Where do we go from here? The troubled future of the BBG


The sudden resignation of Walter Isaacson as Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors will further paralyze an already dysfunctional organization in desperate need of restructuring to move beyond yesterday and meet the requirements of today and tomorrow.  This comes at a critical time when the BBG is attempting to complete and gain support for a new strategic plan. Continue reading “Where do we go from here? The troubled future of the BBG

The Art of the Bio: Jobs is there, but another job isn’t

We all forget to put things on our resume.  Before, and indeed after, Walter Isaacson published his bestselling book Steve Jobs, Walter had worked another gig.  He was Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. Government agency that runs America’s non-military broadcasting, at least until he suddenly resigned before the end of his term, to the surprise of many, write another book.
But interestingly, an email from Walter’s prep school fails to mention his time at the BBG.  Walter’s time at Time and CNN and his books are of course there, but no BBG.

Continue reading “The Art of the Bio: Jobs is there, but another job isn’t

Good Journalism Vs. Undermining Unsavory Regimes

Guest Post By Alex Belida

When I worked at VOA and spoke to visiting groups, I routinely stated, with pride, my opinion that it was one of the last bastions of  “pure journalism” in the U.S. and the world.

By that I meant the news stories written in VOA’s Central Newsroom avoided the diseases afflicting many media outlets in recent years: “snark”-enhanced writing, argument as a substitute for real reporting, and politically-or-ideologically-inspired selectivity in story and interview assignments. Continue reading “Good Journalism Vs. Undermining Unsavory Regimes

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

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

Another US Deficit – China and America – Public Diplomacy in the Age of the Internet

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)The Senate Foreign Relations Committee released its report on the imbalance of public diplomacy activities between China and the United States. Entitled “Another U.S. Deficit – China and America – Public Diplomacy in the Age of the Internet,” this is the final version of the report I reviewed on 11 February. Commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Ranking Member of the Committee, the report is a unique and necessary review of Chinese Government engagement in America. The report also highlights Chinese obstruction of reciprocity and U.S. Government failure to act, notably in the area of information freedom initiatives.

The timing of this report is critical. It comes on the heels of the recent U.S. visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao. More importantly, it comes at a time when the U.S. diplomacy budget, public and otherwise (is there really any diplomacy that is not in some part negotiated in public?), is under threat in today’s austere budget environment. At risk is the development and implementation of smart policies that, coupled with unfettered access to information to create knowledge, ultimately have a greater and more enduring bang for the buck than the kinetic effect of any smart munition.

Senator Lugar closes his letter that opens the report, a 2-page letter that you should read if you do not have the time or inclination to read even the report’s executive summary, with the hope the report will “stimulate dialogue within Congress.” It certainly should.

Read the report here (1.55mb PDF).

See also:

BBC radio in English, Persian, Somali, Urdu now on US cell phones

News and information knows no boundaries. Borders of geography, technology, and language are quickly evaporating as content moves with increasing ease across mediums and political borders.

The latest example of the “now media” environment is the BBC, which just announced the availability of its “live radio broadcasts via mobile phones in the United States.”

The extension of the BBC’s agreement with provider of mobile phone radio distribution in North America, AudioNow, means that now, in addition to BBC Arabic radio, BBC World Service’s broadcasts in English, Persian, Somali and Urdu are now available across the US via any mobile phone without downloads or data services, simply by calling a national access number.

The numbers for the new services:

  • BBC World Service in English: 712-432-6580
  • BBC Persian: 712-432-6583
  • BBC Urdu: 712-432-6584
  • BBC Somali: 712-432-6582

The BBC has a host of different ways to listen to their content.

This week, Walter Isaacson, the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors announced the BBG, and its broadcasters, will transform, becoming customer-oriented and platform-neutral.

It’s helpful that the BBC makes it Somali content readily available to people within the US. Perhaps someone can promote it to the Somali-American community?

