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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

How Congress Violated the First Amendment and Got Away With It

By Alex Belida

When I worked at Voice of America, the flagship U.S. international media operation, the biggest legal problems I heard senior managers wring their hands over were possible violations of an obscure 1948 law known as the Smith-Mundt Act.

This isn’t one of those comic regulations, like “it is illegal to wear a fake moustache that causes laughter in a church.”

In fact this one is pretty serious for a news organization. It states “information produced by VOA for audiences outside the United States shall not be disseminated within the United States.” 

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Blind Ambition

When the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) recently unveiled a new Strategic Plan, it set a brazenly ambitious goal: “To become the world’s leading international news agency by 2016.”

But based on its latest budget proposal, global news organizations like Reuters and AP would appear to have little to fear. To achieve its goal, the BBG, a tiny federal agency overseeing U.S. non-military broadcasters, first plans to gut its existing news operations, starting with the nation’s flagship overseas broadcaster, the Voice of America.

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Reforming U.S. International Broadcasting (Part Three): A New Structure

By Alex Belida

Having drafted a new mission statement for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) stressing the primacy of journalistic values and having proposed that a new non-partisan Board be composed mainly of media veterans, let us now focus on a more efficient structure for U.S. International Broadcasting (USIB) that will attract greater audiences.

Instead of the current multi-entity structure, I would integrate VOA, RFE-RL, RFA, MBN and Radio/TV Marti into a single organization, eliminating all language duplication.  This new operation would be headquartered in Washington D.C. at the existing VOA center with satellite production bureaus as needed in strategic locations in addition to smaller news bureaus.

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Reforming U.S. International Broadcasting (Part Two): What to do About the BBG?

By Alex Belida

If, as suggested by Congress and proposed in my last posting, the mission of U.S. International Broadcasting (USIB) is to be good journalism in support of freedom of the press and the free flow of information, then those who oversee America’s non-military broadcasting entities need to be selected accordingly.

Unfortunately, to date, few Governors have had serious backgrounds in journalism and foreign affairs and too many have had partisan or ideological agendas.  This needs to change if USIB is to prosper in the future and attract greater audiences.

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Reforming U.S. International Broadcasting: A New Mission Statement

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.”

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Calling on the BBG to Affirm The Primacy of Good Journalism

By Alex Belida

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) will hold a special telephonic meeting tomorrow (Saturday, Feb. 11) to decide on an interim successor to Walter Isaacson to act as “Presiding Governor” of the Agency.  Isaacson, author of the best-selling biography of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, resigned as Chairman of the BBG on  Jan. 27th, stating he was “taking on another big writing project, so I won’t be able to give the BBG the time it needs and deserves.”

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The Future of U.S. International Broadcasting: A Call for Debate on its Mission and Funding

By Alex Belida

With the 70th anniversary of the Voice of America approaching (Feb. 1st), it is an ideal time to assess the future prospects for U.S. International Broadcasting (USIB).

USIB has, over the past 70 years, grown into a multi-headed conglomerate.  Besides VOA, it now includes Radio Free Europe (founded 1950), Radio Liberty (founded 1953 and merged with RFE in 1976), Radio Marti (founded 1983) and TV Marti (founded 1990), Radio Free Asia (founded 1996) and the Middle East Broadcasting Network comprised of Radio Sawa (founded 2002) and Al-Hurra TV (founded 2004).

The current Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), headed by Walter Isaacson, this month approved resolutions (see record of decisions Jan. 13) aimed at consolidating these operations.  As a first step, the Board will study the feasibility of merging into a single corporate structure the three so-called Grantee or surrogate entities – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network.  Secondly the Board will seek legislative approval to create a Chief Executive Officer to oversee day-to-day operations of these non-federal elements of USIB as well as the federal elements, the Voice of America and Radio-TV Marti.

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