The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) has attracted significant headlines based on a series of purges, dubious internal investigations, and controversial decisions by current CEO, Michael Pack, a Trump appointee and Steve Bannon disciple.
In his limited time, Pack has tried to rapidly and radically change the United States’ primary voice to foreign audiences away from its traditional mission of delivering fact-based news and information to turn it more into a partisan weapon to support the Trump Administration’s domestic and international political goals.
The US Agency for Global Media, formerly named the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is often in the news these days. The usually quiet, forgotten (even across the government) independent federal agency, where “independent” means it is not subordinate to a cabinet secretary while still under the authority of the White House, is not generally well known. Its mission and utility to U.S. national security, not just foreign policy, is particularly not well understood. The confusion around, and even ignorance of, the USAGM generally engenders a couple of questions. Both are fair and foundational but when asked by foreign policy observers they not only highlight the misinformation around an agency established to proactively combat misinformation (and disinformation), they can have troubling consequences if not answered.
The White House, in typical fashion, very publicly lashed out at reporting it did not like. In this case, it was reporting from the Voice of America, a government-funded and managed news service, on Wuhan in China. The White House was triggered by a story published by VOA that did not come from the network, or its sister operation covering China, Radio Free Asia. VOA had republished a story from the Associated Press which VOA distributes under contract. Yesterday, I framed the situation as a failure of VOA’s leadership, and by extension a failure of VOA’s parent organization, the US Agency for Global Media, to focus on the mission and parameters of VOA. That mission and those parameters do not include providing coverage that is redundant to commercial media and does include focusing on audiences relevant to US foreign policy. Below, I continue the conversation by focusing on the “safeguards” Congress implemented around VOA to prevent and correct such failures, safeguards ignored by Congress and the White House abdicating their responsibilities.
Last week, the Trump administration attacked the US government-funded Voice of America. The White House did this through its online newsletter and a tweet by Trump’s Director of Social Media. Described as a “bizarre broadside,” these public statements are really just more revelations of the decay and drift of US foreign policy and this administration’s inability to provide even a modicum of leadership.
In August 1949, George V. Allen wrote an article for the Washington Star newspaper responding to a frequent question of the time: why were Voice of America programs not conveniently heard inside the United States. Allen was the best person to answer the question as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, and thus the “owner” of VOA and the rest of what we today would call “public diplomacy.”
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. Continue reading “Blind Ambition “→
Under the Obama administration’s proposed FY 13 budget, the potential damage to the nation’s flagship publicly-funded overseas network, the Voice of America, would be unprecedented if Congress approves it. Contrast the reductions: VOA faces net cuts totaling $17 million, compared with a reduction of $731,000 for its sister network, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Continue reading “Whisper of America? “→
By Kim Andrew Elliott
Matt Armstrong has asked for a discussion on the future of the U.S. International Broadcasting (USIB) and the structure and purpose of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. For the past quarter century, I have been writing about US international broadcasting at the macro level. The two pillars of my proposals have always been independence and consolidation.
First, US international broadcasting must be under a bipartisan or nonpartisan board that shields it from direct US Government control and interference. There is no substitute for this. The world’s great public broadcasting corporations, including the BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, are seen as independent and credible news providers because they are managed by boards and not by the governments of their countries.
The following from Lynne Weil, Director of Communications and External Affairs at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, was sent to The Washington Times in response to Ted Lipien’s opinion piece that appeared thereFebruary 8, 2012.
To the Editor:
The op-ed you published on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (“VOA harms Putin opposition in Russia,” Commentary, Ted Lipien, Feb. 8) cynically attempts to exploit a real, but quickly addressed, journalistic error by the Voice of America’s Russian Service in order to deliver an inaccurate, exaggerated and distorted attack on the BBG.
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 Broadcasting Board of Governors released their strategy supporting their 2013 budget request today. The plan is far ranging and addresses many of the major challenges facing America’s international broadcasting today directly and several more indirectly. As good as the plan reads, the devil, as they say, is in the details.
The BBG’s narrative on this plan, released earlier, created unnecessary confusion with its lack of details. The specifics, some described as tactical but still strategic in scope and time to implement, are welcome and necessary to foster an informed discussion on correcting the mission and capability of U.S. International Broadcasting. For too long, the BBG has been effectively silent, or reticent at best, on its plans, to its own detriment. Continue reading “To Inform, Engage, and Connect: a look at the BBG’s new strategy “→
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 “→
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.
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?