- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Obama administration is sharply restructuring the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency in charge of all U.S. government broadcasting, while being urged to increase the spread of unfettered news and information around the world.

Cuts in official U.S. radio broadcasting to Russia and the Middle East since 2001 and plans to end Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts to China in October have sown “chaos and confusion” in the agency, one senior agency official said.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is shifting broadcasts from radio to the Internet and social media.

Critics say the move will make programs more vulnerable to disruption by governments that oppose U.S. efforts to promote democracy and freedom.

The cuts are being made after a popular democratic uprising in Iran, the “Arab Spring” anti-government movement in the Middle East and mounting pressure inside China for democratic change.

“I have serious reservations about the direction of U.S. international broadcasting,” said Blanquita Cullum, a former board governor.

“I believe the intended outcome of the BBG’s strategic plan will leave many people in nondemocratic countries without access to critical news and information from our direct radio broadcasts.”

Current and former officials involved in U.S. government broadcasting for several networks, including the flagship VOA, said in interviews and emails that cutting costs and the shift to online broadcasting are devastating the organization at a time when promotion of key U.S. values is urgently needed in places such as China and the Middle East.

New leadership

The nine-member BBG, an independent federal agency that includes Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as a board member, directs five major networks: VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio and TV Marti, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) called Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television.

Its stated mission is to “promote freedom and democracy” through multimedia communication using “accurate, objective and balanced news, information, and other programming” about the United States around the world.

The agency has about 760 employees, and its budget request for fiscal 2012 is $767 million.

The changes began in April when Richard M. Lobo - head of the support staff working under the BBG, called the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) - was appointed BBG executive director.

An internal BBG document from June stated that the board had delegated broad power to Mr. Lobo, including day-to-day management of all agencies and authority to make decisions about “trade-offs and conflicts” for the broadcasters.

Mr. Lobo, a former public broadcasting station president in southwestern Florida, stated in a July 22 email to employees that “given today’s budgetary climate, we are focused on ways to centralize leadership direction, streamline management and support functions, and eliminate duplication.”

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