National Defense Authorization Act passes House, now moves to Senate

SX-99-Dial-Nar

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who writes:

This just came to my attention. It seems that William McClellan (Mac) Thornberry, the Republican representative of Texas’s 13th congressional district and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed an amendment to H.R.4909 — National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 that would revamp how the Voice of America, RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, etc. are managed:
https://www.congress.gov/amendment/114th-congress/house-amendment/1018/actions

Text of amendment is here:
http://amendments-rules.house.gov/amendments/GECv3517161723182318.pdf

It appears the amendment was accepted by the House and the House passed the amended H.R.4909 — National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 and it has moved on to the Senate:
https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4909

BBG’s Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Budget Request

BBG-Budget-Request

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who shares a link to the Broadcasting Board of Governor’s Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Budget Request.

Click here to download as a PDF.

I’ve read key portions of the request.

Regarding shortwave, the BBG are asking for budget reductions in almost all of the BBG shortwave broadcasting arms, with a few exceptions.   They acknowledge, in each case, that shortwave broadcasting is not as cost-effective as other means of distribution (including FM, Internet and satellite). The do acknowledge that shortwave broadcasting is still needed in some strategic markets. Here is, perhaps, the most telling quote I found:

“To serve audiences in less developed areas of the world, BBG must continue to broadcast via traditional technologies such as shortwave and maintain capability on these platforms by replacing antiquated equipment. But to stay relevant in competitive news markets and serve current and future audiences, BBG must invest in new cutting-edge technology. In areas where ownership and usage of shortwave radio has declined significantly, the Agency has evolved away from broadcasting in shortwave.”

A few specific highlights from the request:

Page 19

4) ENHANCE HIGH FREQUENCY TRANSMISSION CAPABILITY ($2.8M)
BBG will continue the shortwave realignment project that began in FY 2014, which increases shortwave transmission capability at its Kuwait Transmitting Station. This enhancement provides improved coverage to underserved areas of the world and
reduces operating costs by decreasing reliance on external leases. All aspects of
this proposal focus on improving transmission capability, while continuing
to reach audiences in Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Tibet and
Western China. The added capacity will support broadcasts for RFE/RL, RFA and
VOA.

At $2.00 per broadcast hour, Kuwait provides the highest return on investment in the BBG transmitting station portfolio. Thus, BBG began expansion of the facility in FY 2014 with
the construction of a new high frequency antenna and design of the transmitter building expansion. The proposed investment, extending through FY 2018, will bring the Kuwait
Transmitting Station up to the maximum capability allowed by the country agreement and will enable the Agency to decrease overall operating costs for the foreseeable future. When the realignment project is completed, the Kuwait station will have ten shortwave transmitters with associated antennas.[…]

Page 22:

Reduce Shortwave Costs [-$2.90M] The Office of Technology, Services, and Innovation (TSI) will eliminate less effective transmission frequencies and realign transmissions to end high cost leases. TSI will realize additional reductions to antiquated technologies by reducing transmissions to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, and Kurdish-speaking regions and eliminating shortwave to Russia, the Caucasus, Belarus, Laos, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Burundi. Audiences in these countries access news and information on more efficient,[…]

Page 69

STRATEGY BASED ON AUDIENCE
MEDIA HABITS
Using research on audience media habits, TSI will continue to move away from less effective legacy shortwave and medium wave transmissions toward other technologies, where appropriate, to reach larger and younger audiences. Where shortwave remains important, TSI is building a more cost-effective transmission infrastructure to support broadcast requirements. Of particular note are efforts at the Kuwait Transmitting Station. Because of the station’s strategic importance and low operating costs, TSI is installing a new shortwave antenna that is expected to be operational in FY 2015 and will expand the station’s transmitter building in FY 2016 to accommodate future transmitter build-outs.[…]

Page 109

To serve audiences in less developed areas of the world, BBG must continue to broadcast via traditional technologies such as shortwave and maintain capability on these platforms by replacing antiquated equipment. But to stay relevant in competitive news markets and serve current and future audiences, BBG must invest in new cutting-edge technology. In areas where ownership and usage of shortwave radio has declined significantly, the Agency has evolved away from broadcasting in shortwave.
BBG has closed transmission stations, repurposed equipment and invested these savings in platforms that the audience has shifted to, primarily in digital media technology and other high-priority programming.

