Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) press release:
September 29, 2010
(Washington, DC) Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Chairman Walter Isaacson tonight announced a new direction for U.S. international broadcasting that “seizes on the latest media tools and technology to stay one step ahead of those who seek to repress free information around the world.”
As Chairman of the BBG, Isaacson oversees RFE, VOA, Radio Free Asia, Radio/TV Marti, Radio Sawa, and Alhurra TV, which have a combined weekly audience of more than 171 million people.
The challenges we face…are as great today as they were during the Cold War. America cannot let itself be outcommunicated by its enemies. “The challenges we face in the new global struggle against repression and intolerance are as great today as they were during the Cold War,” he said at a reception marking the 60th anniversary of RFE’s first broadcast.
“And just as the founders of Radio Free Europe succeeded in developing creative and innovative ways to get news and information to people suffering behind the Iron Curtain, so too must today’s U.S. international broadcasters respond to modern threats to freedom in new and inventive ways.”
Speaking at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Isaacson said, “America cannot let itself be out-communicated by its enemies.”
Read more ofRFE/RL press release.
Entrenched political bureaucracy threatens independence and success of U.S. international broadcasting | Free Media Online
FreeMediaOnline.org September 30, 2010 — Free Media Online has reported extensively on mismanagement at the Broadcasting Board of Governors prior to Mr. Isaacson’s appointment as BBG Chairman. The Bush-era BBG members, both Democrats and Republicans, and the BBG executive staff, were responsible, among other things, for the shutting down of Voice of America Arabic broadcasts, ending VOA Russian radio broadcasts just 12 days before Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, planning to end VOA radio broadcasts to Georgia, and terminating VOA radio programs to Ukraine. Former BBG members and BBG bureaucrats created a number of private broadcasting entities, such as Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV, which provided jobs for their friends and associates, and they failed to prevent financial and editorial scandals, including airing of statements by Holocaust deniers on Alhurra TV and giving airtime to Russian nationalist extremists on Radio Liberty. ProPublica.org, a nonprofit investigative journalism website, reported on a study commissioned by the U.S. government, which concluded that Alhurra, Arab-language television to the Middle East managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), fails to meet basic journalistic standards and is seen by few.
While Mr. Isaacson is a professional broadcaster, most BBG members, who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, have no significant international broadcasting or foreign policy experience and are selected largely on the basis of their loyalty and contributions to either Democratic or Republican Party. By law, the Board must be bipartisan. During George W. Bush’s presidency, former BBG members who pushed hard for the elimination of Voice of America Arabic broadcasts and the creation of Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV were Norman Pattiz and Edward “Ted” Kaufman, both Democrats who worked closely with former Republican BBG members and neocons in Bush’s White House. Ted Kaufman, a big fan of privatizing U.S. international broadcasting, who is now a U.S. Senator from Delaware and was formerly employed by Joe Biden as his chief of staff in the Senate, was also working closely with the BBG executive staff to terminate VOA radio broadcasts to Russia, Georgia, Ukraine and a number of other media-at-risk countries.
The tradition of nominating political loyalists to serve on the BBG continues in the Obama Administration. One of the current BBG members, Michael P. Meehan, had been accused of shoving a journalist who tried to pose a question to Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Martha Coakley. The incident did not convince President Obama to withdraw Mr. Meehan nomination to the Board, which is charged, among other things, with supporting media freedom worldwide.
Whether Mr. Isaacson is successful in moving the mission of U.S. international broadcasting away from benefitting political cronies and their friends among private consultants and contractors to supporting media freedom in countries like Iran, Russia, and China, will depend on his ability to take control of the BBG executive staff. Many of the current top-level BBG bureaucrats were appointed by former BBG members and helped them to destroy the Voice of America as a brand name for responsible and independent U.S. broadcasting to a large number of countries without free media.
BBG employees have often complained about the blunders of the BBG executive team and the political and personal agenda of their former bosses, but their complaints have been so far ignored. In annual federal government surveys, rank-and-file BBG broadcasters and other employees have consistently given BBG Board members and officials of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) some of the lowest ratings for good management and placed the BBG at the very bottom among federal agencies as a desirable place to work.
BBG employee Dr. Kim Elliott published an op-ed article in The New York Times, in which he pointed out that “the BBC World Service keeps its audience listening on an annual budget of $420 million. The United States spends close to twice as much on international broadcasting — $757 million per year.”
Even though it outspends the BBC by the ratio of almost two to one, the BBG’s worldwide audience is far lower even at the official BBG figures, which are believed to be inflated by BBG bureaucrats. Wasting U.S. taxpayers money, they have created multiple administrative entities and competing brand names within the Broadcasting Board of Governors and together with former BBG members are responsible for the current crisis in U.S. international broadcasting. Mr. Isaacson has a difficult task ahead of him if he is serious about reforms at the BBG.