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BBG Meets to Discuss Programming Updates

Budget cuts loom heavily along with reform

The Broadcast Board of Governors knows it is in the middle of structural change. At its headquarters on Wednesday its board met for the first time since submitting its Fiscal Year 2018 budget request in late May. It’s clear the board understands the tight fiscal environment it is operating in as the agency pursues what it calls a “reform agenda” through enhanced collaboration between networks.

The BBG is the parent corporation to the five government-backed networks that make up U.S. international media: Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

The Trump administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for BBG of $685.1 million represents a 12.9 % reduction from the FY2017 enacted budget. It calls for the elimination of certain language service capacities and will shift even further away from shortwave transmission while optimizing information technology as it move to more effective media platforms, according to the BBG’s budget summary.

John Lansing, CEO and director of BBG, on Wednesday referred to Pres. Trump’s executive order to reorganize the executive branch.

“Under the executive order, the head of each agency is required to submit to the OMB an agency plan to reorganize governmental functions and to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies and agencies programs in order to improve efficiency,” Lansing said.

Lansing said the BBG is taking the executive order “very seriously” and has started taking internal and external input for the agency’s plan.

“I believe the BBG should be a leader among our peer agencies when it comes to setting a standard of excellence on how to run an agency responsibility and in line with private sector principles,” Lansing said.

Critics of the government agency call it ineffective and specifically point to Voice of America as being an outdated service that is falling short of its stated goals. Congress moved to overhaul the agency last year by mandating the BBG to dissolve its managing board, to be replaced by an advisory board, while appointing a single chief executive officer with additional authority. The CEO is to be selected by the president.

The smaller budget proposal will lead to service cuts at the BBG, as outlined in its FY2018 budget summary. Under the proposal the VOA will reduce radio broadcasting to Afghanistan, Indonesia, Rwanda and Burundi and Laos. VOA will consolidate its English language content, reduce programming in Thai, eliminate Cantonese programming, and maintain Mandarin but shift resources away from radio, toward more effective investments in next generation digital/social media content and technology. For example, VOA Mandarin will launch an internet-delivered 24/7 video news stream to China.

The government agency’s Technology, Services and Innovation Department will eliminate less-effective shortwave and medium-wave radio transmission frequencies in a move that is expected to trim $5 million from the BBG’s proposed budget. It also cuts $4.5 million from Radio Free Asia in a move that would sharply reduce Chinese language radio broadcasts into China. It shifts more RFA resources to social media, according to the BBG’s budget summary.

BBG claims a worldwide unduplicated audience of 278 million people in more than 100 countries broadcasting in 61 languages.