BBG: Consider the Changing Landscape by BBG Governor Michael Meehan

BBG Watch Commentary

BBG member Michael Meehan

Michael Meehan

In a Radio World article, BBG: Consider the Changing Landscape, Michael Meehan, one of the three remaining Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members, analyzes major issues facing U.S. international broadcasting.

Meehan is one of the few current and former BBG members who have been trying to reform IBB bureaucracy. But while he and two other Governors, Victor Ashe and Susan McCue, were able to save Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  from following in the footsteps of Voice of American English into irrelevancy, they have reached a brick wall in dealing with IBB Director Richard Lobo and Deputy Director Jeff Trimble.

Meehan article appeared two days before U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing, Wednesday, June 26, on reforming the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an agency that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to as “defunct.”

Meehan has been one of the most effective BBG members in recent years. He managed to bring a measure of decency and transparency into the agency, but neither he nor Governors Ashe and McCue have been able to tackle successfully the IBB bureaucracy. The remaining BBG governors have no obvious conflicts of interest, they attend meetings and work hard at trying to make U.S. international broadcasting better.

In his Radio World article, Meehan wrote:

Around the globe today, only one out of six people lives in a country with free media. According to Freedom House, this is the worst media freedom rate in more than a decade.

That’s precisely why the work of U.S. international broadcasting journalists is more critical than ever.

At the Broadcasting Board of Governors, our clear and simple mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. As the demand is greater, our financial resources are fewer. All across the federal government, agencies such as the BBG are asked to do more with less. As technology platforms advance and become more decentralized, our challenges grow exponentially.

Read the full text of Governor Meehan’s piece in Radio World at this link.

One may not agree with some of the observations and conclusions in Meehan’s article, but at least he is a good public servant, seems to understand the issues and offers some ideas for further discussions.

Some of the former BBG governors invited to participate in the Congressional hearing, however, are clearly responsible for the mess the agency is in right now. This should give members of Congress an opportunity to ask pointed questions about ending Voice of America radio and television broadcasts to Russia shortly before the Russian attack on the Republic of Georgia, refusal to resume these broadcasts, poor attendance at BBG meetings, support for eliminating or reducing broadcasts to Tibet and China, doing private business in Russia during BBG/USG official trips, support for discredited IBB managers, and support for firing Radio Liberty journalists in Putin’s Russia.

It is well known in Washington that some of the former BBG members were doing business deals in Russia and China, and even in Saudi Arabia, while they served on the U.S. broadcasting board charged with supporting media freedom and countering media censorship in these countries. Most would agree that one cannot do business and make money in Putin’s Russia while annoying him with calls for media freedom. In the last few years, the BBG made several successful and unsuccessful attempts to eliminate or reduce U.S. broadcasts to Russia, China, and Tibet. Some former BBG members and IBB executives were also pushing for replacing hard news coverage with softer news features and entertainment. A coincidence?

U.S. Congressman Ed Royce

Hearing: Broadcasting Board of Governors: An Agency “Defunct” 2172 House Rayburn Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Jun 26, 2013 10:00am.

In commenting on the hearing, Rep. Royce noted that “‘tinkering’ and ‘band-aid’ solutions are not an option, because the stakes are too great” in how America’s story is told to the world and how news is delivered to societies living under press censorship.

“International broadcasting is a key tool of U.S. diplomacy. Unfortunately, it’s broken. As Secretary Clinton rightly pointed out earlier this year, ‘the BBG is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world.’ It is time to take a hard look at the BBG and ask if our resources, nearly $750 million annually, are being spent wisely – are we getting what we need from these broadcasting efforts? We aren’t, and it is time for broad reforms; ‘tinkering’ and ‘band-aid’ solutions are not an option, because the stakes are too great.”

Hopefully, the Committee will also hear at some point from Governors Meehan, McCue and Ashe and perhaps also from the outgoing Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine. They had to deal with the mess left behind by former BBG chairmen and former BBG members, as well as with the International Broadcasting Bureau executive staff which bears a major share of responsibility for the crisis.

BBG Watch has learned that the Committee may hold another hearing with independent outside experts on U.S. international broadcasting.

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