See also:

BBG Chairman: customer-oriented, platform-neutral

This week, Walter Isaacson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, gave some remarks (PDF, 41kb) at the celebration of sixty years of Radio Free Europe. Walter, with his long history in the media business and the author of biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Einstein.

Walter acknowledged the newly appointed Board’s launch of a year-long comprehensive review to remake the BBG into “a great virtual global news service” that would provide reliable reporting across mediums and with social media input from the global audience. This is similar to the trend of major media to incorporate readers and viewers into news development and dissemination. The goal, Walter said, is to become “customer-oriented” but “platform-neutral.”

Some key excerpts of his remarks are below

Continue reading “BBG Chairman: customer-oriented, platform-neutral

U.S. International Broadcasting: An Untapped Resource For Domestic And Ethnic News Organizations

Walter RobertsFor anyone interested in the Broadcasting Board of Governors and/or U.S. government broadcasting, I recommend reading this updated report-turned-chapter written by Shawn Powers: U.S. International Broadcasting: An Untapped Resource For Domestic And Ethnic News Organizations (180kb PDF, also available as a Google Doc).

The news media landscape is rapidly changing in the wake of technological progress and the altered ways in which information is received and disseminated require adjustments in the contemporary media regulatory framework. Just as advances in science and health sectors require governments to adjust their laws accordingly, so do advances in information technology. The advent of the Internet, a global infrastructure able to disseminate information instantaneously from anyone to anywhere in the world, calls into question the value of laws written in the first half of the 20th century with the intent to limit the direction of news and information broadcast by particular organizations.

Currently, U.S. public service broadcasting, which is severely underfunded in comparison to the rest of the world, is also legally separate from U.S. international broadcasting, a technical firewall that inhibits effective collaboration between the two entities. As a result, U.S. funded international broadcasting is prohibited from disseminating its journalistic features within the U.S., a legal ban that hinders the use of its significant journalistic resources by both public and private news networks, including a large sector of ethnic media that could surely benefit from the 60 languages that American international broadcasters report in. This chapter argues for further collaboration between government funded international broadcasting and its domestic counterparts–both public and private–and for an adjustment in policies in order to accurately and intelligently adapt to the reality of today’s information ecology. …

It is important to note that international broadcasting from other governments is increasingly available throughout the United States as well. Moscow’s Russia Today is available via the Internet and on cable systems throughout the East coast. China’s state-run CCTV is also available throughout the US and on a few major cable providers. Ditto for Japan’s NHK World, France’s France 24 and Iran’s Press TV. Qatar’s Al Jazeera network, much more controversial than any U.S.-funded broadcaster, is available via the Dish Network for a small fee. Its sister station–Al Jazeera English, which is less sensational and more polished–is available in over 17 million American homes. In January 2009 as tensions rose between Hamas and Israel, it was the network of choice for Americans (via the Internet) for news about Gaza. If Americans can access foreign statefunded broadcasters, shouldn’t they also be able to tune into their own government’s programming? …

As the quality of news, especially international news, continues to decline, and as the domestic news media–both public and private–continue to face financial challenges, there is one untapped resource that remains off of the radar of most domestic news media, despite its long history of providing timely and accurate information: U.S. international broadcasting. Regretfully, few have argued for removing the Smith-Mundt Act’s restrictions in order to facilitate collaboration between the two, despite the fact that it would cost zero additional government resources and likely improve the quality of information produced by both American international broadcasting and its domestic news media. This oversight stems largely from the cultural and political stigma surrounding international broadcasting. The perception persists that it is government propaganda, an impression that, accurate or not, is no longer relevant in a world where information sovereignty is a thing of the past. Americans are bombarded with so-called “propaganda” from foreign governments all of the time. Territory-based restrictions on the flow of information no longer make sense in a world where identities, languages and politics increasingly transcend national boundaries. It is time to adjust our information policies to reflect today’s new reality, and soon, as both the domestic news media and U.S. international broadcasting are falling behind their international competitors. …

Shawn documents the use of BBG media and the availability of foreign government media inside the U.S. as well as debunks the arguments that the BBG is simply a front of U.S. propaganda. Shawn, USC-alum and now an Assistant Professor at Georgia State University, made his chapter available to MountainRunner for publication in advance to its appearance in a forthcoming book edited by Robert W. McChesney and Victor Pickard’s Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done To Fix It (New Press, 2011). This is an update of Shawn’s previous report of the same name.

