President Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget request for the Broadcasting Board of Governors reflects how changes in world relations can lead to reforms within the independent federal agency.
The agency, which oversees Voice of America, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and BBG-funded grantees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, seeks $751.5 million from Congress.
The FY2016 budget request also reveals the White House wants to begin the process of creating a new grantee that will combine the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and the VOA Latin American division. OCB administers Radio and Television Martí. The new grantee organization would be called the Spanish Language International Media.
“Under this plan and assuming regular appropriations order, the defederalization process will be completed in early FY2017 and the new defederalized organization will be fully operational by mid FY2017 and receive a BBG grant,” according to the recently-detailed BBG budget request.
The move would defederalize Martí at a time when the United States and Cuba have moved to normalize relations. Cuba is known to have one of the world’s most repressive media environments, according to international media observers.
Congress would need to approve the OCB changes, according to a BBG spokesperson.
The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting, a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization working to strengthen free flow of uncensored news from the U.S. to countries with restricted and developing media environments, remains supportive of the Martís. “While the president’s budget calls for the defederalization of OCB, we anticipate that this Congress will not approve that part of the budget,” said Ann Noonan, CUSIB co-founder.
The president’s FY2016 budget request also prioritizes investments to reach Russian-speaking audiences and increase outreach to key audiences to counter ISIL propaganda and recruitment efforts. It proposes further expansion of HDTV and digital media services.
The president’s budget request for fiscal year 2015 included $721 million for the BBG.