What differentiates U.S. international broadcasters from parallel outlets sponsored by other governments? The BBG.
Lynne Weil is the director of communications and external affairs for the BBG. She is a senior strategist on communications and outreach activities as well as the Board’s chief advisor for Congressional and external affairs. She joined the BBG in 2012, after spending the past two years working for the U.S. State Department, first as the Press Director and Spokeswoman for the U.S. Agency for International Development and then as a Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
What is BBG
Broadcasting Board of Governors
Seal of the Broadcasting Board of Governors
Logo of the Broadcasting Board of Governors
|Formed||October 1, 1999|
|Preceding agencies||United States Information Agency
Office of Affiliate Relations and Media Training
|Employees||3,592 people at the BBG and all its entities|
|Annual budget||$713 million (2013) including the International Broadcasting Bureau and the Broadcasting Board of Governors|
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is an independent federal agency of the United States government responsible for supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international media. The mission of the BBG is “to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.” The agency’s goal is to “deliver accurate news and information to significant and strategic audiences overseas… and to serve as a trustworthy source of news and as an example of a free, professional press in countries that lack independent media.” It was previously a department within the United States Information Agency until 1999.
Starting in 1990, all U.S. government international broadcasting services began to work more closely together. That year the U.S. Information Agency, then Voice of America’s (VOA) parent agency, established the Bureau of Broadcasting to consolidate its three broadcasting services – the Voice of America, WORLDNET Television and Film Service, and Radio y Televisión Martí – under one umbrella organization, supported by a single Office of Engineering and Technical Operations.
In 1991, the Bureau created the Office of Affiliate Relations and Audience Analysis (later renamed the Office of Affiliate Relations and Media Training in 1996) to establish and maintain a network of “affiliated” radio and TV stations around the globe that would broadcast VOA- and WORLDNET-produced programs. Today, more than 1,200 radio and TV stations receive programming through the Office of Affiliate Relations.
U.S. government international broadcasting was consolidated even further when President Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act (Public Law 103-236) on April 30, 1994. The legislation established the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) within the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and created a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with oversight authority over all non-military U.S. government international broadcasting.
The BBG oversees the International Broadcasting Bureau, which provides multimedia broadcast distribution as well as technical and administrative support to the broadcasting networks. The IBB manages a global network of transmitting sites and an extensive system of leased satellite and fiber optic circuits, along with a rapidly growing Internet delivery system servicing the 61 languages of the BBG networks.
The bipartisan BBG includes the Secretary of State (ex officio) and eight members appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The first Broadcasting Board of Governors was sworn in on August 11, 1995.
The BBG became an independent, autonomous entity on October 1, 1999, as a result of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998 (Pub.L. 105–277). BBG has 3,592 employees and a budget of US$713 million as of 2013.
The BBG is headed by a bi-partisan board with nine members; eight are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The ninth member ex officio is the Secretary of State. By law, no more than four members shall be from the same political party. The president designates one member (other than the Secretary of State) to serve as Chairman. The Board serves as a “firewall” against political interference in the journalistic product.
As of 2014, the current board members are:
- Jeffrey Shell, chairman
- Michael P. Meehan
- Ambassador Ryan Crocker
- Susan McCue
- Kenneth Weinstein
- Matthew Armstrong
- Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry, ex-officio
Two seats on the board are vacant.
Although a handful of Republican senators initially forestalled the appointments in order to draw attention to alleged lack of transparency and ineffectiveness of the organization, the Senate unanimously confirmed all eight of the nominees on June 30, 2010, including Isaacson as chair.
Past members of the board have included:
- Norman J. Pattiz May 2000 – March 2006. According to one commentator, “political patron [was then-]Senator Joseph Biden.”
- Kenneth Y. Tomlinson August 2002–
- Robert M. Ledbetter, a Mississippi broadcaster nominated in 2003, according to one commentator “at the behest of Trent Lott“
- Walter Isaacson, chairman (He served until January 2012.)
- Victor Ashe (Serving in June, 2013)
- Michael Lynton
- Dennis Mulhaupt
- Dana Perino (July 2010 to December 2012)
- S. Enders Wimbush
Functions and supervised organizations
BBG supervises the following independent broadcasting organizations, which collectively broadcast in 61 languages in more than 125 markets around the world:
- Voice of America (VOA)
- The Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc. (MBN) MBN includes Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa.
