CUSIB's open letter to BBG urges greater public scrutiny of U.S. international broadcasting

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) has sent an open letter to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) warning against a threat of diminished public control over U.S. overseas broadcasts under the BBG’s proposed reorganization plan. CUSIB, an independent nongovernmental organization, also thanked BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson and senior Republican member Ambassador Victor Ashe for extending an invitation to CUSIB’s executive director Ann Noonan to attend the BBG’s board meeting last Friday in Washington, DC.

In the letter, CUSIB’s co-founders Ann Noonan and Ted Lipien pointed out that CUSIB has been adamantly opposed to the BBG’s plan to end Voice of America radio and TV broadcasts in Cantonese and Mandarin to China. They expressed relief that the BBG has discarded this plan. The BBG was forced to abandon its plan due to a strong bipartisan opposition to it in Congress.

The letter also warns against efforts to undermine independence and specialization of the BBG-managed surrogate broadcasters, which include Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV. CUSIB also opposes BBG plans to de-federalize the Voice of America as leading to weakening its role of representing the voice of the American public to audiences abroad and to limiting public and Congressional oversight of VOA broadcasts.

CUSIB also calls for placing all of U.S. international broadcasting content in public domain, including programming from the surrogate broadcasters which is currently copyrighted despite being funded in full by American taxpayers. CUSIB is opposed to granting the BBG authority to actively distribute its programs in the United States but supports some modifications to the Smith-Mundt Act to clarify that all U.S. international broadcasting content is easily available to anyone in the United States who wants to use it. CUSIB is concerned, however, that active BBG involvement in marketing its programs in the United States would seriously undermine its mission abroad.

CUSIB also urged the BBG to improve its treatment of foreign-born journalists, particularly those employed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in the Czech Republic, and called attention to the unfair treatment of contract employees at the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau in the United States.

CUSIB’s executive director Ann Noonan has been long active in human rights organizations. Ted Lipien is a former acting associate director of the Voice of America who now runs Free Media Online, a media freedom NGO. CUSIB’s Advisory Board includes journalists, human rights activists, media freedom advocates, and former U.S. government officials.

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Open ‘Thank You’ Letter to Broadcasting Board of Governors

January 17, 2011

Dear Chairman Isaacson and Board Members:

We would like to thank the Broadcasting Board of Governors, especially Chairman Isaacson and Ambassador Ashe, for extending their invitation to allow our Executive Director to attend Friday’s Board Meeting as your guest. As members of a non-governmental organization that supports media freedom and U.S. international broadcasting, we are grateful that the Board is open to consider the views of those of us involved in the pro-democracy, free press, women’s rights, religious freedom and human rights movements here and abroad. In the great spirit of transparency, thank you.

On behalf of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting, we applaud your decision to discard plans to end Voice of America’s Cantonese and Mandarin radio and TV broadcasts. The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting was adamantly opposed to this plan.

We believe in and support the distinct and special missions of both VOA and surrogate broadcasters. We hope that you will carefully consider any future proposal that might impact on the unique role of VOA’s radio and television broadcasts as a powerful voice of the American people and our elected and non-elected representatives and spokesmen. We also hope that the independence of surrogate broadcasting will be preserved. De-federalization of the Voice of America would weaken its pro-human rights impact abroad and make it less representative of the views and values of American citizens. Centralization of management controls over the surrogate broadcasters could hamper their ability to specialize in human rights reporting and divert resources from those who are the most knowledgeable about the countries and regions to which they broadcast. Please consider these issues carefully.

Any reorganization proposals you may be putting forward should not diminish in any way full public ownership, control, and effective oversight over U.S. international broadcasting. Americans and their elective representatives need to have even greater input than now into how American policies, values and opinions are presented abroad. We are concerned that the BBG reorganization plan may limit transparency and accountability.

In support of transparency and openness, the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting advocates for public ownership of all content produced by publicly funded U.S. international broadcasters. We believe strongly that all such content, not just from VOA but also from the surrogate broadcasters, should be in public domain. We urge you to make this change as soon as possible with regard to the surrogate broadcasters. Their output is currently copyrighted even though it is entirely paid for by American taxpayers.

We support efforts to clarify the Smith-Mundt Act to state that anyone in the United States, as well as abroad, is free to use this content free of charge and to make sure that it is made available to those who may want it regardless of where they live.

We are strongly opposed, however, to any active marketing of such content by the Agency within the United States. We believe that this would seriously distract you from your primary mission of providing news to audiences overseas.

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting supports BBG journalists and other employees whose hard work and dedication help countless millions of people receive uncensored news. We urge you to address the issue of unequal treatment of foreign workers at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who are denied by a decision of the BBG some of the protections of the Czech labor law. This issue is now before the European Court of Human Rights. We are also concerned that a large number of contract employees at the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau are denied basic employment benefits and protections.

We would like to invite each of you to visit our website, www.CUSIB.org, and read the letter from one of the world’s top China watchers, Dr. Willy Lam, who wrote about the importance of VOA broadcasts. Please also watch the video we have posted that was recorded by volunteers of Women’s Rights in China at considerable risk to their own lives. This video shows how critical these broadcasts are to the most vulnerable, the most oppressed, and the poorest in the world. Please do not forget about them and about the Internet censorship they face – even as you rightfully try to expand your reach using new media.

It was an honor for our Executive Director to meet the Board Members who attended Friday’s meeting, and we will remain hopeful that you will welcome us to attend your next meeting.

Sincerely,

Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting
Ann Noonan, Executive Director
Ted Lipien, Director
www.cusib.org
contact@cusib.org

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