BBG staff tries to rebuff critics on grantee consolidation plan
Senior executive staffers at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) have launched an all-out attack on critics of their grantee consolidation plan with a new expensive study from Deloitte which rebuffs arguments against the merger.
Deloitte has an obvious conflict of interest in this matter since it is likely to receive more money from the BBG to oversee the merger if it is approved. BBG executives who work for the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) director Richard Lobo are pushing for the merger in an attempt to increase their power over the grantee broadcasters, critics of the plan say. “The use of Deloitte misses the point,” one former IBB official told BBG Watch, “since an accounting firm is hardly in a position to evaluate national interest, national security and public diplomacy decisions that administration officials and members of Congress struggled with over the decades to make stations like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty phenomenally successful by freeing them from unnecessary government bureaucracy.”
Critics also point out that the entire five-year strategic plan developed by the BBG/IBB management team to counteract Congressional intent and undermine the Voice of America Charter and federal public status is now in shambles. One former IBB official told BBG Watch that the executives have miscalculated on almost every major issue and antagonized Congressional and NGO supporters of U.S. international broadcasting. They also kept BBG members in the dark about critical issues, such us the cancellation of the popular Voice of America television program “Parazit” to Iran and got BBG members in hot water by proposing to end broadcasts to China and Tibet, the source said.
A number of BBG members are now having second thoughts about the proposed consolidation having received feedback from members of Congress who see it as undermining Congressional intent to keep grantee broadcasters administratively independent, sources told BBG Watch.
BBG Watch has learned that one BBG member who initially favored the plan is now proposing to postpone any decision until after January 2013. Another BBG member has insisted that the grantee consolidation be now referred to only as “grantee administrative streamlining,” but critics fear that the BBG/IBB staff may use the name change may be as a ploy to divert public attention from the plan. Current BBG members may also want to postpone a decision on the merger since President Obama has just announced his intention to nominate Jeffrey Shell to become BBG Chairman. His nomination needs to be approved by the U.S. Senate.
One of the strongest critics of the proposed merger, BBG Governor Victor Ashe, believes a change of this magnitude that reverses numerous decisions made by the U.S. Congress should not be made without public hearings and a full Congressional review.
BBG Watch has learned that Ashe, a Republican, and BBG Governor Michael Meehan, a Democrat, may ask at today’s board meeting for a comprehensive study of how U.S. international broadcasting could be restructured that, unlike the previous study done by the BBG/IBB executive staff under the Deloitte contract, would rely heavily on public input and advice from key Congressional offices.
One BBG insider told BBG Watch that the obvious conflict of interest and lack of objectivity makes the expense of the Deloitte merger reports a wasteful use of taxpayer dollars. A source also said that several key offices on the Hill have weighed in on behalf of the inside critics of the merger, “which upset the board staff hugely.”
BBG Watch has also learned that the independent and nonpartisan Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) has sent another appeal to the BBG outlining its opposition to the grantee merger proposal in its current form.
“Administrative independence is the key to the success and effectiveness of the surrogate broadcasters. Various administrations and the Congress set them up this way for a good reason. The new media revolution has not changed this requirement, if anything, it made it even more important.
Creating a distance between RFE/RL and the Washington government bureaucracy in the 1950s was what made the station phenomenally successful. Likewise, having a strong Voice of America with a different focus and mission has also served U.S. national security and strategic interests.
Blurring the difference between VOA and the surrogate broadcasters, combining their news output, and de-Federalizing VOA are … extremely bad ideas. A de-Federalized VOA will lack an authoritative image and impact. Surrogate broadcasters that are more like VOA cannot be successful in their special mission to create or re-create free local media. U.S. national security and public diplomacy interests will not be served well by this proposal.”