Voice of America Worries House Bill Would Harm Integrity

Wednesday, 30 Jul 2014 05:29 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Voice of America officials are concerned that a new House bill to overhaul U.S.-controlled international broadcasting will have a "devastating" effect on the network's journalistic integrity if it is signed into law.

Earlier this week, the House passed a bill to overhaul international broadcasting, including the VOA, four other government-financed broadcasters and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the group that oversees all of them, the Voice of America reported on its website.

According to House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, the bill was spurred by a need for the United States to counter Russian propaganda in the Ukraine region. If passed by the Senate, the bill could help the United States fight the spread of propaganda in China and other countries as well.

"Who is going to offset that propaganda?" Royce told the VOA. "Our best weapon in this informational battle, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the BBG, is totally defunct."

The committee chairman, appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday, said the bill, if passed, also would help add enforcement to sanctions that have been put into place this week against Russia's banking, financial, and energy sectors.

"The other thing that's beginning to have an impact is the sources of information that are coming into Russia," Royce said on the MSNBC program. "We passed legislation to broadcast again, like we did with Radio Free Europe [and] Radio Liberty in the 1980s, to broadcast the truth in Russia about what's actually happening to offset some of that propaganda, and that also will undercut [Russian President Vladimir] Putin."
 
But some VOA journalists, including former Deputy Director Alan Heil, said that while they agree management changes are needed, they are still worried about language in the bill that calls for it and other networks to promote U.S. foreign policy but still remain a fair news source.

In addition, the bill would also limit the VOA's news coverage to items about U.S. news and policy, reducing its scope from world news.

"If that bill becomes law, VOA's worldwide following on radio, TV, and online channels would plummet precipitously," Heil said. "The Voice's greatest asset, its credibility, would be in shreds."

The bill, which passed by a voice vote, would reduce the Broadcasting Board of Governors to an advisory role, and a full-time CEO would be appointed to run the U.S.-financed international broadcasts.

The measure also would define the role of the Voice of America, Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said.

"Voice of America, for example, will now confine itself to its public diplomacy mission, to foster positive relationships between the United States and the rest of the world," he said.

But Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire is also urging U.S. authorities to reconsider the plan, which he says would transform the VOA, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Free Asia, among others, into diplomatic communication tools while "adopting the attitudes of informational warfare."


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