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  • U.S. International Broadcasting in Leaderless Limbo

    Well into the second year of the Obama administration, U.S. international broadcasting services remain in a leaderless state of vacuum. Nor are these important public diplomacy assets of the government likely to emerge from limbo anytime soon, which is deeply unfortunate given the intensifying global competition for information dominance.

    At a time when China’s Xinhua news agency announced the launching of a global English-language channel, China Network Corp., or CNC, and the Russian government’s English language Russia Today channel is building up capacity with 40 staffers right here in Washington, the U.S. government appears incapable to getting its broadcasting act together.

    Observers of U.S. international broadcasting have been watching for the Senate confirmation vote of the eight new members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the operations of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Marti, Radio Free Asia, Al Hurra television, Radio Sawa, Radio Free Asia, and the other entities under its umbrella. Despite the fact that the terms of the old board members were running out, it took the Obama administration eight months to send up the names, including that of the new chairman of the board Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute, TIME magazine and CNN. It further took another eight months to get six of the names voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April.

    Hearings on the other two board members are pending hearings — Michael Meehan and Dana Perino – have been delayed due to objections from Sen. Jim DeMint. (Meehan, who worked as press secretary for Massachusetts senate candidate Martha Coakley, shoved a reporter to prevent him from asking questions of the candidate. Perino is the Republican tit-for-tat in this equation.)

    And now, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has stated that he is not about to let the Senate move forward with a floor vote on the six that have been voted out of committee unless he has a chance to interview each nominee personally about their views and qualifications, this according to Josh Rogin, writing in Foreign Policy magazine. The senator has a track record of demanding accountability from the BBG and of delving into mismanagement and waste at the broadcasting services. “The BBG is the most worthless organization in the federal government. It’s full of people who know nothing about media or foreign policy. All they are doing is spending money and somebody’s got to look into it,” the Senator fumed in an interview with the FB blog. (In the President’s FY 2011 budget request, the BBG is slated to receive $755 million.)

    The Senator is on to something. The board members are political appointees. Over the years, some have been well-qualified, some ineffective and some focused very much on their own agenda and business interests. Some have been so hands-on as to function like executives, running afoul of other management structures. In surveys by the Office of Personnel Management, the BBG ranks routinely by far the lowest of any U.S. government entity in job satisfaction among its employees. And recently a letter from 69 members of Congress went to the BBG demanding an investigation into problems with the Voice of America Persian News Network, which was accused of bias against human rights and democracy activists in favor of radical Islamist voices. This was only the last in a long series of letters from members of Congress trying to get accountability from the BBG.

    Nor is this the first time Sen. Coburn has tried to force the issue of oversight. When James Glassman, President Bush’s last chairman of the BBG, was nominated for the post of undersecretary for public diplomacy in December 2007, Sen. Coburn held up his conformation vote for months in the hope of shining a light on irregularities at Al Hurra television, the U.S. government’s Arab language television channel.

    The nomination of the new BBG provides an excellent opportunity for Congress to exercise oversight of this troubled institution. The BBG has the important mission of presenting the message of the United States to the world, based on the values and principles on which this nation was founded. It desperately needs the right kind of leadership.

    Helle C. Dale is Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy at the Heritage Foundation.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to U.S. International Broadcasting in Leaderless Limbo

    1. Josh says:

      While other countries launch television stations in foreign languages, the United States, the home of innovation and freedom that many people in the world aspire to have little of american values, is not effective in its international broadcasting. The reason why Al hurra is not effective in the Arab world is the fact that the management at Al hurra are more concerned in keeping their jobs. their decisions are made based on what it sounds good to attract the ears of congress, their funder. If they really honest and have dignity, they should all resign and let people who have experience in journalism do the job. It is a big shame to see the tax payer money wasted in front of the eyes of American people.

    2. Hillary says:

      I believe they should shut down Al hurra and take some time to evaluate the reasons behind its failure. It is sad that they are wasting our money. People in the Middle East admire America, Many Arabs want to know more information about America, many Arabs want to emigrate to america, many Arabs share the same aspirations of Americans such as freedom of speech, democracy and freedom. Despite Arabs appreciate these American values, no one watches Alhurra. the reason is simply because Al hurra does not embody these values. They claim that they do, but trust me all of my friends in the Middle East say that Al hurra does not embody these values and it is a boaring channel similar to any state control or a party channel in the Middle East.