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) RFE/RL includes Radio Farda, Radio Azadi and Radio Mashaal
- Radio Free Asia (RFA)
- Radio Marti and TV Marti
The Voice of America provides international, regional and local news as well as in-depth coverage of the U.S. and its policies; while the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and Radio and TV Martḯ provide their audiences with an emphasis on domestic events that are denied by their own media. Lastly, Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa, broadcasting to the Middle East, provide a full range of international, regional and local news as well as coverage of the United States.
The BBG Global Audience Estimate provides a snapshot of the total measured audience – the number of individuals – of the five BBG media outlets: Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa).
In 2013, BBG broadcasters reached 206 million people weekly in unduplicated audience worldwide – including radio, television and Internet – up from 175 million in 2012.
The BBG solicits annual funding from Congress via a proposed budget summary which is also available on their website. The Board submits an annual budget submission in which they lay out specific initiatives. Initiatives in 2011 included improving the global satellite distribution capacity, creating Radio Free Asia video programming and improving distribution of Voice of America content.
Announced in April 2011, the BBG will receive $10 million from Congress. During the federal funding dispute for the fiscal year 2011, President Obama sided with the BBG agreeing to language that the organization would “expand unrestricted access to information on the Internet.” This work includes anti-censorships campaigns in China and other repressive regimes.
Their 2012 budget request was US$767 million. Their budget as of 2013 is US $713 million.
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (May 2014)|
|This section is outdated. (May 2014)|
The BBG’s stated mission is to promote and sustain freedom and democracy by broadcasting accurate and objective news and information about the United States and the world to audiences overseas. They claim their long-term vision for the BBG is “a flexible, multi-media, research-driven U.S. International Broadcasting System, incorporating regional networks and single-country operations, that reaches mass audiences by programming the distinct content of the Voice of America and the surrogate services through state-of-the art formats and the distribution channels – AM, FM, audio and video satellite, shortwave, and the Internet – that our audiences use and we control.”
However, according to a series of reports beginning in 2004 and generated by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the BBG has struggled to live up to its mission. For instance, GAO highlighted a structural issue of the BBG in a 2004 report claiming that “organizationally, the existence of five separate broadcast entities has led to overlapping language services, duplication of program content, redundant newsgathering and support services, and difficulties coordinating broadcast efforts.” The report also added that “marketing challenges include outmoded program formats, poor signal delivery, and low audience awareness in many markets.”
In April 2010, Senator Tom Coburn held up the appointments of the Obama administration, with the aim of drawing attention to the organization’s perceived ineffectiveness, stating in an interview: “The BBG is the most worthless organization in the federal government. It’s full of people who know nothing about media or foreign policy.” Senator Jim DeMint also attempted to use the nominations to force a hearing on the BBG, after frustrations with a perceived lack of congressional oversight over the organization. Coburn had written an open letter to then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in August 2010 citing “longstanding concerns regarding transparency and effectiveness of our taxpayer funded international broadcasting agencies under the purview of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.”
In early 2013, the AFGE 1812 Local web site carried a series of articles detailing management problems under the BBG. The series can be found at this link: http://laborweb.afge.org/sites/bbg/l1812/
- Rogin, Josh (April 30, 2010). “Chaos at the Broadcasting Board of Governors”. Foreign Policy. Retrieved April 27, 2011.
- “U.S. Broadcasting Board Governor Norman Pattiz to Address Nation’s Talk Radio Hosts About Middle East Broadcasting; Pattiz To Receive NARTSH Freedom of Speech Award for 2002”[dead link] BBG Web page. Retrieved March 14, 2010.
- Pattiz profile Forbes. Retrieved March 14, 2010.
- “Bully Pulpit: Public broadcasting abroad” by Franklin Foer, The New Republic, August 15, 2005 12:00 am. Retrieved March 14, 2010.
- “Budget Summary”.
- Bluey, Rob (April 11, 2011). “Obama Circumvents State Department, supports plan to give BBG $10 million”. The Washington Examiner. Retrieved May 15, 2011.[dead link]
-  at The Broadcasting Board of Governors website.
- “About the Agency”. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
- “U.S. International Broadcasting: Challenges Facing the Broadcasting Board of Governors”. GAO. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
- About the Agency at The Broadcasting Board of Governors website.
- News at VOANews.com.