Click here to download the full request as a PDF.

Breaking news: OIG Report on the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station

Fullscreen capture 3182016 51138 PM

I’ve just received a copy of the Office of Inspections (OIG) report on the VOA transmitting station in Greenville, NC. The full OIG report is now in the public domain as a PDF.

Here are a few highlights…

A summary of what OIG found:

  • The Broadcasting Board of Governors Special Committee on the future of shortwave broadcasting issued the report “To Be Where the Audience Is,” in August 2014. It concluded that the demand for shortwave broadcasting is declining in most of its audience markets. The report referred to transmission to Cuba twice, but fell short of recommending to close any Broadcasting Board of Governors shortwave transmitting stations.
  • The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station reports to the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Office of Technology, Services, and Innovation. The dual reporting structure has not affected operations negatively.
  • Administrative operations for the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station were effective, except in management of human resources. Specifically, the station
    manager’s position description was outdated and the performance evaluations record keeping did not comply with Federal regulations.
  • The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station had effective internal controls processes in place. The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station management were
    cognizant of internal controls and provides effective oversight of operations.
  • The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station complied with the Broadcasting Board of Governors and applicable Federal regulations for contracting, property management, and safety. The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station complied with the Broadcasting Board of Governors review processes for unliquidated obligations and the purchase card program.
  • The security and emergency preparedness at the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station met the Interagency Security Committee, Office of Security, and Office of
    Technology, Services, and Innovation policies and standards. The employees participated in emergency drills and complete required insider threat training
    annually.
The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station's mail building, located in the center of the 2800 acres campus. (Click to enlarge)

The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station’s mail building, located in the center of the 2800 acres campus. (Click to enlarge)

Regarding the future of the station:

BBG has not evaluated the return on investment of the Station’s operations to determine its effectiveness in advancing the U.S. international media strategies. The BBG’s Special Committee report refers twice to transmissions to Cuba but falls short of recommending to close any BBG shortwave transmitting stations. Congress continues funding the Station’s budget even though on February 1, 2010, the BBG FY 2011 budget request proposed the closure of the Station.

Futhermore, in FY 2011, the Senate Committee on Appropriations asked BBG to submit a “multiyear strategic plan for broadcasting to Cuba to include an analysis of options for disseminating news and information to Cuba and a report on the cost effectiveness of each.”

The Office of Management and Budget’s Global Engagement Resource Guidance for FY 2015 and for FY 2016 address the need to modernize U.S. International media by “transitioning away from the use of shortwave radio where this platform is ineffective, toward more widely used media platforms like mobile, television, and the internet.” The United States International Broadcasting Act, Public Law 103-236, Section 303(a)(1) and (7) states that BBG has the responsibility to “be consistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States” and “to effectively reach a significant audience.” Section 305(a)(7) states the Board is also authorized to “ensure that all broadcasting elements receive the highest quality and cost effective delivery services.” Given BBG’s limited resources and changes in technology as well as the significance of Cuba to U.S. national security objectives, BBG risks missing an opportunity to engage with Cuban audiences in a digital media environment.

Recommendation 1: The Broadcasting Board of Governors should prepare a written
cost/benefit evaluation of the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station to determine its
efficiency and effectiveness for continuing, reducing, or eliminating operations. (Action: BBG)

The full report:

Click here to download the full report as a PDF.

For a little context, this is the same station I’ve visited multiple times and even posted a photo tour of (click here to view) several years ago.

BBG Watch: Apology issued for digital media outages

BBG-LogoSome of you may have noticed that the Voice of America has been having problems with their online and internal digital content the past few days.

The BBG Watch–a watchdog for US government broadcasting–took a very critical look at the recent failures and connects them to a much bigger picture of dysfunction.

Click here to read the BBG Watch story.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor (and former VOA White House Correspondent) Dan Robinson, for the tip.

BBG Watch: BBG hit with $400M employee contractors suit

BBG-Logo(Source: BBG Watch via Dan Robinson)

A $400 million class action lawsuit was filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims against the Broadcasting Board of Governors over personnel and contracting practices overseen by top agency officials in recent years. The plaintiffs, several Voice of America (VOA) workers, allege that the U.S. government-funded, international news broadcaster’s Board of Governors denied proper pay and benefits to VOA employees intentionally misclassified as independent contractors by agency officials, Law360 website reported.