    3. mlp, Washington says:

      Why does Coburn wait until NOW to stall the nominations? They've been in the works for many months. Congress always has the ability to oversee the BBG. Holding nominees hostage is the least productive way to effect change.

    4. Tish, Washington, DC says:

      Under the current Board the BBG has experienced unprecedented growth and impact.

      Since 2002, new and expanded broadcasting in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, and East Asia, all targeted to Muslim-majority countries to confront Islamist extremism, has boosted BBG global audiences from 100 million to over 170 million weekly. Arab audiences have risen ten-fold from three million to over 30 million weekly, while in Iran audiences have jumped from fewer than two million to over 14 million weekly.

      Where getting the job right has mattered most — in Afghanistan and Iraq — BBG success has been overwhelming. In the face of Taliban propaganda, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America's Dari and Pashto services reach over 10 million people weekly, the largest audiences of any media outlet in Afghanistan, with RFE/RL being Afghans' most important media source for news and information. Such presence has no doubt been a contributing factor in so many Afghans — upwards of 90%, according to the December 2009 ABC News poll — rejecting the Taliban.

      In Iraq, where the U.S. is steadying a shaky democracy and seeking to stabilize sectarian rivalries, Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa are in the top five TV and radio stations nationwide, with a combined weekly audience of over 11 million, and are also top-rated sources of news. New research sponsored by the International Research and Exchanges Board in Iraq, shows Radio Sawa is mentioned by name more than any other radio station as providing the best news coverage, astonishing for an American outlet amid still widespread anti-Americanism in the country.

      And on it goes worldwide. The BBG is shedding light in the darkness of North Korea, reconciling factions in the Balkans, fighting disease and fostering development across Africa, supporting brave dissidents in Cuba and Venezuela, and guiding Haitians in their post-earthquake recovery and rebuilding efforts. It was the BBG that took the lead just days after the terrible tragedy in Haiti, working with partners at DoD and State, to mount the crisis broadcasting response that provided emergency and disaster relief news and public service information for the Haitian people at their most urgent moment of need.

    5. Al Wunsch, Fl says:

      Given the nature of this congress and the Obama administration to pursue policies that are antithetical to the tenets this country was founded upon and it's apparent hostility to traditional values and democracy, I would be very hesitant to fund international operations at this time. There are many people associated with radical ideas, that would like to see America fail, in the Obama administration. These people would not be sending the right message across the world.

    6. Lev Roitman says:

      A fitting comment to Helle Dale’s conclusion (“It (BBG) desperately needs the right kind of leadership"), are the words of Mario Corty, former Russian service director of the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) subordinate to BBG:

      “Those among the old KGB and the new FSB officials, who see the U.S. as an enemy…, could only be enormously happy with such leaders in charge of U.S. international broadcasting as the current U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors executive team. They have no reason to worry or need to do anything themselves to undermine U.S.-funded broadcasts; it is being done for them by these American government officials who are now trying hard to hide their mistakes from the White House, the U.S. Congress and the American public.”

      And hide they do. On April 26, under the avalanche of indignant messages from the audience, RFE/RL removed from its webpages the transcript of the Russian service broadcast “Why so many historians in Turkey study the issue of Armenian genocide”. Aired three times on April 22nd –23 rd, 15-minite-long feed from Istanbul presented in concentrated form only Turkish views on Armenian national tragedy – the unchallenged, unbalanced and not moderated denial of the scope and genocidal character of the 1915-1923 massacre of 1,5 million Armenians in Ottoman Empire. From RFE/RL management – not a word of explanation why the transcript, together with angry listeners’ messages, was pulled; not to mention an excuse to the audience. Clean slate…

      Instead, on RFE/RL webpages one finds a number of spirited public statements by RFE/RL President, including affirmative testimony to the U.S. House Foreign Affaires Subcommittee on Europe: “We are Smart Power at its Best”. His predecessor at the helm of RFE/RL was the present BBG Executive Director.

