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

In a guest post on the MountainRunner.us public diplomacy blog, the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting director Ted Lipien makes an argument in favor of reforming the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), starting with changing the composition of the Board.
“We should bring in to serve on the Board more foreign policy experts, human rights advocates, journalists who have covered pro-democracy movements abroad, respected representatives of various ethnic communities, perhaps some former members of Congress from both parties. Such a Board would not only better project and protect the interests of the American people and the U.S. Government, it would have more expertise to understand foreign audiences and ability to do its job right,” he said.
Lipien argues that U.S. international broadcasting also could use a powerful government sponsor since the BBG has proven incapable of winning public support for its mission. “It could be loosely linked with USAID, or better yet with a new strategic communications agency, but reporting to its own Board of Directors,” he suggested.
According to Lipien, allowing the BBG to actively market its programs in the U.S. would be a mistake because it would distract it from its primary mission of supporting media freedom and human rights abroad. He is in favor, however, of placing all BBG-generated news content in public domain and making it available for free to anyone in the U.S. and abroad who wants to use it.
“We could even entertain a domestic public broadcasting serving some U.S. ethnic communities if there is a demand for it. It should never be, however, another NPR. It should have far more rigorous public scrutiny and bipartisan oversight,” Lipien said.
In describing the BBG restructuring plan, Lipien wrote that it would remove much of U.S. international broadcasting from Congressional and public control and scrutiny, would limit independence and specialization of the surrogate broadcasters and put 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,” he suggested.
He described as foolish BBG decisions to end all VOA radio and TV programs in Arabic and Russian and criticized the unsuccessful attempt by the BBG to end all VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China. All Democrats and Republicans in the relevant House and Senate committees told the BBG it was the wrong thing to do while the Chinese regime is cracking down on dissent and perfecting Internet censorship.
Lipien argues that the BBG needs to focus on multi-platform, multi-media program delivery that includes new media but does not eliminate VOA broadcasting, where BBG has the greatest competitive advantage. “New media outreach is not as difficult or as expensive to develop as the  current BBG management claims it is. Millions of individuals prove it can be done easily, and thousands of broadcasters do it without destroying their core operation,” he said.
Lipien points out that there are good reasons to question the authors of the BBG restructuring plan who “have been rated by their own employees — probably more knowledgeable about international broadcasting than anyone else — as being dead last among all federal agencies officials in leadership and management knowledge.”
He concludes that rather than giving the current BBG management team a carte blanche to proceed with their restructuring plan that would limit transparency, accountability and public scrutiny, the U.S. Congress should demand a change in BBG leadership, a new vision for U.S. international broadcasting and a new plan.
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U.S. international broadcasting needs new leadership, new plan and more public scrutiny