Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 introduced in the House

 Last week, Representatives Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced a bill to amend the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 to “authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences, and for other purposes.” The bill, H.R.5736 — Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (Introduced in House – IH), removes the prohibition on public diplomacy material from being available to people within the United States and thus eliminates an artificial handicap to U.S. global engagement while creating domestic awareness of international affairs and oversight and accountability of the same. This bill also specifies Smith-Mundt only applies to the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, eliminating an ambiguity creatively imagined sometime over the three decades.

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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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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

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The BBG’s Honeymoon: All Work and No Play

The subject of government-supported broadcasting has risen out of seemingly nowhere over the past year. Several high quality reports have appeared, including those by Senator Richard Lugar, Shawn Powers, and the Lowy Institute in Australia. Over at Layalina, I put in my nickel on the discussion with regard to the challenge faced by the new leadership of America’s non-military government broadcasting.

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. 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.

I describe in the article the need for the BBG to establish its relevance in today’s competitive information environment of increasingly shallow news, improve relations with Congress, and do its part to empower the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a body charged with providing Congress and the American public insights and recommendations on public diplomacy, including government broadcasting.

Read the whole article at Layalina or download it as a PDF.

Your comments are appreciated.

Congress and International Broadcasting

While the nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors remain in a holding pattern in the Senate, mostly likely because of Senator Tom Coburn, there is good news on the US international broadcasting front. The bill to permanently authorize Radio Free Asia has passed an important milestone.

According to a Senate source, last Friday, the Radio Free Asia bill was “hotlined” on the Republican side. This means there was no Republican opposition to considering the bill for unanimous consent. The next step is to hotline the bill on the Democrat side, which may or may not have occurred before you read this.

See also:

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.

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Movement on the BBG? (Updated)

imageNo, not yet. The Senate has adjourned until June 7. Questions from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to at least one of nominees to the Broadcasting Board of Governors is available from the Huffington Post (scroll down to COBURN’S QUESTIONNAIRE FOR DANA PERINO), or click here for the Word document with the questions.

Meanwhile, the head of the Persian News Network was “reassigned” and his deputy was fired.

See also:

Event: U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Business Meeting

On May 25, 2010, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will hold a business meeting at the Capitol Building in S-116 at 2:15 p.m.

Presided by Senator John Kerry, the meeting will go over the following legislation:

  • S 3317: Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding Act of 2010
  • S 3193: International Cyberspace and Cybersecurity Coordination Act of 2010
  • S 3104: A bill to permanently authorize Radio Free Asia, and for other purposes
  • S Res 469: A resolution recognizing the 60th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Thailand
  • S Res 532: A Resolution recognizing Expo 2010 Shanghai China and the USA Pavilion at the Expo

The meeting will also review two nominations for the Broadcasting Board of Governors:

  • Michael P. Meehan to be a Member for a term expiring August 13, 2010
  • Dana M. Perino to be a Member for a term expiring August 13, 2012

If nominations are approved, all eight BBG nominees’ names will be on the Senate floor, subject to the final step in the confirmation process.

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.

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