10:05 AM, Jul 3, 2014 • By DENNIS MULHAUPT and S. ENDERS WIMBUSH
What return on investment do American taxpayers receive for the money we pay for international broadcasting in 61 languages from the Voice of America and five other USG-funded media organizations? And is that investment effective? The answer to each question is, we believe, not nearly enough.
Having recently spent several years on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed body responsible for oversight of international broadcasting, we have serious reservations about the effectiveness of the taxpayers’ current investment of $720 million. In our experience, U.S. international broadcasting is run by a dysfunctional organization in pursuit of an unfocused mission attached only tenuously to U.S. foreign policy objectives. This state of affairs is the result of the last round of “reforms” to international broadcasting in the 1990s. It hasn’t worked.
Fortunately change is in the air again, this time serious reform that actually addresses U.S. international broadcasting’s many challenges.
The BBG —the product of the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994 and the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998—is a perfect storm of unworkable structure, broken governance, and no management. Try to follow this.
Today’s BBG oversees six separate international broadcasting organizations. Three—the Voice of America (VOA), the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB), and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB)—are part of the BBG federal agency, which operates under federal guidelines much like all other federal agencies. The other three organizations—Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), and Radio Free Asia (RFA) are federal “grantees.” This means that they are not a direct part of the federal agency, but rather are set up as non-profit 501(c)3s operating as private companies. Thus the BBG is responsible for reconciling two incompatible governance models, one federal and one private.
These six different media organizations compete for funding to support their diverse missions, with members of the BBG supposedly responsible for adjudicating which organizations get how much and for what. Yet in an obvious conflict of interests, members of the BBG separately and at the same time form the supposedly independent fiduciary board of each grantee. In practice, this means that each BBG board member is actually a member of the board of no less than four theoretically independent and competing entities, while still retaining separate jurisdiction over the non-grantees—the VOA, OCB, and IBB—in the federal agency. Not surprisingly, little incentive exists for the different networks to cooperate by combining capabilities, sharing assets, creating synergistic strategies or shutting down duplication. In fact, they spend a disproportionate amount of time competing with each other for funds and advantage, putting their respective boards squarely in the middle, while important strategic and mission-focused activities often suffer.
The original concept of the board itself abets the dysfunction. The BBG was designed to be a part-time bipartisan oversight group of four Democrats and four Republicans, with the sitting Secretary of State serving ex officio as the ninth member. In practice this means that most Governors have outside jobs, often as heads of major corporations or institutions, and little time to oversee six complex media organizations. The chairman has no special powers or authority, just one vote. No one is in charge. And with no management structure—no CEO, COO or even an operational director—the BBG defaults to those individual Governors who may be inclined to interfere directly in the operations of the networks, seldom, in our experience, to good effect.
Confused yet? No one can seriously believe this is a good way to rationalize and manage a complex organization in a fast-changing media environment dedicated to serving hundreds of millions of people across the globe in need of coherent news, perspectives, analysis, and an understanding of American objectives, policies, and attitudes.
The muddle deepens when one considers U.S. international broadcasting’s dual purpose. The notional division of labor for U.S. international broadcasting is, first, to support America’s public diplomacy by explaining American policy and “telling America’s story” to listeners and viewers worldwide while offering a menu of objective news and information. The second function is to provide “surrogate” media services focused on local news, with analysis and commentary, in societies where media are not independent or are easily influenced or intimidated.
10:38 AM, Jun 30, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Associated Press reports:
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court says corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.
10:01 AM, Jun 19, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Outgoing White House press secretary Jay Carney says he felt “liberated” when he left Time magazine to work for the Obama administration.
10:35 AM, Jun 4, 2014 • By MARION SMITH
Twenty-five years have passed since a lone man stood in front of Chinese tanks and dared to defy Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. His bold challenge to the Chinese Communist Party was one of history’s most profound reminders of the insatiable human desire to live free even in the face of terrifying state power.
How a far-out idea becomes orthodox. Aug 12, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 45 • By EDWARD ALEXANDER
In his dissent from the Supreme Court’s recent overthrow of the Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Antonin Scalia observed that the majority opinion accused the Congress and president who had enacted this law not merely of exceeding their powers but of spreading malice, encouraging stigmatization, and—above all—denying equality. “It is one thing,” wrote Scalia, “for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”
11:11 AM, Jul 4, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The hot dog is in decline in America, writes Paul Lukas at Bloomberg, and one thinks, "What isn't?" What institution, anyway. If everything were not in decline, then what would there be for journalists to write about (see Andrew Ferguson on George Packer and Haynes Johnson) and what would politicians have to campaign about?
12:00 AM, Jul 2, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress declared independence. George Washington declared that day that “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves....The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army.” A useful reminder for us, in a week when we rightly celebrate a Declaration, a document embodying a great idea, that speech needs to be backed up by arms, and that all still depends on the "courage and conduct" of our armed forces.
12:21 PM, Jun 19, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Today, speaking at the Brandenburg Gate, President Obama paid appropriate tribute to the brave East Germans who rebelled 60 years ago against Communist dictatorship:
10:16 AM, Apr 8, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama's statement on the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher:
7:00 AM, Mar 13, 2013 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
In the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s defeat in last fall’s election, and the defeat of a myriad of Republican Senate candidates (establishment and Tea Party alike) in Romney’s wake, Republicans are getting no shortage of free advice. The quantity of that advice, however, is more apparent than its quality.
8:40 AM, Jan 23, 2013 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
In his second inaugural address, President Obama made every effort to tie his political philosophy to the ideals and principles of the American Founding, even as he made clear how little he understands those ideals and principles. The gist of Obama’s speech was that only government can grant freedom. Or as he put it, “[W]e have always understood…that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”
7:32 AM, Jan 18, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Bosnia-Herzegovina has seen the last of hundreds of employees of the European Union, United Nations, and other international agencies, including dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that once gathered there. They have left the country a politically-partitioned and economically-distressed state that, if not failed, seems ever deteriorating.
What you don’t know about the Statue of Liberty. Oct 22, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 06 • By EMILY SCHULTHEIS
‘Slowly the ship glides into the harbor,” wrote one turn-of-the-century immigrant of arriving in New York, “and when it passes under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, the silence is broken, and a thousand hands are outstretched in a greeting to this new divinity to whose keeping they now entrust themselves. ‘Oh Papa,’ cried one young girl, ‘the goddess has waded into the water to meet us!’ ”
The Constitution is imperiled from the bench. Sep 24, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 02 • By TERRY EASTLAND
Our government is not a pure democracy but a constitutional republic, meaning that we govern ourselves in accord with the Constitution, which provides for a Supreme Court with the authority to review and strike down laws that are in conflict with the Constitution. In Cosmic Constitutional Theory, J. Harvie Wilkinson III argues that the Court has nullified many more laws on constitutional grounds than it should have. The Court has been activist when it should have been restrained, displacing democracy in each of its unwarranted rulings.