As reported by Law360, plaintiffs in the latest class action lawsuit allege that the Broadcasting Board of Governors has implemented a system of using “Purchase Order Vendors” (POVs) “for services indistinguishable from those of direct employees, to avoid a 30 percent budget increase from providing the lawful wages, paid leave, workers compensation, and tax contributions the workers are owed.”

“The BBG put the plaintiffs and class members on purchase orders so it could extract their faithful service to the United States while avoiding payment of the more substantial compensation that is owed to federal employees,” the complaint states.[…]

Continue reading on the BBG Watch website…

Castro wants an end to US broadcasts directed at Cuba

Havana, Cuba (Photo: Wikimedia)

Havana, Cuba (Photo: Wikimedia)

(Source: VOA News)

Cuban President Raul Castro is urging the U.S. government to stop radio and television broadcasts that Cuba considers harmful, while also saying that his government is willing to keep improving relations with the United States.

In a speech broadcast on state television Friday, Castro said that his government will “continue insisting that to reach normalized relations, it is imperative that the United States government eliminate all of these policies from the past.”

He noted that the U.S. government continues to broadcast to Cuba, including transmissions of Radio Marti and TV Marti, despite Cuba’s objections. Radio Marti and TV Marti are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is also the parent organization of the Voice of America.

Castro also criticized U.S. immigration policy that allows Cuban migrants to live in the United States if they reach U.S. territory.

“A preferential migration policy continues to be applied to Cuban citizens, which is evidenced by the enforcement of the wet foot/dry foot policy, the Medical Professional Parole Program and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which encourage an illegal, unsafe, disorderly and irregular migration, foment human smuggling and other related crimes, and create problems to other countries,” Castro said.

Continue reading on VOA News online…

Lansing Named CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

John Lansing (Source: BBG)

John Lansing (Source: BBG)

(Source: Broadcasting Board of Governors Press Release)

WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the independent federal government agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international media, today announced the appointment of John Lansing as Chief Executive Officer and Director of the BBG. Lansing will begin his service at the BBG in September.

Lansing joins the BBG with nine years of experience as President of Scripps Networks, where he is credited with guiding the company to become a leading developer of unique content across various media platforms including television, digital, mobile and publishing. As President of Scripps Networks, Lansing was responsible for strategic and operational oversight of the $2.5 billion division of Scripps Networks Interactive, including the company’s portfolio of six cable networks – Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, DIY, Cooking Channel and Great American Country – and the $100 million Scripps Networks Digital division. Prior to joining Scripps Networks in 2004, Lansing was Senior Vice President for Television in the broadcasting division of the E.W. Scripps Company, managing the company’s portfolio of 10 network affiliated television stations. Earlier, he held various senior management positions at Scripps-owned affiliates, including WEWS TV in Cleveland, Ohio and WXYZ TV in Detroit, Michigan.

Most recently, Lansing was President and Chief Executive Officer of Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), a marketing association comprised of 90 of the top U.S. and Canadian cable companies and television programmers. There, Lansing oversaw the development of business strategies and marketing initiatives that position cable television companies for continued growth as they compete with emerging digital content platforms.

Lansing also brings a deep understanding of journalism from roles as an award-winning Photojournalist and Field Producer, Assignment Manager, Managing Editor, and News Director at several television stations earlier in his career.

Lansing is currently Vice Chair of the Bellarmine University Board of Trustees and was named to the Bellarmine Gallery of Distinguished Graduates in 2010. He serves on the National Advisory Board of the Bellarmine University’s Institute for Media, Culture & Ethics; National Council for Media and Public Affairs of George Washington University School of Media & Public Affairs; and, until recently, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies Foundation, one of the nation’s top schools for professional journalists.

“John is a proven executive and a remarkable, transformative leader in multiplatform content strategies, development and distribution,” said BBG Chairman Jeff Shell. “With his journalistic sensibilities and success in leading media companies through periods of challenges and growth, John is the ideal person to lead the BBG as we accelerate efforts to shape a global, world-leading media organization that is up to the challenges of the 21st century.”

