Tag Archives: HR4490

NY Times: Journalists “at Odds With Union” over VOA’s role

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The New York Times, in a  recent article, describes a growing split between the VOA Union (American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812) and VOA journalists over the proposed changes to the VOA mission (via H.R. 4490), which would make it an active voice of American policy. (Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Marty, for sharing this relevant article).

Below is an excerpt from The Times; click here for the full article:

WASHINGTON — Voice of America journalists who are fighting to maintain what they say is their editorial independence are now at odds not only with Congress, but also with their own union.

The union, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, recently endorsed a bill that would change language in the charter for the 72-year-old news agency and require it to actively support American policy. That came as a surprise to some Voice of America employees, who said the legislation would make them mouthpieces for government policy. They want the union to withdraw its letter of support.

“A lot of us would welcome change and reform, but not at the cost of undermining V.O.A.’s journalistic credibility,” said Jim Malone, a senior national correspondent at the government-financed news agency who is not a member of the union.

In its letter, union leaders said the agency’s managers had lost sight of their mission and were trying to turn the “V.O.A. into something they envisioned as a global variant of CNN.”

“In the end, some of the currently entrenched senior management represent a far greater threat to V.O.A.’s journalistic independence, indeed to the very existence of the V.O.A.,” the union wrote.

The danger, said the union’s president, Tim Shamble, is that the government could withdraw its financial support if the agency continued its current course. The federation represents about 40 percent of all Voice of America workers and 11 percent of the journalists in the central news division.

Continue reading…

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Washington Post: VOA needs to keep an “objective voice”

Many thanks to Richard Cuff for sharing this editorial from the Washington Post:

WashingtonPostLogo(Source: Washington Post)

AS AUTHORITARIAN states such as Russia and China ramp up well-funded and sophisticated global propaganda operations, U.S. officials and members of Congress fret that the U.S. government’s information operations are lagging behind. […]

A bipartisan bill headed for the House floor after more than a year of study and drafting would tackle some of these problems. But it also would take a dangerous step toward converting the most venerable and listened-to U.S. outlet, Voice of America, into another official mouthpiece.[…]

The bill sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking Democrat Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.) would refocus VOA on reporting “United States and international news and information,” which might eliminate some of the overlap. It also would usefully reorganize the management of the surrogates, combining them into one non-federal entity called the Freedom News Network and creating an independent governing board similar to the one that directs the National Endowment for Democracy.

However, the bill would define VOA as an instrument of U.S. “public diplomacy,” fold it into a new United States International Communications Agency and require programming that “is consistent with and promotes the broad foreign policies of the United States.” Quarterly meetings would be required with the State Department undersecretary charged with directing public diplomacy. This mandate inevitably would conflict with VOA’s historic mission of producing “accurate, objective and comprehensive news”; how could stories about controversial subjects such as the Guantanamo Bay prison or National Security Agency spying be “objective” and supportive of U.S. policy? The result could be an exodus of VOA’s best journalists and a steep drop in its credibility with international audiences.

[…]The United States will never beat China and Russia in the game of official propaganda, but it can win the war of ideas — if it doesn’t lose faith in its own principles.

Read the full editorial at the Washington Post website.

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Change to VOA’s mission draws “intense debate”

View of the Capitol Building from the roof of the Voice of America on 330 Independence Ave., S.W.

View of the Capitol Building from the roof of the Voice of America (330 Independence Ave., S.W.)

Many thanks to Dan Robinson for pointing out this article by Ron Nixon in the New York Times.  Here’s a clip:

“A bill to overhaul Voice of America has prompted an intense debate among supporters of the legislation who say it will better enable the broadcast news service to counter Russian disinformation and opponents who say it will turn the service into an American propaganda tool.

The legislation, which recently passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee with bipartisan support, would make changes to the mission of the government-financed Voice of America that its sponsors say would more clearly define its role in support of the United States. Specifically, the bill revises the language of Voice of America’s mission to explicitly state that the outlet has a role in supporting American “public diplomacy” and the policies of the government.

The full House is expected to take up the bill as early as this summer. The Senate is working on a similar bill.

Representative Ed Royce, the California Republican who is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the legislation was essential in the face of negative and inaccurate information increasingly disseminated about the United States abroad. “While countries like Russia have been working 24/7 on their information campaigns, V.O.A. has abandoned its mission to effectively promote the policies of the U.S. even though its charter is clear in this regard,” Mr. Royce said.

But the bill, the latest in a decades-old debate in foreign policy circles about the role of Voice of America, has prompted a backlash from journalists, many of whom work at the news service once run by Edward R. Murrow and who pride themselves on the organization’s independence.

“The only thing V.O.A. has left is its reputation, built over decades, as a credible news organization,” said one veteran journalist at the service who asked not to be identified criticizing the legislation. “Changing our focus from straight news to policy promotion will undercut any efforts to keep or build our audience.”

[Continue reading at the NY Times website…]

You’ll also want to read the comments in this article.

It is a conundrum: will this legislation save the VOA from budget cuts, or will it rob the broadcaster of credibility and objectivity?

VOA reporters I know have always taken comfort in the firewall that was created by the VOA Charter in 1960, then later signed into law on July 12, 1976, by President Gerald Ford. The charter reads:

The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts:

  1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.

  2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.

  3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350)

Many would argue that it’s impossible for a taxpayer-supported broadcaster to “present the policies of the United States” without being somewhat biased. Still, in the past, I’ve heard a number of reports from the VOA that are critical of life here in the US; reports I’ve never heard the likes of from, for example, the Voice of Russia or China Radio International.

If HR 4490 becomes law, perhaps the proof–VOA’s integrity–will be in the pudding. This is certainly a complex and multi-faceted issue. Regardless: we will be listening.

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Draft bill outlines major changes to BBG and US International Broadcasting

BBG-LogoMany thanks to Dan Robinson who shares this post on the BBG Watch which outlines major changes to US International Broadcasting.

The draft bill, originating in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is known as the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014. The bill outlines:

  • “the creation of the United States International Communications Agency within the executive branch of Government as an independent establishment”
  • creating an Advisory Board of the United States International Communications Agency–as the name implies, this board would serve in an advisory (in lieu of management) capacity
  • a new CEO of the United States International Communications Agency, who would be “appointed for a five-year term and renewable at the Board’s discretion. The CEO would exercise broad executive powers.”
  • the creation of the Consolidated Grantee Organization, for the non-federal grantees of the BBG who would be consolidated “and reconstituted under a single organizational structure and management framework.” This would affect the following agencies:
    • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL),
    • Radio Free Asia (RFA), and
    • Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)
  • “The Consolidated Grantee Organization would have its own board and its own CEO.”
  • “The Voice of America would be placed within the the United States International Communications Agency.”
  • Changes to the VOA charter including more freedom and flexibility to report the news. BBG Watch quotes: “The Voice of America’s success over more than seven decades has created valuable brand identity and international recognition that justifies the maintenance of the Voice of America; the Voice of America’s public diplomacy mission remains essential to broader United States Government efforts to communicate with foreign populations; and despite its tremendous historical success, the Voice of America would benefit substantially from a recalibration of Federal international broadcasting agencies and resources, which would provide the Voice of America with greater mission focus and flexibility in the deployment of news, programming, and content.”
  • The new bill also outlines sharing resources between the VOA and the new Consolidated Grantee Organization (which currently maintains much of its own network infrastructure)

There are many, many more points to this bill thus I would encourage you to read the BBG Watch post in full for all details.

 

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