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BBG Asks Congress for More CEO Power

The board chair and CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, both familiar names in broadcasting and cable circles, asked Congress to give that CEO position more power and BBG more flexibility to fund its operations.

That came in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering possible reforms to BBG.

BBG oversees government backed international media outlets including VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

Testifying were new CEO John Lansing, former president of Scripps Networks, and Jeff Shell, BBG board chair and, in his day job, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.

In his testimony, Shell said BBG had already given Lansing as much power as it could "legally delegate" to Lansing, recognizing there was so only so much a board whose members all had other jobs, could do.

"First, and foremost, we need the Congress to fully enshrine the CEO as the operational lead at BBG," he said, including the power to redirect resources without having to go to the full board every time for a vote.

Currently the board can't delegate that spending authority, which means not a penny can be shifted, "even under the most urgent of circumstances," without that board vote.

He also said BBG needs to be able to get funding, either from other agencies or from its own fund, to support "surges," when it is asked to shift its resources quickly to hot spots.

Lansing seconded Shells' call for a stronger CEO position. "We need legislation 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," he said.

Lansing also said any media company in this day and age that is not remaking itself risks irrelevancy.

At the hearing, Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that BBG needed "reorganizing" to be "a more effective voice." He said Lansing's appointment was a step in the right direction, and supported boosting his powers.

He said that BBG is not sufficiently prioritizing language services and broadcasters "aren't being held accountable for achieving results."

The House has proposed a BBG reform bill, and Corker said the committee is vetting that proposal.

Ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he also supported a stronger CEO and recognized that BBG needed reforming. He said while the world moves quickly, BBG does not have the flexibility to put its resources where they are needed when they are needed.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.