Bipartisan effort by Victor Ashe and North Carolina congressmen to save BBG transmitting station is part of larger fight for public oversight of U.S. international broadcasting

BBG Watch Commentary
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency which oversees U.S. government-funded international broadcasting by the Voice of America (VOA), Radio and TV Marti and other broadcasting outlets for overseas audiences, rededicated its Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station in Greenville, North Carolina on May 2, although the station came earlier dangerously close to being shut down by officials of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau who wanted to limit shortwave broadcasting and to end VOA radio programs to China and Tibet. The ceremony honored Murrow, the renowned broadcaster and director of the United States Information Agency, USIA, (1961-1964), and recognized World Press Freedom Day.

Victor Ashe

The bipartisan effort to stop the closure of the Greenville shortwave radio broadcasting facility was led BBG’s senior Republican member Ambassador Victor Ashe. He was assisted by North Carolina congressmen from both parties: U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., R-N.C., U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C. They received strong support from numerous human rights and media freedom advocacy groups, including the independent and nonpartisan Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB).

Rep. Walter B. Jones

Other members of Congress from both parties also joined forces last year to prevent the BBG executive staff from ending shortwave radio broadcasts and satellite television transmissions by the Voice of America to China. The Greenville station is not used for transmitting radio programs to Asia but serves mostly Cuba, South America, and Africa. It is, however, the only remaining U.S. government-owned shortwave broadcasting facility on U.S. territory. Other BBG-operated shortwave transmitters are based abroad and leases for these stations may be terminated by foreign governments due to domestic or foreign pressure.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield

Victor Ashe has also led the fight within the nine-member presidentially-appointed bipartisan board to save broadcasts to China and Tibet from the new round of cuts proposed by the same BBG executive staff for the FY 2013 BBG budget. He received strong support from BBG’s Democratic member Michael Meehan. Another Democratic member Susan McCue also voiced strong support for continuing VOA radio broadcasts to Tibet.

Rep. David Price

In the end, even those BBG members who initially sided with the executive staff and supported the cuts voted to restore funding to continue broadcasting to Tibet and China, just as they had agreed earlier to save the Greenville facility. Some BBG members may have been persuaded to change their vote by a powerful plea from Holocaust survivor Mrs. Annette Lantos. She is a highly-respected human rights campaigner and the wife of the late Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos who was one of the strongest voices in Congress in defense of human rights around the world.

The effort to restore the original name of the Greenville station is seen as a symbolic gesture to stress bipartisan support for U.S. international broadcasting and as part of a larger fight to keep U.S. radio and television news flow to countries without free media. President John F. Kennedy dedicated the facility in 1963 and Edward R. Murrow was a member of his administration. Edward R. Murrow’s son, Casey Murrow, attended the rededication ceremony as did Congressman Jones, Victor Ashe, and International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo.

A team of BBG/IBB executives has been pushing for ending many direct-to-home radio and TV broadcasts in favor of using the Internet even to countries like China and Cuba which censor and block online news from Western sources and from their own dissidents. Some of the BBG’s strategic planners and their private consultants have been also advocating downplaying of human rights reporting and expanding English lessons and other non-political programming as a way of reaching a larger audience.

While shortwave radio listening has been declining around the world, it is still a vital link for regime opponents in many countries and those who cannot afford the Internet or don’t want to use it to get uncensored news for fear of being monitored by the local authorities. The saving of the U.S. facility in North Carolina is seen as a challenge to some of the strategic planners at the BBG. Critics have accused the BBG and IBB executive team of mismanagement and diverting money from broadcasting to pay for their bonuses, travel, and expensive outside contractors. These executives have been rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) employee surveys as being the worst leaders and managers in the federal government. They have proposed in recent years the elimination of hundreds of journalistic and broadcasting positions while expanding their own bureaucratic staff. The BBG has one of the lowest employee morale among all government agencies.

Ashe has been the most outspoken BBG member demanding greater transparency and accountability at the agency. He has come out recently against the staff’s plan to merge the so-called surrogate broadcasters, which include Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). Critics describe the merger plan as a bureaucratic power grab to limit public and congressional scrutiny. Ashe has asked for public comments and listed his personal email. According to sources, he is also in favor of holding congressional hearings on the proposed merger and other plans developed by the BBG and IBB staff.