      Their negative contribution to “these important public diplomacy assets of the government” (Helle Dale) is truly shocking. RFE/RL discriminative to its foreign personnel employment policies resulted in human-rights lawsuits pending in the Czech Supreme court (Armenian citizen Anna Karapetian) and European Court of Human Rights (Snjezana Pelivan, Croatian citizen). In connection with Pelivan’s and Karapetian’s court cases, parliament of the Czech Republic, RFE/RL host country, twice during the last few months held hearings on RFE/RL policies of “no rights to foreigners” (incidentally, bulk of the Radio’s broadcasting and programming personnel).

      The list of publications –in English, Czech, Armenian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian — condemning RFE/RL employment policies developed under the supervision of BBG is virtually endless. Without any exception, they appeared during the tenure of current BBG and RFE/RL CEOs. Recently, News Az, news agency in Baku, Azerbaijan, provided the following abbreviated list:

      "Radio Liberty Betrays its Ideals", "Radio Free Europe – Guantanamo in Prague", "Equality With Precondition. Practice of Free Europe Contradicts Its Ideals", "U.S. Attorney General is Asked to Investigate Fraud at RFE/RL", "Doomsday of Radio Liberty. From Double Standards to Double Morals?” "A Sense of Betrayal", “ Czech Politician Accuses U.S. of Discrimination Against Foreign Journalists”, “On Air in Legal Vacuum”, “Czech MP Writes to U.S. Counterparts Over Work Conditions in RFE/RL”,"New Administration Must Undo RFE/RL Anti-Diplomacy Abroad", "BBG, RFE/RL: Bring Public Diplomats Instead of Public Bureaucrats", "Don’t Feed Kremlin’s Public Diplomacy With U.S. Public Hypocrisy", "Public Disaster Instead of Public Diplomacy", “Cases of Karapetian and Pelivan as Morality Check for Obama Administration. Radio Free Europe to Face European Court of Human Rights”, “Czech MP Questions Pelivan Case”, "Czech Sovereignty Ends at RFE/RL", "Free Europe With Its Own Laws in Colonial Czech Republic?", "From Human Rights Show to Human Rights Court", "Prague Spring of 2009 Leads to Strasbourg", ”News Flashes From Radio Free/Radio Liberty. The Face of America Abroad”, “Czech senator angry about Croat’s lawsuit”…

      Indeed, as wrote the Yerevan daily AZG (People) published in Armenian, English and Russian: “The most devious anti-American mind would not be able to design such an international media campaign devastating to RFE/RL and, by natural extension, to American image and trustworthiness abroad, as the American RFE/RL managed to cause on its own.”

      At $733 million this year, with $755 million in the President’s FY 2011 budget request, the American taxpayer definitely deserves an improved roster of “public diplomacy” pundits.

      Lev Roitman,
      RFE/RL senior commentator,
      ret. in 2005, after 30 years with the Radios in New York, Munich and Prague

    7. Lev Roitman says:

      I think it would be proper for the author of BBG commercial published here as a comment signed "Tish, Washington, DC, to indicate that she is BBG Spokeswoman Leticia M.King. On the other hand, I do not think that title-hiding (not to mention deceptive advertizing) is part of the job description even for that position.

      Lev Roitman

    8. Tim Az says:

      We really can't trust the current regime to do what is in the interest of American Citizens. They have shown absolutely no desire to serve the best interest of the American citizen. Just stop the funding until the American citizens can install a trustworthy Government that understands where it's power comes from once again.

    9. PermReader says:

      When you read the website of the RFE/RL,radio Liberty try to understand whose broadcasting you hear(read). Albanians,Georgians,Aserbaijanians,Israelis are suspected,while Serbians,Ossetians,Armenians,Iranians are not.Russian Imperial interests are respected,while dissidents are supported.That`s the policy of the decades.Are ther American Interests? I`m not shure.
      It`s apity the BBG watch website is interested in the journalists` professionals problems and the political content of the broacasting is not discussed.

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