Imagining USIB without the BBG. As in more like Voice of Russia than the BBC.

Posted: 12 Nov 2009   Print   Send a link
"[T]he eight-person Broadcasting Board of Governors ... oversees the five media entities — Voice of America foremost among them — tasked with broadcasting American culture and journalism around the globe. In theory, the board is supposed to serve as a 'firewall' between the broadcasters’ mission of journalistic objectivity and the political whims of legislators, who would often rather see taxpayer dollars go towards burnishing America’s image abroad. By statute, the president and minority party nominate four governors each to keep a bipartisan mix. But right now, the BBG is only half full. The four currently serving members were all appointed in 2002, and have overstayed their terms by three years—if anyone left, the board would no longer have a quorum to conduct business. ... Under President Bush, then-minority leader Harry Reid nominated his chief of staff, Susan McCue—but she was held up by Mitch McConnell, who reportedly wanted another favorite of his for another board. McConnell then nominated the neoconservative writer Clifford May, and perhaps in retaliation, his confirmation was stalled as well. ... Since it doesn’t look like this deadlock is ending anytime soon, the most rational course of action may be to abolish the board, nominate a strong CEO, and have seven fewer confirmation hearings to worry about. Will that happen? Almost certainly not. Give a senator a football, and he’s not giving it away for nothing." Lydia DePillis, The New Republic, 10 November 2009.
     Sorry, readers, for being a broken record: International broadcasting has an audience because it provides news that is more comprehensive and reliable than the state-controlled news in the audience's own country. Credibility is the therefore key commodity of international broadcasting. Credibility is achieved through journalistic independence. There is no way for publicly-funded broadcasting to achieve that independence other than a bipartisan board, with fixed and staggered terms, appointing the top executives. A CEO overseeing all of USIB is needed, but without a board to appoint that person, the CEO would be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Less independence, less credibility, less audience.
     The Board will be effective if decision makers respect the spirit of the firewall concept. Appointing people to the Board merely because they are political allies violates that spirit. The best choices for the BBG would be journalists who have witnessed the important role of international broadcasting in countries where information is denied, and who have the courage to resist kibitzing by administration officials members and members of Congress.
     The TNR piece includes this:
"'I really wonder what the utility of this board is,' says Nancy Snow, an associate professor of public diplomacy at Syracuse University. 'A lot of people who are on this board, what are they doing?'" Well, the BBG appointed directors of VOA and presidents of RFE/RL and RFA. It has determined which language services will be dropped, added, reduced, or expanded. It has set priorities for the investments in the various media of international broadcasting, including radio, television, the internet, and mobile devices. And, on occasion, the Board has had to activate its firewall shield. (I thought experts were quoted because they provide answers rather than ask questions.)