(Source: USC Center on Public Diplomacy)
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.[…]