If you were unaware that the United States has a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), whose job is to keep partisan agendas from creeping into taxpayer-funded international media outlets, you probably aren't alone.
But, the BBG does exist, and it currently oversees non-military media outlets such Voice of America, RadioFree Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
The BBG underwent a structural change a few years ago; a “CEO” position was created for the board, but the post had little power in determining the handling of business and managing of funds for the BBG. That is about to change.
Tucked into the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a provision that will “permanently establish the Chief Executive Officer position as head of the BBG...while removing the nine-member bipartisan Board that currently heads the agency,” according to an article at Broadcasting & Cable.
The change appears to stem, at least in part, from a request to Congress in 2015 by the BBG board Chair, Jeff Shell, and current CEO, John Lansing, to grant the current CEO position more autonomy in running and funding operations. At the time, Shell said:
“First, and foremost, we need the Congress to fully enshrine the CEO as the operational lead at BBG.”
Lansing concurred, going on to say:
“We need to enshrine a Chief Executive Officer position at the BBG who is empowered to manage all BBG operations and functions, including the ability to shift resources as needed and appoint senior officials.”
It looks like they are getting their wish. And the Obama administration-supported shift in power at the BBG is cause for editorial-worthy panic at The Washington Post.
Building on media fervor and breathless headlines about Russian interference in U.S. elections, the Post hints that the change at BBG could bring about a state media conglomerate worthy of praise by Putin.
The Post's editorial board goes on to imagine President-elect Trump's choice to fill the BBG's Chief Executive Office position:
With a confirming vote by the GOP-controlled Senate, President-elect Donald Trump will be able to install the editor of Breitbart News or another propagandist of his choice to direct how the United States is presented to the world by VOA, or how Russia is covered by RL. If Congress’s intention was for U.S. broadcasting to rival the Kremlin’s, it may well get its wish.
They worry that the new, power-hungry CEO of the BBG will install a panel of yes men:
The new reform, driven by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), enhances that executive’s power and makes him answerable to the White House rather than the bipartisan board. A new advisory panel will be created, but it will be toothless: Its members will also be nominated by the president from a pool provided by Congress.
And fret about the damage to the United States' global image under a Trump appointment:
Either way, there is likely to be an exodus of seasoned professionals from the surrogate broadcasters as well as VOA — meaning that U.S. international broadcasting, whatever its current deficiencies, is likely to get worse.
No one tell the Post that the BBG will also be a part of supporting another provision in the NDAA: the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act.