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BBG Makeover Discussed in U.S. Senate Committee Hearing

Splitting of the board is suggested along with consolidation of some programs

The day after the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) released its global audience estimates the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations discussed a new two-tier structure for U.S. international broadcasting.

Committee chair Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and other committee members heard testimony from BBG representatives about the need for U.S. international broadcasting to remain relevant in the face of the global explosion of information and social media.

The committee also discussed a bill crafted by the House of Representatives (H.R. 2323) to divide the governing body into two separate independent boards and consolidate three grantees — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015 would create a Freedom News Network as the umbrella organization for the grantees. It also establishes the United States International Communications Agency, consisting of the Voice of America (VOA) and the offices of the International Broadcasting Bureau.

Radio and TV Martí, which constitute the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, would continue to exist within VOA.

Corker in his opening statements called the House proposal a “sensible bill” and reiterated the need for the BBG to be “retooled” to become more efficient with better coordination in the long haul.

BBG Chairman Jeff Shell was highly critical of any plan to divide the current governing body.

“We are an organization with one mission and I think having two boards and two CEOs makes no sense,” Shell said.

Shell also talked about giving the CEO additional authority with institutional powers to make decisions and agreed with the need to consolidate the grantees. “A consolidation within one organization would simplify our operations.”

BBG CEO and Director John Lansing was also critical of any plan to create a two-board structure to lead U.S. international broadcasting. “It would needlessly create dueling CEOs and dueling boards,” he said.