BBG Watch Media Commentary

A new report by Susan Crabtree in The Washington Free Beacon provides additional details on the investigation by the House Foreign Affairs Committee which uncovered new spate of management failures at the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) such runs such U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlets as the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and is still being managed by officials appointed during the Obama administration who, according to many critics both among Republicans and Democrats in Congress, are inexperienced and incapable of managing a federal agency, federal employees and media outlets which by law should serve only overseas audiences. The current management has allowed biased and partisan news coverage which was then promoted to Americans by federal government employees with targeted Facebook ads paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

Current USAGM CEO John Lansing, VOA Director Amanda Bennett, and members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the previous name of the USAGM agency, had been warned for several years about some of these illegal practices and management failures but took no effect actions to correct them.

A three-month congressional investigation uncovered new evidence of management failures at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees the Voice of America and related taxpayer-funded media outlets.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.) on Friday released an oversight report that faulted “insufficient management” for allowing Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Voice of America to run Facebook ads that illegally targeted audience in the United States. The ads run counter to the USAGM’s mission to focus on countering U.S. adversaries’ propaganda overseas.
The Facebook ads violated the Smith-Mundt Act, which prohibits domestic dissemination of U.S. taxpayer-funded content produced by the State Department and related agencies, the Foreign Affairs investigation found.


READ MORE: Royce: USAGM, VOA Management Must Be Strengthened: Investigation by the House Foreign Affairs Committee uncovered new spate of management failures. By Susan Crabtree. The Washington Free Beacon, December 22, 2018

Susan Crabtree reported that in October, the VOA fired or disciplined 15 of its journalists after an internal investigation found they had accepted bribes passed to them by a Nigerian official.

She also reported that “a late November report by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution cited concerns about Chinese officials’ influence on American institutions, including specific details about its “charm offensive and tougher tactics” on VOA and Radio Free Asia employees working in China, including details about the Chinese embassy officials meeting annually with VOA leaders of its Mandarin service to express their opinions about the content.”

The Washington Free Beacon article pointed out that the Hoover Institution study “also cited what it called a ‘pattern’ by VOA Mandarin Service of avoiding stories that could be perceived to be too tough on China and detailed activities by Chinese security officials it said amount to “a campaign of intimidation against some VOA and RFA staffers and their family members.”

Susan Crabtree also reported that “in another incident, a month before the presidential campaign, the BBG’s Ukrainian service posted online an unedited video, with subtitles and the VOA logo, of Robert De Niro unloading on Trump, calling him a ‘dog,’ a ‘pig,’ and a ‘con.'” “It was not part of a larger story, and the Ukrainian service removed it after criticism,” the Washington Free Beacon report noted.

Susan Crabtree is a senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Her bio says that she is a veteran Washington reporter who has covered the White House and Congress over the past two decades. She has written for the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, the Hill newspaper, Roll Call, and Congressional Quarterly.

ALSO SEE: USAGM CEO John Lansing ignored early warnings of ads targeting Americans, BBG Watch, December 21, 2018


SEE: December 2018 Oversight Investigation, U.S. Int’l Broadcasting in the Digital Age: Getting Advertising Right, Report by Chairman Edward R. Royce



Press Release

December 21, 2018

Chairman Royce Releases U.S. Int’l Broadcasting Oversight Report

Washington, D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) today released an oversight report outlining failures in management at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) that led to repeated violations of the Smith-Mundt Act.

This report is the product of a three-month investigation launched after a July New York Times piece exposing Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Facebook ads that illegally targeted audiences in the United States. The review by the Chairman and his committee staff found that insufficient management and devolved operating structures for digital advertising at RFE/RL and Voice of America (VOA) allowed for repeated violations of the Smith-Mundt Act, which prohibits domestic dissemination of content developed by the State Department and U.S.-funded entities. An examination of six VOA language services found at least 860 Smith-Mundt violations over a two-year period. Violations continued even after the New York Times report, and the launch of a USAGM task force designed to address the issue.

I strongly support the USAGM mission of providing objective, accurate and timely news to people in countries where a free press does not exist,” Chairman Roycesaid. “As terrorists and repressive regimes in Russia, Iran and North Korea increasingly weaponize information to undermine our democratic values, the U.S. needs strong, agile and independent-minded international broadcasting to stand up for freedom and truth.

“Reforms to empower a CEO at USAGM have produced progress, but there is still more work to be done. As this report details, failures in management and structure at RFE/RL and VOA produced repeated digital ads that violated U.S. law. Management of digital operations must be strengthened not only to ensure compliance with the law, but to produce more effective digital content.

“I hope the next Chair and Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee will continue to work closely with USAGM to hold our broadcasters to the highest professional standards. That is what they want, and what our country needs. We’re faced with a misinformation onslaught, and we’ve got to get this right.”

The report, entitled “U.S. International Broadcasting in the Digital Age: Getting Advertising Right” is available for download HERE.