Broadcasting Board of Governors members concerned about Latin America strategy


Iron work of Che Guevara on the Interior Ministry building, which overlooks Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba.

Iron work of Che Guevara on the Interior Ministry building, which overlooks Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba.

Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Strategy and Budget Committee may be concerned about the mess their executive staff has gotten them into with the FY 2013 budget proposals to eliminate Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasting to Tibet, the VOA Cantonese Service and VOA Spanish positions and broadcasts, but whether they intend to do anything about it remains to be seen. With the Broadcasting Board of Governors scheduled to meet on Friday, April 20 at the headquarters of Radio and TV Marti in Miami, Florida, the decimation of the Voice of America Spanish Service and the full blown retreat from Latin America could turn into a major political embarrassment.
As the BBG reduces its already minimal broadcasting and news and information service to Latin America, Iran has launched Spanish-language satellite TV, which will broadcast Iranian news, documentaries, and movies 24 hours a day.
BBG executives, however, have their mind set on creating English-language Global News Network (GNN), a news agency that would aggregate already existing news content from the Voice of America and the BBG’s surrogate broadcasters such as Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). They plan to pay for this project by slashing broadcasting to Tibet, China and Latin America. They also plan to decimate the Voice of America English broadcasts and eliminate or reduce several other VOA news and broadcasting services. Critics have called GNN “Global Nothing Network” and described it as redundant and lacking a target audience. The idea for GNN reportedly came from the former BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson who resigned earlier this year. Prior to his departure, BBG/IBB executives awarded a $50,000,000 audience research contract to Gallup even as they were preparing drastic cuts in broadcasting operations that the research was supposed to support.
Our sources tell us that at the April 10 meeting of the Strategy and Budget Committee Governor Victor Ashe tried to get the other committee members to recommend a reversal of the cuts in broadcasting to various countries, including China and Tibet, but he could not get a clear response from Governors Michael Meehan and Enders Wimbush. Presiding Governor Michael Lynton did not attend the April 10 meeting.
Our sources have provided us with this segment of the preliminary minutes dealing with Latin America. They suggest another bureaucratic delaying tactic.

“Latin America Strategy
• The Committee noted the reports of the VOA Director, the OCB representative (Mr. Irv Rubenstein) and the Director of the IBB Office of Strategy and Development (Mr. Bruce Sherman) concerning developments in BBG-sponsored Cuban and Latin American broadcasting.
• The Committee strongly recommends that BBG continue to provide news and information services to the Latin American region, which is an area of critical foreign policy interest to the United States and, in particular, to those Latin American countries where press freedom is restricted or under undue pressure.
• Noting the proposed budget cuts for the VOA Spanish Service, the Committee requests that the IBB Director work closely with the VOA and OCB Directors to develop a plan to leverage the news and reporting assets of VOA and OCB for reporting to Cuba and Latin America, using Miami as the hub for the April 2012 Board meeting.  The plan should comply with legal requirements concerning the “separate administration” of VOA and OCB.”

The BBG and IBB executive staff has proposed severe cuts in the Voice of America Spanish-language operations. Under the euphemistic title “Redefine the Spanish Service” of the Voice of America, BBG/IBB executives plan to cut the VOA Spanish Service budget by $1.257 million and to eliminate 14 positions. This proposal would effectively kill any VOA broadcasting and most of news coverage to Latin America.

“Redefine the Spanish Service [–$1.257 M]
VOA’s Spanish Service will redefine its strategic focus and operational requirements. Under this proposal it will provide ―Washington Bureau and other U.S. coverage as well as the ―VOA Direct news and information service for affiliate radio and television stations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Six journalists will work at VOA headquarters in Washington, four journalist positions will be relocated to Miami and New York, and 14 positions will be eliminated. Miami- based VOA staff will be based at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting to provide original content, provide editorial control and contacts with VOA stringers in the U.S. and the region, and identify OCB stringer reports from Latin America for use in VOA output. New York reporters will cover U.S. economic, financial, political, and social stories.”