BBG CEO opposes plan to restructure US international broadcasting

John_Lansing by DHenderson
Photo by David Henderson

WASHINGTON – John Lansing, the new CEO and Director of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, pulled no punches as he discussed a proposed reorganization of America’s international broadcasting: he said it’s a mistake.

Ahead of Tuesday’s Senate hearing on options for changing the structure of U.S. government broadcasting, Lansing said one idea in particular makes no sense:  Dividing the governing structure into two separate, independent boards would only lead to confusion and wasted effort.

That two-board proposal is the heart of a bill that was approved by a House committee session last May. The bill has been strongly criticized by many, including former VOA Deputy Director Alan Heil.

Speaking at this month’s CCLP / Public Diplomacy lunch forum here, Lansing, a longtime journalist, emphasized that U.S. international broadcasting must always be about truth and credibility.

“Our ‘lane’ is journalism and credibility,” he said. “If we ever become propagandists, then we’ve given away the most important thing that we have, which is our credibility. Our message is based in the truth, not in some ulterior motive.”

Lansing said he has begun a first-ever series of meetings of all of the different U.S. international broadcasting entities to coordinate their reporting worldwide and eliminate duplicated efforts.

“Working cooperatively,” he said, “they can have a greater impact than working individually.”

A native of the Midwest, Lansing also said he plans to acquire programming from the middle of the country to complement reporting from the east and west coasts to tell a more complete American story to the world.

Lansing arms out by Tara
Photo by Tara Schoenborn

Lansing added that he sees a need for careful measurement of the impact of American government broadcasting, beyond just the raw numbers, and he made a comparison with commercial broadcasting. Advertisers are willing to pay a steep premium to reach certain viewers, listeners and readers, he noted, and BBG should identify who their premium viewers, listeners are readers are – the influential leaders and, increasing, the young people around the world.

Returning to the two-board proposal, Lansing drew a football analogy:

“Imagine if the Washington Redskins had two head coaches,” he joked, leading one audience member to say above the laughter, “Imagine if they had one!”

Lansing’s PowerPoint presentation is available here: 151102 Lansing ppt, and you can see video highlights of Lansing’s remarks here.

This CCLP Washington forum was part of a monthly series of lunch forums presented in partnership with the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and the Public Diplomacy Council.

The next lunch program, on December 7, will focus on the U.S. Expo in Milan.