Happy 70th VOA! David Ensor to discuss accomplishments, road ahead today

VOA 70th Anniversary logoVOA Director David Ensor hosts a discussion today at 10:30am ET on VOA’s “accomplishments and the road ahead.”

I’d like to share my vision of the future with you and hear your thoughts.  The meeting will give you a chance to see some of the exciting programs we have recently launched and others we have in mind.

The public may (check for yourself) be able to watch live via Windows Media, listen live via Windows Media, or download the event later as an MP3 or Windows Media. Continue reading “Happy 70th VOA! David Ensor to discuss accomplishments, road ahead today

What is Walter Isaacson’s next “big writing project”?

Last week, Walter Isaacson surprised everyone by resigning as the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.  Why?  Because, according to Isaacson, he did not have the time because he had a “big writing project” coming up.
What is this project?  According to In the Loop‘s Emily Heil, Isaacson will “chronicle the history of the digital age, from the famous Ada Byron Lovelace to the present.”

Discussing the BBG’s (dys)function

The importance of the Broadcasting Board of Governors to U.S foreign policy has, at least for the last couple of decades, but under-appreciated.  Perhaps this is because of the shift in the late-1960’s & early-1970’s from the struggle for minds and wills to the Cold War known to many, an arms race of boomers, bombers, tanks and warheads.  The change was noticed by Senator Fulbright in 1972 when he declared “the Radios [VOA, RFE, and RL] should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” Continue reading “Discussing the BBG’s (dys)function

U.S. international broadcasting needs a new leadership, new plan and more public scrutiny

By Ted Lipien
The BBG restructuring plan would remove much of U.S. international broadcasting from Congressional and public control and scrutiny. The surrogate broadcasters were created in the first place because there was too much control, centralization, interference, and ineffectiveness at the Voice of America. Their job was to undermine dictatorial regimes. The BBG plan would limit their independence and specialization and puts a premium on centralization and bureaucratic control.

Centralization of management and of news production will undermine the effectiveness of surrogate broadcasters. It will also further weaken the Voice of America, where individual language services have won for themselves considerable editorial freedom. Continue reading “U.S. international broadcasting needs a new leadership, new plan and more public scrutiny

Looking for Part-Time Work? The Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors just opened up

The Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Walter Isaacson, is resigning his position at the BBG.  Walter’s decision has surprised many.  He was a well-respected leader of the BBG, a prolific author (most recently of the Steve Jobs biography, but also biographies of Einstein and Benjamin Franklin) and tremendously busy person (he continues to be president & CEO of the Aspen Institute).
The Chairmanship of the BBG is, like the other board members, a part-time job.  Five of the eight Governors are serving beyond the expiration of their term (they serve until replaced).  Walter’s term expired later this year. Continue reading “Looking for Part-Time Work? The Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors just opened up

BBG gets a Director of Communications and External Affairs

The Broadcasting Board of Governors announced today that Lynne Weil has been named Director of Communications and External Affairs.  She starts February 6.
The BBG, as many know, is in dire need to improve its engagement with the Hill and the public.  Lynne, in leaving her job as Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs), brings extensive knowledge of and relations with Congress and the media to the BBG.

Lynne will be the second Director of Communications and External Affairs as the position was (relatively) recently established.  Diane Zeleny held the position briefly last year.

She will not be wanting for work to keep her busy, especially in the coming year.

Serving until Replaced: the recurring story of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

2011 BBG Board
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is presently working toward updating its organization and strategy to meet America’s 21st Century needs.  Whether you agree with the suggestions or not, most of the proposed changes remain just that: proposed as they await approval for many of the key changes.  The BBG provided a “narrative” but you will have to wait until next month, I’m told, for the detailed plan.

Back in September 2010, I wrote about the “honeymoon” the then-new Board would enjoy.  Indeed, after two years without a chairman and with only four members, serving appointments that expired six years earlier, the neglected BBG was due and eager for fresh leadership.

For background, the BBG is the only federal agency run by a committee.  The eight governors are appointed by the President, not more than four of whom may be from the same party, and the Secretary of State, who usually delegates his or her Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy as the representative.

These eight are part-time leaders appointed to staggered terms.  The purpose was to provide fresh and state-of-the-art advice by top professionals and leaders to the Government.

The staggered and overlapping terms were a bid for continuity and to avoid radical shifts in policy.  The wholesale replacement of the Board in June 2010 with eight new members was a refresh that was not supposed to happen, and it was the first time since 2004 that the Board had a full complement.

However, we are now looking at the likely prospect of a wholesale replacement of the board due to term expirations.  Is twice in a row a coincidence or an emerging pattern of White House neglect?

