BBG leaders urge Senate committee to target smart reform of U.S. international media

Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Jeff Shell, Governor Ken Weinstein and CEO and Director John Lansing testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) on November 17 to discuss the importance of United States international media and options for reform.

SFRC Chairman Bob Corker, who presided over the hearing, said in his opening remarks that the “BBG’s work is as critical as ever when authoritarian regimes around the world deprive their citizens of credible news and use sensational misinformation to undermine the credibility of democratic values and institutions.”

Ranking member Senator Ben Cardin added, “Despite the importance of U.S. international broadcasting, we have come to understand that the structure of the BBG has limited the effectiveness of its efforts….it is clear that reform is needed and that Congress has a central role to plays in strengthening its efforts.”

BBG Chairman Jeff Shell agreed and identified a number of structural improvements that would allow the agency to operate more effectively, including institutionalizing the position and power of the CEO and adding increased agility to the BBG’s operations to allow it to better surge its resources during overseas crises.

“While the Board has elected to delegate key powers to the CEO through its own volition, it is clear that we need to institutionalize this role through legislation so that all future Boards can benefit from expert operational leadership,” Shell explained.

Newly appointed CEO and Director John Lansing agreed, saying that the agency needs a CEO that is empowered to manage all operations and functions, including the ability to shift resources as needed and to appoint senior officials.

However, many improvements, he argued, have already been made.

“Regardless of these [needed] legislative fixes,” said Lansing, “My team and I have taken action internally to move the BBG into a more modern, impactful stance…. with the unanimous support of the Board, [I] am aggressively prioritizing five core themes to ensure the BBG is the 21st century media organization that the tax payers demand.”

He then outlined his strategic priorities: an emphasis on digital platforms, expanded coordination and content-sharing across the BBG networks and with other content producers, a focus on five key issue areas (including reporting on Russia, covering violent extremism, reporting on the expanding influence of Iran and China, and the promotion of fundamental freedoms in Cuba), and the emphasis on impact instead of simply reach.

Governor Weinstein also advocated for reform, citing the need to quickly respond to the technological changes and geopolitical crises that the BBG faces.

“US international media operates in an environment of rapid geopolitical change and growing instability in world affairs, he told the committee. “Last week’s horrific terror attacks in Paris are just the latest example of the challenging international environment, and one in which tragic events in one country are increasingly linked to those in others.”

The purpose of the hearing was to examine and get feedback on a reform bill introduced by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in May 2015, which includes a number of structural changes to the BBG. A second panel, which included former BBG member S. Enders Wimbush and former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Kevin Klose, immediately followed. A recording of the hearing, as well as testimonies from both panels, is available on the SFRC website.

 

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Contact Laurie Moy
Writer-Editor (Multimedia), Office of Public Affairs