Senate Report Questions BBG Structure and Continuation of Alhurra
June 24, 2010
may want to consider breaking up the Broadcasting Board of Governors and
shutting down Alhurra, the international Arabic-language news channel funded by
the United States. So states a report from the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee. The report addresses upheaval at the BBG, formed in 1994 to manage
U.S. broadcasting operations that include Voice of America, Alhurra and others.
“The average vacancy rate for a seat on board is more than 460 days. One seat
has been vacant for more than four years,” the report says.
The president nominates board members, who are charged with maintaining the
editorial independence of the various operations. The BBG has become
increasingly politicized in recent years to the point where President Obama’s
current nominations are stalled. Senate Republicans are critical of their lack
of broadcasting experience, according to
Policy. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) asked in April that he be consulted
before the nominees were confirmed by unanimous consent.
“I have longstanding concerns regarding the transparency and effectiveness of
our taxpayer-funded international broadcasting agencies under the purview of
the Broadcasting Board of Governors,” he wrote in a
to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) obtained by Foreign
The Senate report, dated June 9 and signed by Ranking Committee Member Richard
Lugar (R-Ind.), recommends confirming Obama’s nominees so the BBG can operate.
“Going forward, presidents should move with dispatch to fill vacancies and
should prioritize nominees with substantial international broadcasting
experience,” it states. “In the medium term, Congress must decide whether it is
time to consider another management structure if board staffing difficulties
The report covers several issues affecting U.S. broadcast operations, including
its reduction of shortwave radio frequencies. It questions the planned closure
of the last shortwave facility on U.S. soil, located in Greenville, N.C. It
also calls on Congress to revisit a 62-year-old law that prohibits U.S.
government broadcasting within the United States.
“Today... Russia and China and other entities currently broadcast in English in
the United States,” the report says. “Additionally, recent Arabic-speaking
immigrants to the United States are able to watch Al Jazeera but prevented by
Smith-Mundt from viewing Al Hurra. These realities, coupled with the rise of
the Internet, which enables computer users in the U.S. to receive video and
audio streams of BBG broadcasts and readily access BBG Web sites, demonstrate
that aspects of the legislation are both anachronistic and potentially
The report also notes how BBG operations are under increasing pressure from
antagonistic political regimes and competing media. The Chinese government
issued but two work visas for VOA correspondents in the last year and blocked
the organization’s attempt to open a bureau in Shanghai. Yet China’s state-run
Xinhau News has 75 correspondents in the United States, which issued 2,900
visas to Chinese journalists in the last year.
In Russia, the reports says journalists are “routinely abducted, tortured and
murdered with virtual impunity.” BBG services in Russia have dwindled in the
last few years, it says, and recommends intervention by the State Department.
Competition is trouncing Alhurra, the 24-hour Arabic-language news channel
launched throughout the Middle East in 2004.
“Alhurra... is expensive, and with the exception of Iraq, little watched elsewhere
in this vital region,” the report says. “Alhurra’s budget of some $90 million
surpasses the combined budgets of Radio Free Asia ($37 million), Radio/TV Marti
($30 million) and VOA’s Persian NewsNetwork Television ($17 million). Given the
crowded media environment of the Middle East, either greater resources must be devoted
to marketing and promotion or additional programming changes must be enacted in
pursuit of increasing the channel’s market share. Should these efforts fail to
improve the overall viewership levels, policy makers will have to decide if
continuing Alhurra’s operations is worth the costs.”
The 95-page report--“
International Broadcasting: Is Anybody Listening?”--provides further details
regarding Alhurra’s challenges and other issues plaguing the Broadcasting Board of Governors and
-- Deborah D. McAdams