Compromise is possible at a public institution but 'the devil is in the details' – BBG's Ashe on reorganization plan
In this video from January 13, 2012, Broadcasting Board of Governors senior Republican member Ambassador Victor Ashe describes some of the issues relating to public control and oversight over U.S. government-funded overseas broadcasts. Ashe is a strong supporter of transparency and accountability at the BBG and is concerned about efforts to place U.S. government’s broadcasting assets in the hands of corporate officials.
Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Chairman Walter Isaacson speaking on January 13, 2012 about the BBG reorganization plan said that he has “changed his mind.” In the battle for public control and oversight of U.S. international broadcasting, Isaacson has modified his plan to remove U.S. government-funded broadcasting entities from public domain due to strong criticism from human rights groups, media freedom advocates, and BBG’s Victor Ashe. Isaacson apparently compromised with Ashe on some of the provisions of the plan, which the critics say could have led to CNN-ization of the Voice of America. Isaacson is a former CNN executive and author of a highly successful biography of Steve Jobs.
BBG Watch sources point out, however, that the battle for public ownership, control, and oversight of U.S. international broadcasting is far from over, with some BBG members and their executive staff still determined to de-federalize and cannibalize the Voice of America broadcasting resources and establish centralized bureaucratic controls over the surrogate broadcasters. The official BBG announcement, see below, does not describe any of the compromises and the modifications in Isaacson’s initial plan discussed during the January 13 BBG meeting.
Official BBG Announcement
BBG Calls for Agency Restructuring
Washington, D.C., January 18, 2012 – The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) announced its intention to restructure U.S. international broadcasting. It will seek legislation that would include establishing a Chief Executive Officer to manage the enterprise. In addition, the Board called for a plan to consolidate the agency’s three non-federal broadcast networks: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
“The Board is ready to strengthen U.S. international broadcasting in part by freeing up resources locked up in inefficient and duplicative administrative structures and reinvesting in programming,” said BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson. “This is a historic agreement by the Board to streamline international broadcasting into one great organization focused on quality journalism with many brands and many divisions but unified as one organization.”
In a resolution passed at its January 13 meeting in Washington, the Board announced its intention to restructure international broadcasting in accordance with its recently released 2012-2016 Strategic Plan. The Board outlined proposed reforms and its intent to develop a draft legislative package to be called the International Broadcasting Innovation Act of 2012 (the “IBIA”). It would establish a CEO who would report to the Board and provide day-to-day executive leadership. In addition the proposed package calls for a new organization that would reflect the optimal mix of federal and non-federal assets in support of international broadcasting; repeals the domestic dissemination ban in the Smith-Mundt Act; and renames the agency to reflect the mission of a unified structure. The restructuring package would be subject to appropriate administration approval and Congressional consideration.
“While there is a compelling case for streamlining the BBG’s complex structure and leveraging the highly professional newsgathering activities of our independent broadcast services, any reform plan will retain and celebrate the individual and historic brands and their journalistic mission,” said Isaacson in summarizing the Board’s recommendations. “We look forward to working with internal and external stakeholders and experts as well as with the Administration and Congress on these proposals.”
During its strategic review process, the Board engaged the services of management consultant Deloitte and external counsel Baker and Mackenzie to gain a detailed understanding of the costs, benefits and legal issues involved. The resulting studies indicated a compelling case and potential substantial savings over five years from eliminating duplicative management and administrative functions and affirmed the legal feasibility of a merger. Further details of the Board’s Record of Decisions and previous discussions can be found below:
Record of Decisions January 13, 2012
2011 Grantee Consolidation Assessment (Redacted)
Broadcasting Board of Governors Grantee Merger Assessment, executive summary
Minutes of November 18, 2011 BBG Meeting
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 Marti).
For more information, please call the BBG’s Office of Public Affairs at 202-203-4400 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
There seems to be a disconnect between the pronouncements by Isaacson and the press release put out by the PR department. Does this reflect some kind of internal dispute? Where does Lobo weigh in on this? I can’t see Sherman and Trimble taking “compromise” without a fight. Is Lobo trying to trump the statements made by Isaacson? Nothing would surprise me. Isaacson and the Board – not Lobo – need to get their house in order.