from the deeply troubled news industry outside of their 100% government-funded organization in Washington, D.C. They certainly did not do much when numerous VOA foreign language services were losing their broadcasts because the management decided to preserve its jobs rather than fight for their employees and their programs. They did not issue any public appeals (a few brave ones tweeted) when IBB/VOA management recently ended shortwave radio transmissions to numerous countries without free media and gave no meaningful advance notice to audiences or even to their program hosts — broadcasts that serve groups and communities that are the most underprivileged and the most repressed.
We’re not saying that they are not well meaning or that some of their concerns are not justified, but they are not justified to any degree suggested by their irresponsible public comments. They are certainly going about expressing their concerns the wrong way, alienating Congress and VOA’s outside supporters. Had they opposed mismanagement, waste and abuse much earlier and more effectively, had they appealed to their Union and to Congress much earlier and more effectively, had they defended the VOA Charter much earlier and more effectively — this bipartisan reform bill may not have been necessary. It is now. It must be said in their defense, that the IBB/VOA management has created an environment of fear and intimidation within VOA. Any sign of criticism directed against the management was promptly and brutally suppressed. But siding with the discredited management that also opposes this bill is not a sign of courage.
Voice of America – Information War Lost: For or Against Agency Reform?
By The Federalist
The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously adopted a bi-partisan bill designated H.R. 4490 which is intended to reform US Government international broadcasting, including the Voice of America (VOA).
This legislation is warranted and appropriate. It should be passed by the Congress and signed into law by the President.
Some individuals in the VOA newsroom have reacted with apocalyptic hysteria regarding this legislation. In the process, these individuals have engaged in their own kind of propaganda: information that is incomplete with regard to the agency’s comprehensive mission and other ludicrous dire predictions: that the agency will be turned into some kind of “propaganda express,” a term favored by opponents to the legislation and that there would be a “mass exodus of journalists from the agency” (in our view, a Fellini-like image of lemmings marching over a cliff and into the sea).
Some of this hysteria appears to have the direct support of senior agency officials who openly oppose the bill. As we see it, they are enabling the hysteria and the targeting of any and all individuals or organizations which support the legislation.
None of this comes as a surprise to those who know this agency very, very well. First and foremost, the known quantity is that this is a failed agency with a failed mission. It has been accurately described by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: dysfunctional and defunct.
In his second article on the VOA newsroom (“Journalists at Odds With Union Over Role of Voice of America,” The New York Times, July 2), reporter Ron Nixon provides some useful insight into the position and tactics of opponents to the legislation.
The Nixon article shows that opposition to the bill comes from a small segment of agency employees. Loud and overbearing – as this type of hysteria can be – it does not represent universal sentiment within the agency.
This overheated minority wants the union (AFGE Local 1812) to withdraw its support for the legislation.
The question for us is: how do you not support reform of this agency that is in serious disrepair?
Any reading of HR 4490 in its entirety, particularly the Findings and Declarations contained in the bill, shows that supporting the legislation is necessary and appropriate. .
In The New York Times article, one critic of the legislation is Jim Malone, described as “a senior national correspondent at the government-financed news agency who is not a member of the union.”
“Government-financed” should be a reminder to these vocal opponents of the legislation as to who pays their salaries and who defines the parameters of the agency’s mission: The US Congress.
Mr. Malone opines, “a lot of us would welcome change and reform, but not at the cost of undermining V.O.A.’s journalistic credibility.”
This is the favorite canard of opponent’s to the legislation.
Mr. Malone and others speak to “change and reform” in only vague and opaque terms. We have not seen them offer anything in the way of specifics as to their definition of “change and reform” in the agency and more importantly who, what, where and why these reforms should be focused.
In our view, this is consistent with a smoke and mirrors approach favored by opponents to the legislation regarding an agency that is underwater in pervasive and corrosive mismanagement impacting all of the agency’s operations. We see this as a disingenuous technique for supporting “business as usual.”
In reading the comments in various articles – leading off with an op-ed piece to The Los Angeles Times which starts of with the headline “Back Off Congress…” – we come away with the impression that there is a form of partisan demagoguery being put on display by the opponents to the legislation.
