The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is an independent agency of the United States government. Its goal is to "deliver accurate news and information to significant and strategic audiences overseas... and to serve as a trustworthy source of news and as an example of a free, professional press in countries that lack independent media." The BBG supervises Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio y Television Marti, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcast Networks.
Starting in 1990, all U.S. government international broadcasting services began to work more closely together. That year the U.S. Information Agency, then Voice of America's (VOA) parent agency, established the Bureau of Broadcasting to consolidate its three broadcasting services – the Voice of America, WORLDNET Television and Film Service, and Radio y Televisión Martí – under one umbrella organization, supported by a single Office of Engineering and Technical Operations.
In 1991, the Bureau created the Office of Affiliate Relations and Audience Analysis (later renamed the Office of Affiliate Relations and Media Training in 1996) to establish and maintain a network of "affiliated" radio and TV stations around the globe that would broadcast VOA- and WORLDNET-produced programs. Today more than 1,200 radio and TV stations receive programming through the Office of Affiliate Relations.
International broadcasting by the U.S government was consolidated even further when President Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act (Public Law 103-236) on April 30, 1994. The legislation established the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) within the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and created a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with oversight authority over all international non-military government broadcasting.
The BBG oversees the International Broadcasting Bureau, which provides multimedia broadcast distribution, as well as technical and administrative support to the broadcasting networks. The IBB manages a global network of transmitting sites and an extensive system of leased satellite and fibre optic circuits, along with a rapidly growing Internet delivery system servicing the 61 languages of the BBG networks.
The bipartisan BBG includes the Secretary of State (ex officio) and eight members appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The first Broadcasting Board of Governors was sworn in on August 11, 1995.
The BBG became an independent, autonomous entity on October 1, 1999 as a consequence of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998 (). The BBG has 3,592 employees and a budget of US$733 million as of 2014.
The BBG is headed by a bi-partisan board with nine members; eight are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The ninth member ex officio is the Secretary of State. By law, no more than four members shall be from the same political party. The president designates one member (other than the Secretary of State) to serve as Chairman. The Board serves as a "firewall" against political interference in the journalistic product.
As of June 2016, the board members are:
- Jeffrey Shell, chairman
- Matthew Armstrong
- Dr. Leon Aron
- Ambassador Ryan Crocker
- Michael Kempner
- Ambassador Karen Kornbluh
- Secretary of State John Kerry, ex-officio
- Kenneth R. Weinstein
Past members of the board have included:
- Norman J. Pattiz (May 2000 – March 2006)
- David W. Burke (August 1995 - 2002)
- Edward E. Kaufman (August 1995 - December 2008)
- Kenneth Y. Tomlinson August 2002–
- Walter Isaacson (July 2010 - January 2012)
- Dana Perino (July 2010 - December 2012)
- Victor Ashe (June 2010 - 2013)
- Michael Lynton (July 2010 - May 2013)
- Susan McCue (July 2010 - May 2014)
Functions and supervised organizations
The BBG supervises the following independent broadcasting organizations, which collectively broadcast in 61 languages in more than 125 markets around the world:
- Voice of America (VOA)
- The Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc (MBN). MBN includes Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa.
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) RFE/RL includes Radio Farda, Radio Azadi and Radio Mashaal
- Radio Free Asia (RFA)
- Radio Marti and TV Marti
The Voice of America provides international, regional, and local news, as well as in-depth coverage of the U.S. and its policies.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia provide their respective European and Asian audiences with an emphasis on domestic events that are denied by their own media. Radio and TV Martḯ broadcast to Cuba, while Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa provide the Middle East and Northern Africa with a full range of international, regional and local news, as well as coverage of the United States.
According to a 2016 fact-sheet, BBG has a weekly, unduplicated audience of 226 million people through television, radio, and internet media. BBG networks broadcast in 100 countries and 61 languages.
The BBG solicits annual funding from Congress via a proposed budget summary, which can be found on the BBG website. The Board submits an annual budget submission in which they lay out specific initiatives. Initiatives in 2011 included improving the global satellite distribution capacity, creating Radio Free Asia video programming and improving distribution of Voice of America content.
Announced in April 2011, the BBG will receive $10 million from Congress for the purpose of fighting Internet censorship. Throughout the federal funding dispute for the financial year 2011, President Obama sided with the BBG agreeing to language that the organisation would “expand unrestricted access to information on the Internet.” This work includes anti-censorships campaigns in China and additional repressive regimes.
Controversy and Criticisms
In February 2010, BBG Executive Director Jeff Trimble collaborated with the National Security Council to publish a VOA statement about Iran's jamming of international satellites. Critics accused BBG of toning down their criticism to suit the Foreign Policy goals of the administration, violating the "firewall" that the BBG was supposed to provide between the government and the journalism it sponsors. In an email to Foreign Policy magazine, BBG's Public Affairs Director responded to the controversy and stated "the BBG 'firewall' serves to protect the integrity and credibility of our journalistic products. An official policy statement by a senior management official of the agency isn't a journalistic product."
Later that year, Senator Tom Coburn held up the Obama administration's appointments of Michael Meehan and Dana Perino to the board, with the aim of drawing attention to the organization's perceived ineffectiveness, stating in an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine: "The BBG is the most worthless organisation in the federal government. It's full of people who know nothing about media or foreign policy." Senator Jim DeMint additionally attempted to use the nominations to force a hearing on the BBG after frustrations with a perceived lack of congressional oversight over the organization. Coburn had written an open letter to then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in August 2010 citing "longstanding concerns regarding transparency and effectiveness of our taxpayer funded international broadcasting agencies under the purview of the Broadcasting Board of Governors." Though a report on BBG was eventually given to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Coburn was ultimately unsuccessful in trying to block the appointments to the board.
In a January 2015 interview with the New York Times, the newly-appointed CEO of the BBG, Andrew Lack, said “We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram." Russia Today fired back with a comment from their editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan saying "We are extremely outraged that the new head of the BBG mentions RT in the same breath asworld’s [sic] number one terrorist army. We see this as an international scandal and demand an explanation." State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki clarified Lack's statement in her January 23 press briefing, saying "would the U.S. Government put those three in the same category? No, we wouldn’t. Notwithstanding there are concerns...that Russia’s own independent media space is shrinking and the Kremlin continues to apply pressure on the few remaining outlets."