Members of Congress from both parties have always been the strongest supporters of U.S. international broadcasting, particularly to countries without free media. In the past, they have often come to the defense of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America against attempts by bureaucrats of both Republican and Democratic administrations to blunt human rights reporting and to close down various language broadcasting services in favor of questionable short-term gains.

Despite the setback on the Greenville station and broadcasts to Tibet and China, BBG/IBB executives still want to drastically reduce Voice of America English and Spanish broadcasts and to limit news to countries like the Russian Federation, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Turkey, Greece, and Georgia. We hope that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress will once again extend their protection to what is one of America’s most effective and least expensive national security and public diplomacy assets. U.S. government-funded international broadcasts are simply too important to be turned over to unaccountable bureaucrats just because they want it and hope that no one will notice. We do.

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The official BBG announcement:

BBG Rededicates The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) rededicated its Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station on May 2 during a ceremony in Grimesland, N.C., that honored Murrow, the renowned broadcaster and director of the USIA (1961-1964), and recognized World Press Freedom Day.
Speakers included Congressman Walter Jones; Casey Murrow, son of Edward R. Murrow; BBG Governor Victor Ashe, and International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard M. Lobo. Speaker Bios

Edward R. Murrow’s legacy as a journalist and his rich understanding of the importance of press freedom as part of the bedrock of democracy along with the key role of U.S. international broadcasting as a model of a free press will be highlighted in the ceremony to be held in the lead-up to World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd.

The transmitting station, a 24/7 broadcast facility, supports the mission of the Broadcasting Board of Governors to “inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy” through about 2,200 hours of transmissions each month.

The Murrow Transmitting Station

The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station is the largest BBG transmission facility in the United States. It is a 24/7 shortwave facility, broadcasting about 2,200 hours each month. Over 80 percent of these transmissions are Radio Martí Spanish-language broadcasts to Cuba, and the balance is Voice of America programming to Latin America as well as VOA English, Portuguese, and French to Africa.

The station is located on 2,715 acres of land and is equipped with eight high-power shortwave transmitters, including five 500 kW and three 250 kW transmitters. The station has nearly 40 broadcast antennas in an arc around the main building to provide the maximum flexibility in reaching audiences overseas.

President John F. Kennedy formally dedicated the station on February 8, 1963, and in October 1968 it was named the “Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station” in honor of the renowned wartime broadcaster and director of the USIA.

Edward R. Murrow

Edward R. Murrow was a pioneering newsman whose distinctive baritone voice and devotion to the truth forever shaped the field of broadcast journalism. Beginning with his ever-calm reporting of the bombing of London during World War II, Murrow’s career spanned 25 years in both radio and television with CBS, then three years as director of the U.S. Information Agency.

Called the “Father of Broadcast Journalism,” Murrow began his broadcasts during the war with a matter-of-fact statement: “This…is London.” He survived the bombings, flew dozens of combat missions, and was among the first civilians to enter liberated Nazi death camps.

After the war, he hosted news and interview programs at CBS, including a 1954 broadcast that took on, and ultimately undid, the red-scare campaign of Senator Joseph McCarthy. He ended his career at CBS in 1961 when President Kennedy named him to head the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), where he brought his dedication to truth and accuracy to the field of public diplomacy. He died of cancer at 57 in 1965.

Broadcasting Board of Governors

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal government agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international broadcasting. Our networks—the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks’ (MBN) Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa—serve as indispensable sources of news for people who often lack access to independent information.

They inform, engage, and connect with international audiences across television, radio, Internet, and mobile devices in 59 languages in more than 100 countries.

In 2011, the BBG had one of its most successful years ever; our broadcasts reached a record 187 million people every week, up 22 million from 2010. We reach people in their languages of choice; in countries where independent journalism is limited or not available; and where governments jam broadcasts and censor the Internet. The International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) provides transmission, marketing, and program placement services for all BBG broadcast organizations.

For more information, please call 202-203-4400 or email pubaff@bbg.gov.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 187 million in 100 countries. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Martí).

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