Broadcasting Board of Governors passes resolution to limit public access to information
In an attempt to limit disclosure of sensitive and embarrassing information and curtail public and Congressional scrutiny, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) adopted a resolution forcing BBG members to keep silent on budgetary and legislative matters unless allowed by the BBG chair or presiding governor to share such information with the American public and the U.S. Congress. The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is — ironically — to inform and support freedom and democracy abroad.
According to a BBG press release, a resolution adopted unanimously at the BBG board meeting at the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague Czech Republic, establishes “ground rules pursuant to which members of the BBG board agree to keep information regarding deliberations on budgetary and legislative matters confidential, with the level of confidentiality of legislative proposals to be determined by the current head of the board.”
BBG member Susan McCue participated in the meeting by teleconference from Washington, DC, as did Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Tara D, Sonenshine who represents BBG ex officio member Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The bipartisan board has nine members, four Democrats and four Republicans, and the Secretary of State. With two recent resignations, there are currently only seven BBG board members, but some like Dana Perino, rarely show up for board meetings. Perino did not attend the meeting in Prague
The resolution is seen by inside and outside critics as an attempt by some BBG members and senior executive staff of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) to respond to a series of spectacular setbacks for the agency’s leaders in Congress and widespread bipartisan Congressional criticism of the board and top management. One top level BBG official, who wants to remain anonymous, described the resolution to BBG Watch as an effort to hide issues from the U.S. Congress and the American public. Sources told BBG Watch that the alternate presiding governor Dennis Multhaupt, a Republican member, sponsored the resolution.
Sources also told BBG Watch that Republican board member Ambassador Victor Ashe and Democratic board member Michael Meehan insisted on amendments to the resolution to maintain whistleblower protections and to reduce its original draconian impact on public disclosure and debate. Ashe reportedly objected to the original proposal of allowing the executive staff to determine what is confidential. Both Meehan and Ashe ultimately voted for the resolution but continue to have serious reservations, sources told BBG Watch. The BBG’s Governance Committee never considered the proposal and it was presented to some BBG members only hours before the meeting in Prague, sources told BBG Watch.
Outside critics of the BBG argue that the agency needs more, not less openness and transparency. Had BBG/IBB executives sought public input instead of trying to operate in secret, they would not have received humiliating public rebukes from Congress on their plans to end Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to Tibet, to close down the VOA Cantonese Service and reduce VOA, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to countries with restricted media.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R – CA) wrote recently to his colleagues in Congress, “…I am at a loss to understand the BBG’s drive to constantly cut broadcasting despite increased appropriations from the Congress and despite clear bipartisan congressional intent in the case of China. The BBG has shown itself to be opaque in its decision making and incredibility tone deaf to Congressional priorities.”
BBG members and top executives also mishandled the attempt to remove the Smith-Mundt Act restrictions on domestic distribution of BBG programs. They persuaded two members of the House of Representatives to propose giving BBG and other government officials such broad powers to target Americans with government-produced information that the legislative amendment met with a firestorm of public criticism. The BBG resolution on limiting public access to information is both ironic, considering the agency’s mission and its attempt to remove the Smith-Mundt Act restrictions on domestic propaganda, and will result in more embarrassing mistakes by the agency as it will stifle public input and debate of the issues, a U.S. international broadcasting expert told BBG Watch.
The official BBG press release repeats this sentence twice: “The board unanimously approved a resolution establishing that members of the BBG board must keep information regarding deliberations on budgetary and legislative matters confidential, with the level of confidentiality to be determined by the current head of the board.”
Meeting At RFE/RL, BBG Moves To Leverage New Openness In Burma, Control Travel Costs, Honor Former Gov. Wimbush
Prague — The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is moving to take full advantage of the recent liberalization of press restrictions in Burma.
At its regular monthly meeting, the board approved a resolution offered by Gov. Michael Meehan that seeks new coordination among the BBG, the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) to build on recent breakthroughs to raise the profile of U.S. international broadcasting in the South Asian nation.
VOA Director David Ensor recently signed an agreement that would bring VOA English teaching programs to Burmese state radio. In addition, journalists from both VOA and RFA have been given enhanced access to Burma in recent months.
Under the resolution, the BBG, VOA and RFA would communicate with the Department of State and the Congress on its plans, including the possibility of establishing offices in Burma.
The board, holding its annual meeting at the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), also met with Czech Republic officials, RFE/RL staff and held an open town hall meeting. Several board members attended the meeting via remote access.
The board passed a resolution calling for the development of a broader and more transparent policy to control spending on government-sponsored conferences and travel. The board’s governance committee was asked to develop the new policy for consideration in July.
Also during the session, the board approved a resolution honoring S. Enders Wimbush for his service on the board. Wimbush, who served as Director of Radio Liberty from 1987-93, was named to the board by President Obama in 2010.
The board unanimously approved a resolution establishing ground rules pursuant to which members of the BBG board agree to keep information regarding deliberations on budgetary and legislative matters confidential, with the level of confidentiality of legislative proposals to be determined by the current head of the board. (The BBG Governance Committee will consider other categories of information that may become subject to the nondisclosure ground rules.)
The board unanimously approved a resolution establishing that members of the BBG board must keep information regarding deliberations on budgetary and legislative matters confidential, with the level of confidentiality to be determined by the current head of the board.
Noting numerous reminders of the risks BBG journalists face when reporting on regions in conflict or transition, Alternate Presiding Governor Dennis Mulhaupt denounced the arrests, threats, legal harassment and interference that have been endured by reporters at an accelerated pace in recent months.
“I want to join the many voices that have spoken out against these arrests, threats, legal harassment and interference. We urge officials and local authorities to ensure the safety of all journalists and punish those that misuse authority, threaten or harm reporters or their families,” Mulhaupt said.
The board heard reports from the International Broadcasting Bureau Director and other BBG broadcast executives regarding agency activities and programming coverage.
Highlights included the work of VOA’s Cairo bureau chief, Elizabeth Arrott, who managed to get into Syria in early May to produce a series of radio, TV and Internet reports on anti-government demonstrations that have spread into neighboring Lebanon.
Video and audio of the Board meeting will be available Friday, June 8. Check back here for links to watch or listen to the 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 Martí).