Continue reading “Serving until Replaced: the recurring story of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

All Quiet on the Western Front: a look at the Five-Year Strategic Plan for U.S. International Broadcasting

By Alan L. Heil Jr.
This article originally appeared at American Diplomacy. It is republished here, slightly modified, with permission of the author and American Diplomacy.

As the Voice of America marks its 70th anniversary, what lies ahead for all of the world’s publicly-funded overseas networks in the year ahead? For Western broadcasters collectively, 2011 was the most potentially devastating year in more than eight decades on the air. Now, because of fiscal uncertainties in their host countries and rapidly evolving competition from both traditional and new media, they face huge cuts in airtime and operations. Can America step up to help fill the gap? A new strategic plan for U.S.-funded overseas broadcasting charts a possible path.

Over the years, the government networks in Europe and North America have offered a window on the world and a beacon of hope for hundreds of millions of information-denied or impoverished people on the planet. They have done so by offering accurate, in-depth, credible news, ideas, educational and cultural fare, consistent with Western journalistic norms and the free flow of information enshrined in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. The broadcasts have enhanced America’s security, and even saved lives. They helped foster a largely peaceful end to the Cold War.

Continue reading “All Quiet on the Western Front: a look at the Five-Year Strategic Plan for U.S. International Broadcasting

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.

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

SFRC Report: U.S. International Broadcasting: -Is Anybody Listening?- Keeping the U.S. Connected

SFRC Report: U.S. International Broadcasting: -Is Anybody Listening?- Keeping the U.S. Connected, 9 June 2010.

Posted on MountainRunner here: Senate Report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

American Public Diplomacy has always addressed two audiences. One audience views the United States positively, as a democracy based on the free flow of information, the freedom of expression, civic discourse and active citizen participation in government. This group will more often than not be supportive of U.S. actions and initiatives, or at least give us the benefit of the doubt. Members of the second group believe that these strengths are, instead, weaknesses and are predisposed to assume the worst about America; they reject–or worse, attack–us as a result. Successful Public Diplomacy (PD) keeps the first group engaged and increases its numbers while reducing the size and impact of the second. Impacting both groups are not only the actions, images and words of our own Nation, but fierce competition from other nations whose own interests may or may not agree with our own. One of our major tools for connecting with these audiences is through people-to-people exchanges; another is international broadcasting.

Cites Matt Armstrong’s MountainRunner blog on page 43 of the report.

Monitoring What You Say

In 1948, 70-75% of Voice of America broadcasts were outsourced.  The National Broadcasting Corporation, now more commonly known as NBC, had complete control over the broadcasts it produced and sold to VOA.  For a radio series named “Know North America,” its purpose clearly established by its name, NBC hired a Cuban author and a Venezuelan supervisor to produce the series in Spanish for Latin America.
In one episode, a Latin American is shown around Cheyenne, Wyoming, and told the history of the state by a guide.

Tourist: “Do we still have Indians in Wyoming?”
Guide: “Yes…Our Indian maidens run in races dressed in nothing but feathers.”

In another episode on Texas, the Latin American asks, “Don’t you have a saying that Texas was born in sin but New England was born in hypocrisy?”

Needless to say, NBC and CBS, who had a similar arrangement with VOA, lost their contracts and VOA took full control over their products.

Fast forward to the present and to a post by Mike Waller at his Political Warfare blog about a music video titled “DemoKracy” by a Swedish-Iranian band.

From Mike:

The “reporter,” shown at right holding the microphone in the first part of the video, is the VOA employee, Melody Safavi, whose married name is Arbabi. This blogger has learned that VOA fired her after an Iranian former political prisoner filed a complaint to Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, but her husband Saman Arbabi, who directed the video, reportedly is still on VOA staff. …

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which governs VOA, has long denied problems with its controversial Iran services. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has been raising concerns for a year about the broadcasts to the Islamic republic, but the BBG and State Department were dismissive. Last spring, this blogger also submitted a set of written questions to outgoing Under Secretary of State Hughes at the request of a senior aide, and received a written response that ignored or evaded the answers. It’s time for BBG and State to catch up with the new leadership at RFE/RL and tackle the larger problems of US broadcasting into Iran.

I think Mike gives too much credit to BBG being able to sort anything out (although with James Glassman’s pending appointment to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, it may not matter what the BBG could do). The BBG has a history of denying problems.  The same goes for Karen Hughes.

The real issue here is the trust the Congress has of the BBG and its operations. This same concern is what led to the establishment of what was then called the Advisory Committee on Radio Programming and is now known as the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.  How then to establish the trust and credibility of the BBG with the Congress?  This would include establishing the baseline on the purpose and allowances for the BBG’s operations.