• Get rid of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. It has been a disastrous experiment. A January 2013 report by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General concluded that, since its inception, the board “has been fully staffed for only seven of its 17 years of existence, and current governors are serving under expired terms.” Members have as a rule lacked journalistic credentials, coming from corporate media executive jobs or diplomatic posts. On May 11, President Obama nominated Ryan Crocker to the board, a diplomat who over a 37-year career has served as ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, Lebanon, and, most recently, Afghanistan. A distinguished record, certainly, but one lacking any journalistic background.
• If a “broadcasting czar” is to oversee the proposed combined operation, then he or she should be someone with an unimpeachable journalistic reputation, not someone who goes through the revolving door between government spokesman and working journalist. The appointee should be named by the president and subject to Senate confirmation (as VOA directors were before the creation of the BBG), and be appointed for a fixed term (like the FBI director) as additional safeguards against politicization of the news.
• Re-establish the Central News Division as the operational hub of VOA (and, if there is consolidation, of the combined operation) to ensure journalistic cohesion, continuity, and credibility. Having what amounts to dozens of separate news shops competing with one another for resources, stories, and interviews breeds duplication and uncertainty.
• Don’t dumb down the news. Without a complete fiscal change of heart in Congress, international broadcasting will never have the money and staff to compete with commercial outlets. So stop focusing undue effort on lightweight fluff that is eroding credibility, and encourage and support intelligent and thoughtful journalism that is unfettered by bureaucracy and politics.
• Stop dismissing radio as a dead medium. Radio remains a highly effective way to reach the many people in remote areas who don’t have Internet or TV, and television broadcasting, such as to Iran, is much more easily jammed than radio. The proposed 2014 budget would gut Urdu and Afghan radio services that broadcast to Pakistan and Afghanistan and shut down all Farsi-language radio to Iran.
However, if the mission of US broadcasting is to be “messaging” and policy advocacy, then stop hiding behind the label of journalism. Call it what it is—public diplomacy—and put it under the State Department. Anything less is a disservice to VOA listeners and to the profession of journalism, and an insult to the men and women who strive to uphold the journalistic integrity of Voice of America.
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