“We are very fortunate to have John take on the CEO role at this critical time when U.S. international media is on the front line of the United States’ most important and complicated foreign policy issues,” added Shell. “From eastern Ukraine to China to ISIL and Iran, the programming of the BBG is the most important, and in many cases, the only voice of honest and open journalism. John also understands that conveying and critically assessing official U.S. policy is a key component of BBG’s mission. American leadership in the world depends in part on international audiences knowing where the United States stands with respect to their countries and the issues that affect them.”

“I thank Chairman Shell and the Board for this opportunity to help lead this fantastic organization,” said Lansing. “As one of the world’s largest media enterprises, the BBG provides balanced, reliable and authoritative news in the face of partisan media and heavy propaganda from repressive nations and extremist groups. I am honored to enter into public service and to join a team of world class journalists and media professionals who are dedicated to expanding freedom of information and expression worldwide. I also welcome the opportunity to work with this distinguished Board, which has steadily guided the BBG forward.”

Chairman Shell also thanked André Mendes for his service as BBG Interim CEO. “On behalf of the entire Board, I would like to express our deep appreciation for the tireless work of André and his dedicated team. During this transition period, André and his colleagues have worked diligently to produce outstanding results and to spur on forward momentum at the BBG.”

BBG’s Critical Importance in a Fragmented World and Rapidly Changing Media Environment

U.S. International Media (USIM) operates today in a challenging environment in which global audiences have vastly increased access to information from both public and private sources and in which modes of communication are changing in fundamental ways.

The global information space has become a battleground, where new international actors have “weaponized” information to try to undermine not only Western values but also Western resolve to confront the challenges of the 21st century. The emergence of well-funded state-sponsored broadcasters have demonstrated how propaganda can directly influence events on the ground. Elsewhere, non-state actors including al-Qaeda, ISIL and Boko Harem are using social media to recruit fighters and sow fear.

The BBG is sparing no effort to bring global audiences alternative narratives – built on accurate, fact-based journalism – to foreign propaganda in Ukraine and across the former Soviet Union as well as in the Middle East, South Asia and the African Sahel. MBN’s Raise Your Voice, an interactive audience engagement initiative on TV and radio in Iraq exemplifies BBG’s response, empowering moderate secular and religious voices to discuss the root causes of ISIL while providing Iraqi leaders with constructive feedback on the lives and hopes of the Iraqi people.

Gallup research underscores impressive results, most notably where extremism is a palpable threat; BBG networks boast weekly adult audiences of 44% in Iraq, 53% in Afghanistan, 28% in Iran, 51% in Somalia, and 18% in Nigeria. Globally, BBG networks increasingly are engaging new audiences, reporting on issues of human rights, government corruption and other issues, which contributes toward an all-time high measured BBG weekly audiences in excess of 215 million and rapid growth across all media platforms including social media and mobile.

Telling America’s story is a significant part of BBG’s statutory mandate. BBG covers the United States in all of its complexity, reflecting the nation’s democratic process, so that the countries that are struggling to nurture their own democratic systems might learn from the American experience.

BBG has also developed a robust portfolio in Internet anti-censorship. The agency focuses not only on disseminating content, but also on expanding access to the Internet, and offering to citizen and professional journalists the tools to report safely without detection by government surveillance. Increasingly, this work is important in countries such as China, Venezuela and Iran that are bolstering their firewalls to stop the free flow of information.

About The Broadcasting Board of Governors

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is the independent federal government agency that oversees all U.S. international media. BBG is also the name of the board that governs the agency.

The BBG Board is focused on how to best leverage the combined power of the five media networks it oversees – Voice of America (VOA), Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) – in countries where vital U.S. interests are at stake and freedom of the press and freedom of expression are under attack.

All current BBG Board members have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to their positions since August 2013. Board members are well-respected leaders in U.S. foreign policy, media, and government and operate in a collegial bi-partisan manner.

Current Board members include: Jeff Shell, Chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment; Matthew Armstrong, author and former Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy; Dr. Leon Aron, Resident Scholar and Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, whose 37-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service included service as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon; Michael Kempner, founder, president, and CEO of MWW, one of the world’s top five independent public relations agencies; Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, Executive Vice President of External Affairs for Nielsen and former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and Kenneth Weinstein, President and CEO of the Hudson Institute. Secretary of State John Kerry is represented on the Board by Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, former managing editor of TIME.