A group of U.S. lawmakers is seeking to overhaul the country's international news and programming broadcasts, saying they should be consistent with and supportive of the country's foreign policy objectives.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, said the body that oversees U.S. foreign broadcasting operations, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is "badly broken" and should be replaced.
Voice of America is overseen by the BBG. If the new legislation passes, it would be governed by a new supervisory body, to be called the U.S. International Communications Agency.
Royce said Wednesday the reorganization is necessary to bolster U.S. broadcasting in the face of growing competition from Russian, Chinese and other foreign international broadcasters.
"Unlike decades past, today's media landscape is highly competitive. Other countries are sprinting forward," Royce said. "We're still standing still."
Eliot Engel, a co-sponsor and the leading Democratic Party member on the committee, stressed the importance that the broadcasting agencies retain their reputation for accurate, unbiased reporting.
“Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this bill maintains the requirement that U.S.-funded programming serve as objective sources of news and information, and not simply as a mouthpiece for U.S. foreign policy," he said. "It’s absolutely critical that the news be accurate and seen as credible by the foreign audiences we’re trying to reach."
VOA Director David Ensor said the organization does not comment on pending legislation. "VOA continues to carry out its important mission providing reliable, accurate and comprehensive news. It currently reaches an estimated 164 million people around the world each week."
Royce and the Democratic and Republican lawmakers co-sponsoring the legislation are seeking to consolidate some half-dozen U.S. international broadcasting agencies into just two. Their legislation says VOA should focus on coverage of the United States and international developments that affect the U.S.
The bill said VOA should air newscasts that promote and are consistent with "the broad foreign policies of the United States."
Currently, VOA operates under a 1976 charter that requires that it serve as a "consistently reliable and authoritative source of news" that is "accurate, objective and comprehensive." The charter also requires that VOA present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.
The measure also says U.S.-funded broadcasting overseas should not duplicate the activities of American commercial broadcasters.
The legislation calls for the existing BBG governors to complete their terms as governors of the new International Communications Agency. However, a new chief executive would be appointed to oversee the agency's day-to-day operations.
The three U.S. broadcasting arms that target specific regions of the world -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network -- would be merged into a new "Freedom News Network." The network would focus on providing uncensored local and regional news and analysis to countries where free media do not exist.
The bill would leave VOA as "the flagship brand" of the new agency, offering "accurate, objective and comprehensive" news of the United States, its policies, its people and international developments of interest to the U.S. The Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which operates Radio and TV Marti, would continue its current activities "within" VOA.
The Foreign Affairs Committee started consideration of the reforms Wednesday, but the overall fate of the legislation is uncertain. Even if it is passed in the House of Representatives, it would have to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.
Over the years, numerous U.S. officials have sought to reorganize the government's international broadcasting operations, often debating whether the United States should provide an independent source of news to countries without a free press or be more an arm of U.S. diplomatic efforts.
One critic was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is considering whether to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. Before she left office in early 2013, she described the Broadcasting Board of Governors as "practically defunct in terms of its capacity to tell a message around the world."