U.S. international broadcasters face cuts in staff, program and transmission across all networks, if the new Broadcasting Board of Governors federal budget request is approved. VOA Greek and RFE/RL Balkan services would be closed entirely.
“Some of these changes, if enacted, will be very difficult on the men and women involved,” said Michael Meehan, chairman of the board’s Strategy and Budget Committee, in a BBG press release summarizing the budget.
“We will do everything possible to minimize the impact on our employees through agency buyouts, early-out authority and reducing positions via attrition.”
The budget request continues the themes that BBG has sounded in recent years, of focusing spending on certain critical new markets, on realigning its traditional infrastructure and on building new digital media channels. The board said its request is intended to help U.S. international media meet its strategic priorities “in light of dynamic global media environments and current spending constraints.” It also renewed its push for a full-time CEO, which it described as an Obama administration priority.
For 2014, the board requested $731 million for U.S. international media. It includes $13.9 million to support initiatives to counter violent extremism. BBG wants to create a multi-channel, multi-language information and engagement initiative targeting youth in the Trans-Sahel region of Africa. It seeks better coverage in the Maghreb region, “birthplace of the Arab Spring.” It hopes to engage audiences in Burma by spending on content for distribution over TV satellite, local affiliates, mobile and other digital platforms. And it wants to “realign” transmission assets and upgrade other infrastructure, including less reliance on external leases.
There’s also $12.5 million in Internet anti-censorship funding.
The budget includes the previously reported proposal to establish a CEO for all civilian U.S. international media, intended to help improve the management and efficiency of BBG operations, “helping to mitigate the challenges of a part-time board.”
The FY 2014 budget request includes reductions across all BBG networks including the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and the International Broadcasting Bureau, “in part through efforts to continue to restructure operations and end duplication.”
The organization stated, “This includes rationalizing distribution through reductions of some cross-border (shortwave and medium-wave) broadcasts where they have the least impact, either because audiences are small, or because people prefer to access programs on other, more popular media, including FM radio, television, and the Internet.”