BBG Highlights Strategic Interests in Transitioning Societies

April 11, 2013 meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

Washington, DC – The Broadcasting Board of Governors today discussed innovations across the agency in delivering independent news to transitioning societies, and the implications of the FY 2014 budget request for U.S. international media.

Governors Michael Meehan and Victor Ashe focused at the start on the many threats against BBG journalists worldwide, pausing in remembrance of Somali journalist Mohammed Ali Nuxurkey, who worked for VOA in Mogadishu. On March 18, Nuxurkey was sitting in a café when he was killed by a suicide bomber.

“His death is a sad reminder of the danger reporters face because they live in the volatile places we report on,” said BBG Governor Meehan, who presided over the meeting. Meehan also recounted details of other threats to BBG journalists in Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Cambodia. He reiterated calls for information and the release of Alhurra reporter Bashar Fahmi, who has been missing in Syria for more than seven months.”

Governor Meehan also commended the work of those who help make the transmissions possible. “I’d like to make special mention of the people behind the scenes who work under the same conditions, sometimes at risk to their lives, to help bring the light of truth to people living under repressive regimes and in conflict zones,” he said.

In the context of this volatile global media environment the Board discussed its just-released FY2014 budget request.  The BBG’s $731 million request includes proposed investments designed to support initiatives to counter violent extremism, with particular focus on the Trans-Sahel and Maghreb regions of Africa, along with an enhanced reporting capability in Burma. 

Discussion at the meeting highlighted the importance of increased funding for the Internet Anti-Censorship program as a key initiative to serve audiences in countries that lack Internet freedom.  The Board noted the inclusion in the budget of a proposal to establish a Chief Executive Officer for all civilian U.S. international media. Establishing a CEO is an important objective of the BBG and the Administration.

The Board also received an update on the status of changes to the law that soon will allow greater access in the United States to content produced across the BBG.  Draft guidelines on how the agency will handle domestic requests for materials are under development and will be published for public comment following review by the office of management and budget. The changes, made to a law that is commonly known as Smith-Mundt, will take effect on July 2, 2013.

In reports delivered to the Board, leadership of the BBG-supported broadcasters outlined new strategies, programming and platforms that are being used to bring the light of truth to conflict zones.  Voice of America Director David Ensor detailed new initiatives in Africa, including an SMS service in Nigeria, new FM and mobile services in Mali, and a new FM service in South Sudan. Acting President for RFE/RL Kevin Klose stressed the importance of the free, independent, fact-based journalism in transitioning societies and thanked the BBG for its assistance in providing shortwave transmissions for their Uzbek and to Turkmen services at “the exact time it was needed.” Radio Free Asia President Libby Liu presented a video made by RFA journalists of violent communal clashes in Burma – the only video known to have made it out of the country.  Office of Cuba Broadcasting President Carlos Garcia-Perez and Middle East Broadcasting Networks President Brian Conniff also provided reports.

Governor Meehan also took a moment to recognize the “tireless and selfless service” of Dennis Mulhaupt, who resigned from the Board earlier in the week. As a result of his departure, Governor Susan McCue will chair the RFE/RL corporate board and Governor Victor Ashe will serve as vice chair. Governor Ashe was also chosen to chair the audit committee for RFE/RL.

The Governance Committee will recommend to the full Board that Susan McCue become the committee chair.

Under a new policy, members of the public who had registered to attend the meeting were given the opportunity to speak for up to three minutes.

The Board will reconvene on April 24 and plans to hold a town hall meeting on May 15.  Further details will be posted on www.bbg.gov as they become available.

Video of the board meeting can be viewed here.

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