Noonan is the executive director for the Committee
for U.S. International Broadcasting.
all know that there are many parts of the world where people continue
to beg for words — words about the current state of affairs, words
about respect for human rights, words about the gift of hope. People
are hungry for freedom of expression and for unbiased information.
People everywhere want access to uncensored news, and they themselves
want to be heard.
also a strong global drive, especially among younger and more
educated citizens, to move the message of human rights from words to
deeds. That drive is equally strongly resisted by various
governments, which fear that words can lead to successful actions in
support of freedom and democracy.
the same time, large numbers of people abroad support ideas that most
Americans would find troubling. We cannot pretend otherwise and be
indifferent to these issues. America’s security and economic
prosperity depend on how its own message and its image are presented
abroad, and whether U.S. international broadcasting can deliver
credible news and opinions to those who need them most, especially in
countries without media freedom and among people who are suspicious
of America’s intentions and who have doubts about democracy.
free flow of information is a cornerstone of democracy and human
rights. That is why American taxpayers have supported the different
missions of the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,
Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting
Network (Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV). Each one of these
taxpayer-funded media entities with a goal of serving foreign
audiences is an important national asset that needs to be protected
this kind of radio programming is one of America’s best and least
costly investments in national security. U.S. international
broadcasting can save American lives. It is tragic that it has fallen
into a state of deep managerial crisis.
an effort to bring U.S. international broadcasting out of this
crisis, the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting was pleased
to meet in New York with Jeff Shell, then president of NBC Universal
International, during his first full business day as the Broadcasting
Board of Governors chair. (He subsequently has been promoted to
president of Universal Filmed Entertainment.)
meeting gave hope to CUSIB that the lines of communication are again
open and that taxpayers will be able to make sure that America is
making wise choices in its international media outreach. We were also
encouraged by Mr. Shell’s subsequent statements about how the best
way to showcase freedom and democracy is through free media.
his meeting with CUSIB, Mr. Shell heard firsthand accounts about how
Iran’s democracy-seeking youth rely upon accurate information from
the U.S. to be shared with them on their smartphones. He heard about
the importance of radio broadcasts to Tibet, where the number of
self-immolations continues to rise as a desperate attempt to bring
awareness of the plight of the Tibetans. He met with a CUSIB member
who spent five years in Laogai, China’s archipelago of forced labor
camps, because of her support for democracy.
Shell listened to another CUSIB member discuss Cuba, the great
lengths Cuban dissidents will go to in order to get information, and
the risks they face just to make sure their plight is known.
Afterwards, one CUSIB member stated: “I trust that Mr. Shell left
this meeting deeply impressed with the weight of his
responsibility.” CUSIB also looks forward to meeting with
Ambassador Crocker and Matthew Armstrong, the two other new BBG
members. CUSIB also intends to meet with Kenneth Weinstein, who has
most recently been confirmed by the Senate to serve on the BBG.
works hard to protect journalists in nations where media freedom does
not exist. Our members are all volunteers. This assures that we are
beholden to no one. We are also non-partisan. We were honored to
welcome former BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe to CUSIB’s board,
and we have had useful exchanges with two outstanding BBG members,
Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, who together with Victor Ashe had
made strong initial progress to re-establish public oversight and
control over the government bureaucracy that has made U.S.
international broadcasting nearly “defunct” and “dysfunctional,”
to use former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s words.
NGO makes no efforts to impact the particular content of news stories
transmitted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, but we do make
every effort to support the journalists who report about human rights
and other issues. We want to be sure that they are treated properly
by the management and have sufficient resources to do their important
are one of the few organizations in the U.S. that specifically cares
about and supports U.S. international broadcasting, and we believe
that a new strategic vision needs to be articulated for it.
CUSIB nor American taxpayers want the BBG to tailor its program
content to become a commercial success, which seems to be the
direction the bureaucracy has taken the BBG — but failed to deliver
even on these faulty goals. That is not why U.S. international
broadcasting was created by Congress.
expect the BBG to specialize in reporting news and opinions that
audiences abroad cannot get from other sources, particularly their
own media, and to report and deliver such news and opinions to people
in places like Cuba, Iran, Russia and China. CUSIB is seriously
concerned that this strategic vision has been compromised by years of
neglect and wrong choices by the central Washington administration,
which has little connection to foreign audiences.
have seen the weakening of news reporting and the loss of
specialization by various BBG entities as a result of mandates
imposed on them from above. We have seen also-important language
services and their programs being eliminated or proposed for
elimination while the central administration continued to grow.
now propose even more centralization and more central planning. These
proposals must be resisted.
to promises made by the BBG, elimination of broadcasts and reduced
original news reporting have not resulted in greater audience
engagement through social media.
is particularly evident at the Voice of America, which has fallen far
behind BBC, Al Jazeera and Russia Today in every measurable category.
