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Can House Members Save Pro-Democracy Broadcasting?

SLOVYANSK, UKRAINE - APRIL 26: Pro-Russian militants stand guard outside the Ukraine Security Service building on April 26, 2014 in Slovyansk, Ukraine. Yesterday pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine took several military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) hostage. Several bands of pro-Russian activists, similar to those in Slovyansk, have been occupying government buildings and manning highway roadblocks in many towns in Eastern Ukraine. Scott Olson/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of House members has proposed legislation to fix the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which some say has become such a bureaucratic mess that it can't fulfill its mission of producing pro-democracy broadcasting around the world.

For decades now, the U.S. government has beamed broadcasts to counter the lack of a free media in some countries. Pro-democracy broadcasts have been aimed at Cuba for many years, and just recently, Congress authorized a boost to these broadcasts to Ukraine, to counter what members say is Russian propaganda in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Pro-Russian militants stand guard outside the Ukraine Security Service building on April 26, 2014 in Slovyansk, Ukraine. Congress has authorized pro-democracy broadcasting to Ukraine to counter Russia's influence in that country. (Getty Images/Scott Olson)

But members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee argue that the BBG has become a tangled bureaucracy that can no longer oversee these broadcasts efficiently. Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who sponsored the bill, say the body needs to be dramatically reorganized.

“U.S. broadcasting has been seriously hampered by a deeply flawed bureaucratic structure that includes a convoluted mix of six overlapping organizations without full-time leadership,” they wrote in a letter to members of the committee seeking support for the bill.

“Indeed, then-Secretary Hilary Clinton testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee that the ‘Broadcasting Board of Governors is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world,’” they wrote. “This dysfunction has been cited by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and others.”

To fix the problem, their legislation create two new categories of broadcasters with “clear missions.” One would “share America’s story” by covering U.S. news and culture, and another would provide uncensored local news to areas of the world without a free media. The bill would also create a CEO with the power to oversee the BBG’s operations, and save money by cutting out duplicative layers of the bureaucracy.

Elsewhere, the bill would require better coordination with the Department of State to ensure U.S. broadcasts are advancing U.S. interests.

Other sponsors of the House bill are Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Bill Keating (D-Mass.), and Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.). All are members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

One last thing…
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