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New oversight for Voice of America, Radio Free Europe raises concerns
December 14, 2016 / 9:57 PM / a year ago

New oversight for Voice of America, Radio Free Europe raises concerns

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A defence policy bill that President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law this month will give President-elect Donald Trump greater influence over U.S. foreign broadcasting entities.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at the USA Thank You Tour event at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center in West Allis, Wisconsin, U.S., December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress last week includes a provision abolishing the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent body that oversees government-backed media outlets such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and replaces it with a chief executive nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The election victory of Republican businessman Trump, who has had a stormy relationship with some media outlets he accuses of being biased against him, has raised concerns among some officials about whether the media outlets can maintain their editorial independence under a Trump-appointed CEO.It is not clear, however, if the change is intended to give the president greater influence over news, information and fact-checking that U.S. government-supported broadcasters send to Russia, Cuba, China and other authoritarian states, or whether it is simply an effort to make those efforts more effective.

There has been support from both Republicans and Democrats for reorganizing the broadcasting operation to reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency.

A senior U.S. official familiar with the broadcasting agencies said he was not aware of the Trump transition team making contact with the Board of Broadcasting governors and associated agencies.

“We have no (concrete) indication that anything bad’s going to happen,” the official continued. 

Congressional aides familiar with the issue said they thought such concerns were overblown, noting that the chief executive must be confirmed by the Senate and that the organisation’s basic structure would remain in place, minus the nine-member board.

They said the reorganization plan was developed with input from members of both parties in Congress, as well as Democratic officials from the Obama White House.

However, some officials in the State Department and the U.S. intelligence community have said they are worried that Trump is not wary enough of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who considers Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s efforts “to promote democratic values” an attempt to undermine his government.

The board of governors would first be transitioned into an “International Broadcasting Advisory Board” to advise the new CEO, but that also would be phased out.

Additional reporting by Warren Strobel.; Editing by John Walcott and David Gregorio

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