Broadcasting Board of Governors

Broadcasting Board of Governors reform bill reintroduced


Broadcasting Board of Governors reform bill reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives with greater protection of Voice of America news objectivity.

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, introduced the bipartisan H.R. 2323, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015. This is a new attempt to get full congressional approval for reforming the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with its flagship but struggling media outlet the Voice of America (VOA) after a previous bipartisan BBG reform bill, H.R. 4490,the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, was not considered last year by the Senate. H.R. 4490 got unanimous approval from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House of Representatives.

Republican and Democratic sponsors and co-sponsors of the H.R. 2323 bill made changes in the “SEC. 123. DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE VOICE OF AMERICA” to address some of the concerns expressed in reaction to the H.R. 4490 2014 bill about VOA being able to maintain its journalistic independence and objectivity. Lawmakers dropped a requirement, which was included in the 2014 bill, that VOA programming be designed to promote the broad foreign policies of the United States. The word “promotes” in H.R. 4490 was replaced with “presents” in H.R. 2323. The new bill also introduced a requirement for VOA to report on U.S. foreign assistance programs: “Producing content and related programming that provides a comprehensive understanding of the impact of United States foreign assistance programs and United States international philanthropy, complementing other media outlets.”

Everything else remains the same as in H.R. 4490.

Al Pessin, a VOA foreign correspondent, criticized the original bill in his The Los Angeles Times op-ed, “Back off, Congress, and keep Voice of America real.”

While the title of the op-ed was probably chosen by the editorial staff, the author, who represented only himself, kept referring to the bill as “the Royce bill,” even though the 2014 legislation was fully bipartisan, as is H.R. 2323.

In addition to Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel, H.R. 2323 is co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Rep.Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Albio Sires (D-FL), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA).

Rep. Ed Royce

“Right now, groups like ISIS, Putin, and Iran are ‘weaponizing’ information to undermine regional stability and stoke violence.  We’re on the defensive and failing to cut through the misinformation with facts,” Rep. Royce said in a statement.  “By clarifying the BBG’s mission, creating accountable leadership, and reducing the bureaucracy, more of the agency’s budget can be spent countering foreign propaganda – and not on Washington bureaucrats,” Rep. Royce added.

Rep. Royce also criticized the Broadcasting Board of Governors for proposing to end its Central Africa services.

“The Agency’s recent budget request proposed ending its Central Africa broadcast services, contrary to the advice of the State Department, and at a time of Burundi and Rwanda’s greatest need,” Rep. Royce said in a statement. “This shortsightedness points to an agency adrift. We don’t have the luxury of minor tweaks; this legislation responds to the need for complete overhaul,” Rep. Royce added.

Rep. Eliot Engel

Ranking Member Eliot Engel said in a statement that “Authoritarian governments and extremist groups are flooding airwaves and covering websites with propaganda and misinformation. Modern technologies have provided new avenues for disseminating lies and distortions to massive audiences. Unfortunately, America’s ability to respond effectively hasn’t kept pace.”

Rep. Engel added: “It’s time to breathe new life into American international broadcasting by modernizing and streamlining the BBG. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation with Chairman Royce and I’m eager to push forward with these needed reforms.”

One significant difference between the 2014 and the 2015 bipartisan reform bill is the elimination of a controversial wording that the Voice of America’s “accurate, objective, and comprehensive news and related programming,” which reflects the current wording of the VOA Charter and is not controversial, also be “consistent with and promotes the broad foreign policies of the United States.” The word “promotes,” which created controversy, was eliminated from the 2015 bill and substituted with “presents.”

H.R. 4490 (2014) to Reform Broadcasting Board of Governors

H.R. 4490 (2014): “The Voice of America shall have the following duties and responsibilities:

(1) Producing accurate, objective, and comprehensive news and related programming that is consistent with and promotes the broad foreign policies of the United States.”

2) Producing news and related programming and content that accurately represents the diversity of thoughts and institutions of the United States as a whole.

(3) Presenting the law and policies of the United States clearly and effectively.

(4) Promoting the civil and responsible exchange of information and differences of opinion regarding policies, issues, and current events.

(5) Making all of its produced news and related programming and content available to the Freedom News Network for use and distribution.

(6) Producing or otherwise allowing editorials, commentary, and programming, in consultation with the Department of State, that present the official views of the United States Government and its officials.

(7) Maximizing foreign national information access through both the use of existing broadcasting tools and resources and the development and dissemination of circumvention technology.

(8) Providing training and technical support for independent indigenous media and journalist enterprises in order to facilitate or enhance independent media environments and outlets abroad.

(9) Reaching identified foreign audiences in local languages and dialects when possible, particularly when such audiences form a distinct ethnic, cultural, or religious group within a country critical to United States national security interests.

(10) Being capable of providing a broadcasting surge capacity under circumstances where oversea disasters, crises, or other events require increased or heightened international public diplomacy engagement.” FULL TEXT OF 4490 (2014)

H.R. 2323 (2015) to Reform Broadcasting Board of Governors

H.R. 2323 (2015): “The Voice of America shall have the following duties and responsibilities:

(1) Producing accurate, objective, and comprehensive news.

(2) Producing content and related programming that accurately represents the diversity of thoughts and institutions of the United States as a whole and is consistent with and presents the broad foreign policies of the United States.

(3) Producing content and related programming that provides a comprehensive understanding of the impact of United States foreign assistance programs and United States international philanthropy, complementing other media outlets.

(4) Presenting the law and policies of the United States clearly and effectively.

(5) Promoting the civil and responsible exchange of information and differences of opinion regarding policies, issues, and current events.