See also:

Image: Walter Roberts, former Associate Director of the United States Information Agency.

The BBG’s Honeymoon: All Work and No Play

The BBG’s Honeymoon: All Work and No Play by Matt Armstrong, 9 September 2010, in Layalina’s Perspectives column. My blog post on the article is here.

There is a new governor in town, eight of them in fact. For the first time in six years, all of the top jobs at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) are filled. Half of the seats sat empty for up to four years, including the chairmanship for the past two years. This fresh beginning provides some breathing room for the BBG, which manages all U.S. government, non-military international broadcasting. The Board is taking this honeymoon seriously: it has already held two meetings and is actively reviewing the state of international broadcasting, before putting its programmatic and managerial stamp on its operations.

As the Board considers the requirements, challenges, and opportunities it faces, along with the broadcasting organizations it supervises – including the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN), Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), and Radio Free Asia (RFA)- three fundamental questions must be addressed: how is the BBG relevant in today’s global information environment? Can the BBG balance advocacy with news delivery as a part of the federal government? And, can the BBG adapt to the free-for-all participation of social media?

BBG Meeting

On Friday, August 20, I participated in an off the record conversation with five of the new members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Joining me were Kristin Lord of CNAS and and Paul Foldi of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We met to discuss the status and future of U.S. Government broadcasting. While I cannot get into details, it was clear the Board is very interested in moving quickly to take advantage of clean start, a reset of sorts, for the Board and endeavor to make well-informed decisions to support smart, strategic requirements.

Continue reading “BBG Meeting

Broadcasting board decides Voice of America can peruse WikiLeak documents

Al Kamen reports that,

Some new members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors were most upset by a column item last Wednesday noting that the IT and security folks at the International Broadcasting Bureau had instructed Voice of America employees to not read or e-mail any of the WikiLeaks material on their government computers (bit of a blow to original reporting).

The issue was apparently that the infrastructure component of the BBG, the International Broadcasting Bureau, or IBB, was dictating the rules of the game to VOA journalists. Fortunately, the brand new Board members authorized the Director of the VOA to “proceed with reporting on the disclosure of classified documents available on the WIkileaks website in a manner that is consistent with the VOA Charter and the BBG’s statutory mission, and to balance this effort with due consideration for the laws and executive orders” on using classified information.

Likely the IBB will take a more appropriate stance in the near future when Dick Lobo, the proposed new director, is confirmed.

See also Kim Elliott’s comments that RFE/RL, a surrogate station not under IBB, was able to report on Wikileaks without constraint.

Senate Report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors

The most extensive report on the issues facing the Broadcasting Board of Governors and US international broadcasting was released this week. “US International Broadcasting – Is Anybody Listening? – Keeping the US Connected” (1mb PDF) was prepared by the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under the leadership of senior professional staff member Paul Foldi, and is the best, if not the only, substantial review of its kind.
The report describes the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) as transforming from its intent of a political “firewall” to a modern political “football” that has resulted in an average vacancy on the board of over 470 days. Even now, the new slate of members of the BBG has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

Beyond staffing difficulties and the resulting repercussions, the report describes the fierce competition and imbalance, particularly with China and Russia, to engage listeners, viewers, and readers around the world. The report also recommends changes to the Smith-Mundt Act, describing the firewall as “anachronistic and potentially harmful.”

Some highlights from the report:

Continue reading “Senate Report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors

Update on the confirmation of US Broadcasting Board of Governors

The US Broadcasting Board of Governors continues to operate with a minimum of members, just enough for a quorum. The Board currently has four members, no chair, each of which continues several years (from over 3 to nearly 6) past their terms expired. Since March 23, 2010, the six of the replacement slate of eight members have been queued up for confirmation. Two of members, Dana Perino and Michael Meehan, were in a holding pattern pending more questions and answers from Senators.