In addition to the “Back Off Congress” headline, we see and read repeated references to “the Royce bill,” when describing HR 4490.
It is not “the Royce bill,” with the intimation that the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), has sole ownership of the bill. It is a jointly-sponsored bill by Chairman Royce and Ranking Minority Member, Eliot Engel (D-NY). In addition, the bill was adopted unanimously by the full committee.
Let’s repeat that for those who need to hear it again:
Joint sponsorship and unanimity speak to one thing: a significant amount of work by committee members and staff has gone into this bill. There is power behind it.
By the way, “Back Off Congress” is an interesting approach to trying to win friends and influence people who have a whole lot to say about the agency’s future.
Mr. Malone goes on to declare,
“Union leaders blundered by ignoring legitimate concerns that the bill would turn journalists into policy promoters.”
We consider the source of this unilateral declaration: someone who has elected to absent himself from the union’s proceedings. In effect, a bystander. A non-participant.
The only blundering we see is not supporting a bill that makes a clear and unambiguous case for how far off the rails this agency has gone.
Mr. Nixon goes a lot deeper into what constitutes the VOA Charter than do the opponents to the bill and their incomplete characterizations or intimations of the scope of the agency’s mission. He cites part 3 of the Charter which states the agency’s mission requirement to, “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible opinions and discussions on these policies (emphasis added).”
That is a far cry from being mouthpieces for propaganda – the “propaganda express” – as the apocalyptic hysteria opponents to the legislation would have the public believe. This is not an agency mission add-on within the HR 4490 legislation. It has been in place since 1976 along with the rest of the Charter.
Another disturbing aspect to the behavior of opponents to the legislation is a posture and demeanor of assuming the role as the sole arbiters of what constitutes the agency’s mission.
As we see it, they have staked out a position that they and only they are qualified to pass judgment on the agency’s mission: not the Congress, not individuals inside and out of government, not the American taxpayer. They appear to think that the Congress should cede its authority to legislate how the agency is to be structured or to strengthen the agency’s mission.
Remember, their position is: “Back Off Congress.”
This kind of elitist demagoguery is outrageous, particularly when it comes from employees of a Federal agency.
The end result is the VOA opponents to H.R. 4490 are making a clear and unambiguous statement in support of maintaining the agency’s dysfunctional and defunct status quo. In doing so, they make themselves appear less like journalists and more like bureaucrats preserving self-interest which they appear to believe somehow benefits them, regardless of the negative impact of the dysfunctional and defunct status quo on the agency’s mission as a whole.
And in the process, these individuals have been simply masterful in making an even stronger case that the agency should be scrapped.
It is important to review the actions by senior agency management which have the net effect of undermining the agency’s mission, including its journalistic integrity:
- The elimination of 33 positions in the VOA newsroom, leaving it understaffed and under-resourced.
- Attempting to disassemble core newsroom operations to the individual VOA language services, who themselves are under-staffed and under-resourced.
- The unilateral and surreptitious management decision to eliminate core radio audiences on June 30, 2014 including those for Worldwide English, Learning (“Special”) English and a host of other language services, with the net effect of abandoning wholesale large segments of what remains of the agency’s audience.
As a newsroom editor put it recently, “We can’t get stuff on the air.”
The senior agency management responds by taking broadcasts OFF the air.
We see this as having a whole lot more of a negative (and immediate) impact on the agency’s credibility than anything represented in congressional legislation.
As we have argued repeatedly, the actions of senior agency officials has been on a trajectory to take the agency out of international broadcasting. When completed, that won’t leave much work for Mr. Malone or his colleagues to do.
Annually, the agency’s budget is under $800-million dollars. The Congress wants more accountability for how the agency spends this money and whether or not the agency successfully carries out its mission.
Members of the committee have also stated that they are not going to fund a news-only entity.
We agree. They should not.
In the global media environment of the 21st century, actions of agency officials have substantially reduced the agency’s broadcast footprint among global publics, leaving VOA little more than a whimper with nothing more to offer than a minor – and often untimely – recitation of the day’s events.
There are other broadcasters who have a much louder voice than VOA does at present. They are being heard. And some of them have a message not friendly toward the United States.
The fact that opponents to HR 4490 would align themselves with the VOA’s mission debacle is simply irrational.