America's international broadcasters -- Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty -- have fallen on hard times, failing to keep pace with other nations' superpower foreign broadcasters, like Russia Today and Al Jazeera; a Republican amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act will give the President the power to appoint a chief executive who'll be able to exercise total control over America's broadcasters.
This presidential appointee replaces an arms-length (and, lately, ineffectual) Board of Governors. The Obama administration backed this change, seemingly in anticipation of these powers being given to Hillary Clinton.
This means that there will be virtually no impediment to Trump giving editorial control over America's global broadcasters to Breitbart alumni and other pals of Steve Bannon, Trump's white nationalist Chief Strategist.
The damage to U.S. interests could be considerable. The unique attraction for global audiences of RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia and other outlets is not their skill at presenting the U.S. government line, but their journalistic independence. They were created to be “surrogate media,” news organizations that offered accurate and independent coverage of events in countries where citizens could not depend on their own, state-run media. RFE’s coverage of Communist Europe was vital to the growth of the independent political movements that eventually brought down the system. Radio Free Asia strives to serve the same purpose in China, as does Radio y Televisión Martí in Cuba.
The point of board governance was to prevent direct political interference in programming by the White House, State Department or other agencies. It was a guarantee that for decades has helped to attract journalistic talent to the broadcasting organizations, as well as listeners seeking reliable information. The board of governors had serious problems: Its members served part time, and not all took their duties seriously. But the system’s biggest flaw was remedied three years ago with the creation of a chief executive position.