By Alex Belida
When the current Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) decided last year to revamp its mission statement, it conceded “a variety of opinions exist within the BBG family” about the elements the statement should contain. That is certainly an understatement! Virtually none of the journalists I knew at the Voice of America was happy with the old mission statement. And the new one hasn’t exactly received rave reviews either.
The old mission statement was this: “To promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multi-media communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information, and other programming about America and the world audience overseas.”
The new statement says this: “To inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”
The Board has argued that the new statement is “intended to reflect the Agency’s statutory mandate” as spelled out in the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994.
It is true that the Act makes clear Congress wants the United States “to use broadcasting to support freedom and democracy in a rapidly changing international environment.”
But, interestingly, that wording is contained in the last of five “findings and declarations” approved by Congress. The first two – and presumably they were listed in order of importance – are considerably more in line with the feelings of journalists:
“(1) It is the policy of the United States to promote the right of freedom of opinion and expression; including the freedom ―to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“(2) Open communication of information and ideas among the peoples of the world contributes to international peace and stability and the promotion of such communication is in the interests of the United States.”
None of the journalists I know who are involved in U.S. International Broadcasting opposes freedom and democracy.
But I believe promoting “freedom of opinion and expression” and the “open communication of information and ideas” serves the cause of freedom and democracy without us having to say so. This is especially true when the BBG itself has said mission statements need to be clear and carefully worded to affirm “the mission of credible, professional journalism” – something its own new statement inexplicably leaves out!
I would therefore appeal to the Board to adopt a new mission statement more attuned to the priorities of Congress and professional journalists:
“U.S. International Broadcasters will serve as consistently reliable and authoritative sources of accurate, objective and comprehensive news in support of freedom of the press and the free flow of information worldwide.”
I believe that by adopting such a statement, the Board will find it much easier to reorganize USIB in a rational and cost-saving manner. It will also help deflect the various interest groups whose past demands have led to the mishmash structure that exists today and the lukewarm revamping ideas the BBG is currently pursuing.
Next: What to do about the Board.
Alex Belida is a former correspondent and news executive who worked in U.S. International Broadcasting for 40 years.
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