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Overhaul of U.S. International Broadcasting Proposed

House bill would “improve efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility” of U.S. international broadcasting

A newly drafted bill introduced and referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week would reform U.S. international media outreach.

Bill sponsor California Republican Rep. Edward Royce says the objective of H.R. 4490 “United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014” is to improve efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility of United States international broadcasting and calls for the creation of the United States International Communications Agency.

“The size and makeup of the BBG workforce should be closely examined … to ensure that more taxpayer dollars are dedicated to the substantive, broadcasting and information-related elements of the agency’s mission,” states Royce in the bill. For example, “the lack of a coherent and well-defined mission of the Voice of America” has led to duplicative programming efforts in the BBG’s other broadcast services.

A chief executive officer position would be established to coordinate efforts among the various BBG broadcast efforts should the measure pass. In addition, the VOA’s mission would broaden beyond promoting democracy to providing “programming within its public diplomacy mandate of the United States” and producing related original programming, including coverage of U.S. foreign policy, international organizations and economic developments.

The move comes at a time of criticism of the current management and structure of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the bipartisan federal entity that sets funding and gives direction to its various broadcast organizations, which include Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio TV/Marti and the Middle East Broadcast Networks and Radio Free Asia.

BBG critics say they find the agency’s patchwork of network services outdated and inflexible at a time of increasing global competition. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the organization “practically defunct” during congressional testimony in 2013.

More recently, the BBG has said the organization believes it will become more nimble and streamlined under its FY2015 request of $721.26 million. Its five broadcast networks reached some 200 million people per week in 2013, according to BBG estimates.

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