(6) Making all of its produced news and related programming and content available to the Freedom News Network for use and distribution.

(7) Producing or otherwise allowing editorials, commentary, and programming, in consultation with the Department of State, that present the official views of the United States Government and its officials.

(8) Maximizing foreign national information access through both the use of existing broadcasting tools and resources and the development and dissemination of circumvention technology.

(9) Providing training and technical support for independent indigenous media and journalist enterprises in order to facilitate or enhance independent media environments and outlets abroad.

(10) Reaching identified foreign audiences in local languages and dialects when possible, particularly when such audiences form a distinct ethnic, cultural, or religious group within a country critical to United States national security interests.

(11) Being capable of providing a broadcasting surge capacity under circumstances where overseas disasters, crises, or other events require increased or heightened international public diplomacy engagement.” FULL TEXT OF H.R. 2323 (2015)

In a testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in February 2015 on the fiscal year 2016 budget proposal and foreign policy challenges, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed 100% support for Chairman Royce’s efforts to pass legislation this year reforming the Broadcasting Board of Governors, while noting some reservations as to whether the agency should have one or two CEOs. Kerry also asked for more money for the BBG “to confront Russian propaganda” and “to get reform that this troubled agency needs.”

In response to a request from U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for assistance in getting a new version of the Broadcasting Board of Governors reform legislation passed by the U.S. Senate this year “to confront Russian propaganda” and “to get reform that this troubled agency needs,” Secretary Kerry said:

SECRETARY KERRY: “All I can say, Mr. Chairman, I’m with you 100% on this. I look forward to working with you further. I appreciate your leadership.”

“I’ve had long conversations with our Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Rick Stengel, who is very seized with some things we need to try to achieve,” Kerry added.

Secretary Kerry pointed out that there is some disagreement as to whether the BBG needs two CEOs, one for the federal part of the agency, which includes the Voice of America, and another one for the non-federal part of the agency composed of surrogate media outlets which are federal grantees. They include Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc. (MBN).

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS PRESS RELEASE ON H.R. 2323 TO REFORM BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS
MAY 14, 2015
Committee to Consider Legislation May 21
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, introduced the bipartisan H.R. 2323, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015.  The legislation improves the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters, which are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).  The Committee will consider the legislation at a markup on Thursday, May 21 at 9:30 a.m. [A section-by-section summary of H.R. 2323 is available HERE.]
On April 15, the Committee examined the destabilizing role that Russia is playing across Europe through its vast propaganda machine and the failure of the U.S. to respond effectively.  During that hearing, one witness stated that “to put muscle and focus into U.S. broadcasting strategy, the BBG must be reformed.”
Upon introduction of H.R. 2323, Chairman Royce said:  “Right now, groups like ISIS, Putin, and Iran are ‘weaponizing’ information to undermine regional stability and stoke violence.  We’re on the defensive and failing to cut through the misinformation with facts.  By clarifying the BBG’s mission, creating accountable leadership, and reducing the bureaucracy, more of the agency’s budget can be spent countering foreign propaganda – and not on Washington bureaucrats.  Former BBG Governors, think tanks, and government oversight agencies have all identified structural, functional, and cultural problems at the BBG.  The Agency’s recent budget request proposed ending its Central Africa broadcast services, contrary to the advice of the State Department, and at a time of Burundi and Rwanda’s greatest need.  This shortsightedness points to an agency adrift.  We don’t have the luxury of minor tweaks; this legislation responds to the need for complete overhaul.”
Ranking Member Engel said: “During the Cold War, the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other U.S.-backed broadcasters were the global gold standard for transmitting honest, unbiased news around the world.  Today, the need for that information is just as great.  Authoritarian governments and extremist groups are flooding airwaves and covering websites with propaganda and misinformation.  Modern technologies have provided new avenues for disseminating lies and distortions to massive audiences.  Unfortunately, America’s ability to respond effectively hasn’t kept pace.  It’s time to breathe new life into American international broadcasting by modernizing and streamlining the BBG.  I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation with Chairman Royce and I’m eager to push forward with these needed reforms.”
H.R. 2323 reiterates the reforms proposed in H.R. 4490, legislation Royce and Engel introduced in April 2014.  The Committee unanimously passed H.R. 4490 in April 2014; the House passed H.R. 4490 in July 2014; the Senate never considered H.R. 4490.
  • Fixes Well-documented Management Problems. Currently, five U.S. international broadcasting entities report to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (“BBG”), a group of 9 part-time individuals, who meet once a month to make management decisions. Important decisions can languish if the Board does not have a quorum, which is often the case. This legislation would establish a full-time, day-to-day agency head and reduce the role of the Board to a more appropriate advisory capacity. These changes have been recommended by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General and are widely recognized as needed reforms.
  • Clarifies the Mission of the Voice of America (VOA). The VOA charter states that VOA will provide a “clear and effective presentation of the policies of the United States.” Over time, VOA has abandoned this mission and adopted a mission of the so-called “surrogates” to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies. This legislation makes clear that the Voice of America mission is to present the broad foreign policy of the United States and “tell America’s story.”
  • Consolidates “the Freedom Broadcasters.” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) have the same mission – to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies – with different geographic reach. Consolidating these organizations into a single, non-federal organization will achieve cost savings, allow for closer collaboration, and improve responsiveness. While the consolidation would mean shared administrative staff and other economies of scale, they would retain their distinct “brand names.”
Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel’s letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors regarding proposed cuts to the Central African service can be found HERE.
In addition to Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel, H.R. 2323 is co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Albio Sires (D-FL), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA).

Source: http://bbgwatch.com/bbgwatch/broadcasting-board-of-governors-reform-bill-reintroduced/

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