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Shortwave Efficacy to Be Pondered at BBG

Board names special committee

The question of whether and how shortwave transmission should play a role in U.S. international broadcasting — in this age of the Internet, mobile and FM — remains a contentious one in that community. Examining the question anew will be a special committee at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The board also announced restructuring efforts aimed at improving the way it operates; and its recent meeting was the first for new board member Kenneth Weinstein. Two seats on the nine-person body remain vacant.

According to a summary, the board adopted a simplified structure that includes an Advisory Committee and special committees focused on strategic issues. One will define responsibilities of a chief executive officer of U.S. international broadcasting and initiate that search. Putting a CEO in place has been a goal of reform efforts at BBG for some time.

Another committee will examine the efficacy of shortwave radio transmissions, a longstanding debate point. Reformers generally have argued that traditional shortwave transmission is too costly compared to its benefits, while supporters say traditional shortwave infrastructure can reach remote areas and help avoid jamming and censorship, and thus should remain an important part of the BBG media strategy.

Named to that group were Governors Matthew Armstrong, Ryan Crocker, Michael Meehan and Kenneth Weinstein.

Following recommendations of its inspector general, the board also began using a consent agenda to adopt routine and non-controversial items. It named Paul Kollmer-Dorsey as general counsel, and noted the planned retirement of International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo. It also saluted two former employees who’d passed away: Jack Payton, newsman and senior editor at VOA; and Dave Strawman, recently retired manager of the BBG transmitting station in Tinang, the Philippines.

Chair Jeff Shell, who was confirmed to his seat on Aug. 1, acknowledged journalists that have been “harassed, threatened and wrongly” detained as a result of their work. BBG cited recent physical attacks on a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter and a Voice of America reporter in Afghanistan; the detainment and release of correspondents for RFE/RL in Astana and in Minsk; and the arrest and beating of a VOA correspondent in Angola. It cited instances in Iran and Azerbaijan; and called for the immediate release of Alhurra TV reporter Bashar Fahmi and other journalists in Syria.