ICYMI: WSJ EDITORIAL -- A New Voice of America: U.S. international broadcasting gets a 21st-century upgrade.

May 7, 2014

The following editorial from the Wall Street Journal welcomes bipartisan efforts to reform U.S. international broadcasting.  Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the legislation and the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed the measure last week. 

A New Voice of America

U.S. international broadcasting gets a 21st-century upgrade.
Updated May 6, 2014 5:16 p.m. ET

Voice of America and Radio Free Europe played an important role in winning the war of ideas against Communism during the Cold War. But more recently the U.S. international-broadcasting system has suffered mission drift: Its programs have at times run counter to U.S. foreign-policy objectives, and its massive bureaucracy is inefficient. Meanwhile, Washington's adversaries have created slick broadcast organs, such as the Kremlin's Russia Today and Beijing's CCTV, to advance their strategic interests and disseminate their illiberal worldviews.

So it's welcome news that the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bipartisan package of reforms designed to address long-standing governance problems in the system. The legislation would create a new U.S. International Communications Agency, with a full-time CEO, to administer Voice of America and the various "Freedom" broadcasters, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Network.

The agency would replace the current Broadcasting Board of Governors, a nine-member board of part-time overseers that has proved "practically defunct in terms of its capacity to tell a message around the world," as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in 2013, despite roughly $700 million in annual funding. Crucially, the legislation would also clarify the mission of Voice of America: to support U.S. foreign-policy goals. The "Freedom" broadcasters, which are meant to serve as a "surrogate" press in closed societies, will be consolidated under one administrative roof and required to share content and avoid duplicating efforts.

A full-time director is essential for holding taxpayer-funded broadcasters accountable. We've documented quality-control lapses at Voice of America in these pages. "Despite several reminders, we still see texts that are directly copied and pasted from Persian news sources," a Voice of America Persian editor warned his colleagues in a 2012 email obtained by the Journal. The same year, Voice of America ran a softball interview with an Iranian nuclear negotiator that could have aired on Iranian state TV but for the fact that the American government had funded it. U.S. taxpayers shouldn't tolerate such programs.

Voice of America needn't become a crude propagandistic outlet. "You need to have an open mind but not so much that your brains fall out," as Jeff Gedmin, a former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, told us. "If you need to run an interview with a regime figure, do it—but frame it, rebut it. Make it clear that we're not moral relativists, that we're not sympathizers of the regime." By ensuring that Voice of America reflects American interests, and improving the system's governance, the House reform package will help retool U.S. broadcasters for the new war of ideas.

Read this WSJ editorial online HERE.

###