Because of our particular concerns with underserved, poor and
repressed audiences, we are committed to the use of all means of
reaching them, not just through the Internet, but also relying on
shortwave radio broadcasts where they are still needed,
direct-to-home satellite television and other creative technologies.
believe that individual BBG entities are in the best position to
decide what mix of new and traditional media works best for their
audiences in various countries. We believe strongly in the primacy of
the news and delivering the news through multiple media. We see radio
and television news journalism not as obstacles to progress but as
important contributors of multimedia content.
merging of traditional and new media has been one of the IBB
bureaucracy’s biggest failures. This problem must be addressed by
the new board as soon as possible.
Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi underscored the importance of
VOA and RFA radio for freedom advocates in oppressed nations,
including her homeland of Burma, during a visit to the BBG office in
Washington on Sept. 18 last year.
Chinese human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng also publicly expressed
his appreciation of the value of radio broadcasting to China. Radio
can be the lifeline for poor people in many places in the world who
do not have television or Internet access. Radio is cheap, and unlike
those who use computers, radio listeners cannot be monitored. We hope
that Mr. Shell and the BBG board will work to strengthen both radio
and television broadcasting as important news generating assets of a
multimedia expansion strategy.
believes that the BBG is not designed to run as a business. It is not
expected to provide soft news and entertainment to achieve maximum
ratings or to appease repressive governments. It requires good
management and public oversight.
concern was highlighted this past June by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) at
a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing when he asked, “What has
to happen so that [the BBG] actually behaves like a news network so
that the Iranian people can get good, can get clear, real news from
will support any effort by Mr. Shell and other BBG board members to
change the management culture at the International Broadcasting
Bureau and the Voice of America, to improve employee morale, and to
make news reporting a priority.
on free expression, intimidation of employees, illegal firings,
refusals to answer questions from journalists and attacks on
journalists by government executives in charge of managing the agency
must be stopped. It is the first step to reforming U.S. international
appreciates the importance of both Voice of America and surrogate
broadcasting and hopes that under Mr. Shell’s tenure, their roles
will be supported. CUSIB does not accept the myth that these
different missions duplicate each other. VOA Cantonese, Mandarin and
Tibetan services provide news and opinions from the United States as
mandated by the U.S. Congress in the Voice of America Charter.
Free Asia has a separate congressional mandate and does tremendous
work with local journalists. Voice of America’s identity and
success abroad are tied to being identified with the United States.
VOA cannot be a successful surrogate broadcaster, just as RFA cannot
be a successful representative for all of America.
many of the European nations, the U.S. does not have a tradition of
government-supported domestic media. Such a concept is alien to most
Americans. NPR and PBS get only a small fraction of their funding
directly from Congress.
constitution specifically says that the government shall not restrict
free media. The concept of domestic government media repels a lot of
Americans. We saw it with the harmful and unnecessary media
controversy over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, around which the
BBG’s executive staff did not predict the fallout and as a result
had no plan to deal with it. It is one of the many examples of the
agency being badly led at the bureaucratic level.
seems to us that all too often, the Washington-centered bureaucracy
cares little about specific audiences abroad and even fails to
understand American politics. It is highly unlikely that U.S.
international broadcasting would ever emerge as another global,
“BBC-like” public media outlet serving both the U.S. and
audiences abroad, with American taxpayers gladly paying for it with
their tax money.
are generous and humanitarian-minded people willing to support a
well-defined and targeted U.S. international broadcasting mission
abroad that has a strong media freedom and human rights purpose.
CUSIB hopes that the new BBG board will work to advance such a
mission under the leadership of its Chairman Shell.
may not agree on everything, but we fully share his statement that
the BBG “has a lot of very good people who work for this
organization.” We must not let them down. We owe it to them and to
the American taxpayers to support highly-specialized U.S media
outlets, which international audiences will turn to as sources of
needed and trusted news and opinions.
live in a troubled and often dangerous world where freedom of the
press is still rare and attacks on freedom all too common. The
mission of U.S. international broadcasting is indeed to show freedom
and democracy at work through courageous and unbiased journalism.
describes itself as a
nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization working to strengthen free
flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries with
restricted and developing media environments.