CAPITOL HILL — A former leader of U.S. international broadcasting Wednesday urged Congress to re-organize the journalistic agency so that broadcasters follow foreign policy directives. The proposal came during a U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing critical of the management of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency that oversees the Voice of America and other international broadcasters.
The title of Wednesday's hearing gave away its main question: "The Broadcasting Board of Governors: An Agency Defunct." In January, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a congressional panel on Benghazi that the agency that oversees U.S. broadcasting, known as the BBG, is dysfunctional and practically "defunct." House Foreign Affairs Chairman, Republican Ed Royce stressed that the problem is not with the journalists working for Voice of America and other broadcasters.
"Each broadcasting service is full of enterprising reporters who literally risk their lives for what they do," Royce said.
But Royce and others at the hearing said that BBG's structure makes reporters' jobs more difficult and that the agency's overall mission is unclear in the post-Cold War era. An Inspector General report issued earlier this year concluded that the BBG is failing in its mandated duties. Committee member Eliot Engel, the senior Democrat on the panel, cited that report.
"And it attributed that failure to a flawed structure and strong internal dissention," Engel said.
James Glassman, a former BBG Chairman, said the BBG is not defunct, but alive and well and serving an audience of more than 200 million people worldwide each week. But Glassman called for ending the journalistic agency's independent status and putting it under the U.S. State Department.
"It should be made clear to the various broadcasting services that they are in the public sector and are part of the U.S. foreign policy team. This does not simply mean performing in a manner consistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States as the law states, but instead following actual strategic directives," Glassman said.
Glassman argued this would remove what he called "confusion" about the BBG's mission. The Voice of America is required by law to provide accurate, objective and comprehensive news, and to present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.
Among the witnesses at the hearing were two other former BBG governors who differed on the future management structure. All of them agreed that it is difficult for a part-time board to oversee all the broadcasters.
But Jeff Hirschberg, a former BBG Governor, strongly disagreed with Glassman that the Voice of America and other broadcasters should be put under the State Department.
"The most important thing that U.S. international broadcasting has in its favor around the world is its credibility," Hirschberg said.
Hirschberg stressed that doing away with individual broadcasters or putting them under the State Department would destroy credibility won through decades of maintaining journalistic integrity.
After the hearing, the BBG gave VOA a statement saying the current BBG board has been working on ways to address the structural issue, reduce overlap and promote innovation, with the aim of providing the best support possible for its award-winning journalists' work around the globe, under increasingly tight budget constraints.
Some lawmakers pointed out that other international broadcasters such as al-Jazeera operate with much bigger budgets, and called for more funds for the Voice of America and other broadcasters to help them compete on the world stage.