Last week, it appeared the nominees would be confirmed before the Senate recessed for Memorial Day. Alan Heil, noted expert on US government broadcasting explains the current situation:

The U.S. Senate has begun its Memorial Day recess without clearing any of the eight nominees to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Congress resumes June 7, but a debate Friday over 80 of the more than 100 nominees throughout the US government awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor ended with no action taken. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to a motion by Senator Tom Harkin to pass a unanimous consent approval of these 80 nominees. Among them, the largest block of nominees to a single US government oversight body, the BBG, a number of U.S. ambassadors, appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the Peace Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and several federal district judges. To further complicate matters, as regards the eight BBG nominees, there was no indication on the Senate Executive Calendar that Senator Coburn of Oklahoma had yet lifted his hold on six of them

The BBG is oversees the civilian (non-military) international broadcasting, including but not limited to the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and others.

See also:

Voice of the Mullahs? Not quite.

In an unsigned editorial titled “Voice of the Mullahs“, The Washington Times charges the “Voice of America is becoming the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The piece then cites two recent examples of the Voice of America’s Persian News Network giving “preferred treatment to pro-regime messages.” The individuals allegedly receiving this “preferred treatment” were Hooshang Amir-Ahmadi and Trita Parsi. The editorial closes with an incredible leap, declaring that

…if VOA is telling Iranians struggling for freedom that resistance is futile, we hope Tehran keeps jamming it

Somebody at The Washington Times is either confused or being mislead, or both. It would seem from the reading of this op-ed that these incidents are indicative of the overall programming of VOA, but the facts do not align with this charge. It would seem that if VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN) were really telling Iranians “resistance is futile,” the regime would stop attempting to jam transmission and reception of broadcasts, as well as conduct espionage against RFE/RL.

Continue reading “Voice of the Mullahs? Not quite.

Update on the Broadcasting Board of Governors

After years of neglect, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an essential cog in the wheel of public diplomacy as the body overseeing non-military international broadcasting, is one step closer to getting a fresh board. According to Al Kamen:

…the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved three Democrats and three Republicans to run U.S. overseas broadcasting units such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.

By unanimous voice vote, the committee sent the nominations of Walter Isaacson as chairman, and Dennis Mulhaupt, Victor H. Ashe, Michael Lynton, S. Enders Wimbushand Susan McCue as members, to the Senate floor.

But it held on to two of the eight hostages nominated five months ago. Democrat Michael Meehan and Republican Dana Perino still await committee action.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee attempted last month to approve the nominees, but events of the day prevented the meeting. As with this week, Dana Perino and Michael Meehan were to be held up for additional inquiry.

Event by BBG/GWU: Iran’s Blogosphere and Grassroots Voices: Risks and Rewards of Engagement (Updated)

image Iran’s Blogosphere and Grassroots Voices: Risks and Rewards of Engagement

Date: Monday, April 12, 2010
Time: 9:00a – 12:30p.
Location: George Washington University, Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st St NW, Washington, DC 20052 
Co-sponsors: Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) & Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication (lPDGC), George Washington University (GWU).

RSVP by e-mail to ipdgcbbgiran@gmail.com, or by phone to the BBG Office of Public Affairs at 202-203-4400.

Please contribute your thoughts, before and during the conference, to our global online discussion:

http://www.gwu.edu/~ipdgc/events/iran-blog/index.cfm (homepage)
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Irans-Blogosphere-and-Grassroots-Voices-Risks-and-Rewards-of-Engagement/108225475873166?ref=ts
(Facebook)
www.twitter.com/ipdgc
(Twitter)

The agenda is below.

Continue reading “Event by BBG/GWU: Iran’s Blogosphere and Grassroots Voices: Risks and Rewards of Engagement (Updated)