Journalism with Purpose: Foreign Policy, Domestic Politics & U.S. International Broadcasting

Principal Investigator:
Emily Metzgar, CPD Research Fellow 2015-17

Contributing Researcher:
Sergio de la Calle

In the midst of what some scholars have called a “global communications arms race” the U.S. House of Representatives is considering legislation to overhaul the structure of U.S. international broadcasting (USIB). The legislation, intended to “enhance the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of United States international communications, and for other purposes” has bipartisan, bicameral support on Capitol Hill and, if successful, would mark the most significant change to the structure and management of USIB since the creation of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) following passage of the International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (Public Law 103-236). This project considers historical context for today’s legislative debates.

In recent years, calls for substantive reform of USIB have grown as evidence of what one observer has called “strategic dysfunction” at both the broadcasters and the BBG has continued to mount. Known formally as the United States International Communications Reform Act, the proposed legislation takes aim at the litany of well-recognized problems associated with American state-sponsored international broadcasting, including turf wars over selected languages, controversial decisions about how to deliver content and multiple challenges associated with a part-time nine-member board rather than a single CEO tasked with oversight of all USIB.

For Congress to grapple with balancing sometimes-divergent domestic and foreign policy interests in the context of state-sponsored international broadcasting is not new. Indeed, many of the themes present in today’s debates were evident nearly seven decades ago when Congress first considered the matter of government financed, produced and disseminated broadcast content.  This project examines the legislative and policy history behind the establishment of U.S. international broadcasting as both a journalistic undertaking and a foreign policy endeavor and in doing so, sheds light on contemporary debates about the future of U.S. international broadcasting.