BBG Restructuring Prompts Concerns About Trump Control

Congress' approval of a Broadcasting Board of Governors' restructuring has prompted a raft of stories positing the potential for the Trump Administration to use BBG as a propaganda arm.

Before the Senate left for the holidays, it passed a National Defense Authorization Act that included the House-passed BBG provisions.

Among other things, the new law abolishes the board of governors (people) that oversees the Broadcasting Board of Governors (media outlets/news operations) and concentrates authority in the CEO of BBG, who is appointed by the President.

Related: Music Groups to Trump: Computer Companies Can Do Better

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

The board would actually be transitioned to an advisory board, advising the CEO, then phased out.

The International Broadcasting Advisory Board, as it is being called, will eventually consist of five members, including the Secretary of State, serving three-year terms. In the near term, it could be more since the current Broadcasting Board of Governors will get to serve on that board initially until their current terms expire.

Related: President-Elect Trump Turns to Tech

Members of the advisory board cannot be government officials but will be "distinguished in the fields of public diplomacy, mass communications, print, broadcast or digital media, or foreign affairs," the bill says.

The position of Director of International Broadcasting is being eliminated, with that authority transferring to the CEO.

Under the bill, the CEO can meld all but VOA into a "single, consolidated private, non-profit corporation" under his or her control, "which may broadcast and provide news and information to audiences wherever the agency may broadcast, for activities that the CEO determines are consistent with the purposes of this Act" and can select, "any name for such a consolidated grantee [the services are all funded by government grants]."

Related: Homeland Security Committee Chair Backs Russia Hack Probe

The mission of that consolidated corporation would be to 1) counter state-sponsored propaganda, 2) provide uncensored local and regional news and analysis, 3) help countries help themselves in terms of indigenous news capabilities and 4) promote unrestricted access to uncensored information sources, especially the internet.

It is the "countering of state-sponsored propaganda" that has some concerned that the Trump Administration could interpret that as being an opportunity to counter with pro-America propaganda rather than facts and such, or even target the U.S with propaganda.

John Eggerton

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.