BBG Watch Commentary

Senator Roger F. Wicker

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a leading Senator on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is urging the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to continue operating Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Balkan Service and Radio Free Iraq.

According to a press release from the senator’s office, Senator Wicker recently sent a letter to the Chairman of BBG, Jeff Shell, calling on him to stop action to close these radio services until the proper congressional oversight committees complete their due diligence on the issue.

“These independent radio, television, and Internet broadcasts are vital to American interests abroad,” said Wicker. “Ending these services without appropriate congressional oversight is premature. Considering Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine and persistent instability in the Middle East, now is not the time to end important communications overseas.”

Cuts to broadcasting services of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Voice of America (VOA), Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN – Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa) are usually first proposed to members of the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors by the executive staff of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

The leadership of IBB has changed since Chairman Shell and several new members joined the BBG board in recent months. Cuts to RFE/RL’s Balkan Service and Radio Free Iraq were proposed by the former IBB management team but have not been rescinded.

With their effective control of the budget, former IBB executives made sure that IBB bureaucracy and support services kept rapidly growing in recent years while they continued cutting programs and programming positions, especially at the Voice of America, but also at RFE/RL, RFA and other entities. IBB executives were proposing such new cuts to programs and programming positions every year while increasing their own budget and positions.

IBB executives were also trying to limit independence of grantee broadcasters such as RFE/RL even though their independence, both programming and administrative, is guaranteed in legislation to make these media grantees more effective in providing news to countries without free press.

As programs and programming positions were being cut, between FY2007 and FY2014 the number of IBB positions has grown by 37%.

IBB also now has the largest portion of the BBG budget even though it does not produce any broadcasts or other programs.

Journalists working for BBG entities, entity heads, and outside critics have been complaining for years that IBB has become a bureaucratic nightmare and cancer that is killing the BBG’s mission of providing news and information to countries without free media by absorbing resources that would best be used to produce actual programs.

Consecutive BBG boards, however, found it convenient to have their own control of the BBG budget with the support of the growing IBB executive staff and bureaucracy. It is also difficult for BBG chairman and BBG members to tell IBB executives, on whom they rely for administrative support, that they should cut their own positions before they start to reduce programs and fire journalists and other program producers.

This state of affairs got BBG members in trouble with Congress when at the suggestion of IBB executives they tired to reduce broadcasts to Tibet and China in previous years. The same IBB executives who urged former BBG members to reduce broadcasts to Tibet and China are believed to have also proposed cuts to the RFE/RL Balkan Service and Radio Free Iraq.

Since IBB executives will never propose to cut their own positions and budget to save programs and programming positions, this decision must be initiated and made by the BBG Chairman and BBG members. National interest requires the BBG board to make such a decision.

It remains to be seen whether the renewed BBG board under Chairman Shell will drastically reduce the IBB bureaucracy and its budget or whether even this board will continue the policy of previous boards and keep the IBB as the largest single entity within the BBG that protects itself from budget cuts by cutting programs.

Many critics have suggested that IBB should be abolished altogether or drastically reduced and most of its resources divided between BBG’s program producing entities. Since many employees see Chairman Shell as a reformer, there is a faint hope among them that he will reduce and reform IBB as well as the notoriously bad management at the Voice of America, sources told BBG Watch. BBG under the IBB leadership has one of the lowest employee morale ratings in the entire federal government, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys. IBB’s control of the BBG budget significantly contributes to low employee morale.

While IBB executives claim that centralization of budget and resources saves money, it has become abundantly clear that the opposite is true. Not only that these bureaucrats have no connection to any programs that are being produced or audiences that these programs serve, but they effectively cut and reduce such programs while constantly expanding their own wasteful bureaucratic empire.

Critics say that if the new board under Chairman Shell allows this trend to continue, there will soon be very few broadcasts and other media programs left for overseas audiences.

These audiences desperately need uncensored news and information about their own countries and about U.S. policies. These fast diminishing programs counter propaganda from governments of states such as Russia, China, and Iran.

As Senator Wicker pointed out “these independent radio, television, and Internet broadcasts are vital to American interests abroad.” Many of them have been eliminated or reduced in recent years, while the number of mostly bureaucratic IBB positions — which ostensibly exist to support these programs — has increased by 37% in the last seven years.

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PRESS RELEASE

Mar 11 2014

Wicker Pushes to Keep Foreign Radio Services Open

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a leading Senator on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is urging the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to continue operating Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Balkan Service and Radio Free Iraq.

“These independent radio, television, and Internet broadcasts are vital to American interests abroad,” said Wicker. “Ending these services without appropriate congressional oversight is premature. Considering Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine and persistent instability in the Middle East, now is not the time to end important communications overseas.”

Wicker recently sent a letter to the chairman of BBG calling on him to stop action to close these radio services until the proper congressional oversight committees complete their due diligence on the issue.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Iraq are broadcasted in 28 languages and cover news from 21 countries where free press is banned. They employ more than 1,000 full-time and freelance journalists who often risk their lives to report stories in dangerous conditions.

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IBB Positions FY2006-FY2014 Growth

BBGWatch-corrected- Broadcasting Board of Governors FY 2015 Congressional Request – $721.26 million Funding by Major Elements ($ in millions)

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