Farewell, Firewall: Kim Elliott’s take on what the NDAA means for US international broadcasting

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (Photo BBG)

(Source: USC Center on Public Diplomacy)

Farewell, Firewall

Deep in the massive FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act is a provision to eliminate, in its present form, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors. The NDAA has been passed by the House and the Senate and is expected to be signed by President Obama. The BBG is the topmost authority of the elements of U.S. government-funded international broadcasting: Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Radio and TV Martí, and the Arabic-language Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa. Together they broadcast in 61 languages.

This BBG’s demise eliminates the “firewall” of a nine-person bipartisan board with fixed and staggered terms, and replaces it with one politically-appointed CEO. This change will have consequences.

Traditionally, people around the world huddled around a shortwave radio to get news from abroad. Increasingly, they watch an international news channel via cable or satellite television, or access a foreign website or social media outlet. Whatever the medium used, the need for a credible alternative to domestic state-controlled media is the main reason international broadcasting has had an audience since the 1930s.

Credibility is the essence of successful international broadcasting. The shortwave frequencies, satellite channels, and online media are full of propaganda, but serious news consumers seek out the news organizations that they trust.

International broadcasting in languages such as Burmese or Hausa has little commercial potential. National governments must step in to provide the funding. The foremost challenge is to ensure that the journalism is independent from the governments that hold the purse strings.

To achieve this, there is no substitute for a multipartisan governing board. Its main function is to appoint the senior managers of the broadcasting organization, so that politicians don’t. This is how “public service” broadcasting corporations throughout the world, e.g. BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, maintain their independence.

When a government is directly involved in the production of news, the results are generally deleterious. The outcome can be as extreme as the lies and distortions of German broadcasts before and during World War II. Or the output can be something like the stultifying commentaries that filled much of Radio Moscow’s schedule during the Cold War. And, as can be observed by watching Russia’s RT or China’s CCTV News on cable TV, propaganda can also be manifest by emphasizing some topics, while downplaying or ignoring others.[…]

Read Elliott’s full article on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy website…

3 thoughts on “Farewell, Firewall: Kim Elliott’s take on what the NDAA means for US international broadcasting

  1. TomL

    Big Brother is tightening its grip on everyone’s MIND! The mainstream media already has one mindset and pushes that view on everyone relentlessly. No opposing viewpoints are allowed, or if allowed, just to be setup for skewering over the public airwaves with blatant misrepresentations and out-of-context analysis and subsequent conclusions. They have made up your mind for you, no one needs to think anymore or have one’s own independent opinion. Pass the SOMA……..

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  2. Robert Gulley

    The umbrella issue to all of this is the loss of journalistic integrity, whether we are talking about the current form of the BBG (VOA, etc.) or the potential for politically controlled propaganda in the new system.
    There is no hope for good journalism if there is not a return to objective news reporting.

    When I was a journalism student back in the early 80s, they beat objectivity into us day-in and day-out. It was taught to us as the one thing we had which represented our integrity. Our commitment to our readers and to ourselves had to be the ability to tell the truth in the form of facts, not opinions, and thus preserve the integrity of the reader as well as our own. We were not to make the news or interpret the news.
    What we have today, and have had for many years, is reporters, newscasters, and editors determining what the “correct” news is, selective reporting, reshaping facts to fit ideologies, and so on. What was perhaps once a healthy skepticism of anyone in authority, has turned to the promotion of political ideology at whatever cost. Journalistic integrity has not only been set aside, but it has been placed as an artifact showpiece in the museum of journalism, something people ignore, or worse, laugh at as a silly notion from a simpler time.
    Without integrity of the journalistic process none of this matters. Reporting will not be the black and white facts, but mere shades of gray blurring and diluting truth until it cannot be found anymore. The loss of objectivity, and thus integrity, is both systemic and endemic. I cannot say I am hopeful tings will change anytime soon.

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  3. Joe Schierer

    I could not agree more with this article. Replacing a foreign countries Propaganda with our Propaganda ? Not that we don’t have the same issue domestically! Does anyone remember when CNN was a news channel? Back during the gulf war, CNN was THE source for news. No its resembles the National Inquirer – actually, that is insulting to the National Inquirer! Does anyone have a source of truly non partisan news in the US?

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