Improved Oversight Can Reduce Broadcast Violations at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

NSIAD-85-93: Published: Jun 24, 1985. Publicly Released: Jun 24, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) broadcast controls and the Board for International Broadcasting's (BIB) program oversight activities.

GAO found that, since 1982, new RFE/RL management has made several changes to improve staff morale, enhance journalistic independence, and improve program quality. Under these changes, some program controls have been relaxed or eliminated. In place of pre-broadcast script review, more reliance is placed on those responsible for preparing and airing the broadcasts and on post-broadcast evaluations to ensure guideline compliance. These changes have the effect of lessening management's direct involvement in programming. Postbroadcast analysis has identified 18 potential violations in the first 8 months of 1984 and questioned the airing of 29 additional programs. GAO found that controls for averting violations are hindered by: (1) not having a senior-level focal point to ensure policy compliance; (2) lack of communication on policy guidance; (3) noncompliance with instructions; (4) staff shortages; and (5) the lack of a system for tracking violations and ensuring corrective action. GAO also found: (1) little documentation of BIB oversight activities; (2) that BIB had not effectively used its staff to assist in program oversight; and (3) that coordination with outside sources of feedback on programs has decreased. In addition, BIB has not revised its regulations to reflect its federal oversight and the members' corporate responsibilities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: RFE/RL has issued written instructions to meet this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board, should have the President, RFE/RL, reaffirm existing policy that the responsibility for writing and editing program material be kept separate and take steps to ensure compliance.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: RFE/RL assigned a priority to staffing the Broadcast Analysis Department. Additionally, the President, RFE/RL, gave strong emphasis to the Department's function.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board, should have the President, RFE/RL, ensure that the Broadcast Analysis Department is adequately staffed to provide postbroadcast evaluation on all RFE/RL services.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: RFE/RL established a formal system to address concerns.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board, should have the President, RFE/RL, establish a formal system to ensure that all concerns raised by the Broadcast Analysis Department are fully discussed by RFE/RL management and communicated to the broadcast services, when appropriate, and that formal responses are provided to the Broadcast Analysis Department.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: RFE/RL established a formal reporting system.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board, should have the President, RFE/RL, compile and regularly publish reports on trends in policy violations for each broadcast service and provide these to BIB and its staff. Depending on the results of these reports, it may be necessary to establish a system for selective pre-broadcast reviews by the Broadcast Analysis Department when recurring problems exist with specific writers, programs, or complete services.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The action taken is merely a restatement of what BIB was doing at the time of the audit, which GAO believed was inadequate. While GAO believes that a formal process is warranted, recent changes made by BIB may accomplish the same objective.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board, should have the President, RFE/RL, conduct periodic program reviews of each broadcast service to evaluate all internal and external program feedback and make recommendations for program improvements.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: RFE/RL established a position to coordinate editorial management functions.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, should have the President establish a senior-level position to handle day-to-day program and policy matters.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BIB plans to have its regulations revised and published by mid-fiscal year (FY) 1987. The revision will define the BIB oversight role and the role of the staff. These were spelled out in recent BIB board meetings.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board members, should define the BIB program oversight goals and revise regulations governing these and other activities.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BIB plans to have its regulations revised and published by mid-FY 1987. The revision will define the BIB oversight role and the role of the staff. These were spelled out in recent BIB board meetings. In addition, BIB hired a new staffer to monitor broadcast practices.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board members, should determine and clarify the role of the BIB staff in fulfilling the federal oversight responsibility. As part of this responsibility, BIB should consider establishing a formal system to review, evaluate and, when appropriate, respond to all reported broadcast violations or questions regarding broadcast practices.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BIB instructed RFE/RL management to comply with the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board members, should instruct RFE/RL management to promptly inform BIB of any reported violations of the policy guidelines and of any corrective actions taken.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Staffs of BIB and RFE/RL are working on an annual review plan. A plan was developed but budget problems restricted the use of consultants.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board members, should develop an annual plan which incorporates the needs of both BIB and RFE/RL when using outside consultants to evaluate RFE/RL broadcast services.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BIB placed renewed emphasis to staff on maintaining a working relationship with State.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board members, should instruct the BIB staff to increase coordination with Department of State desk officers for those countries receiving RFE/RL broadcasts.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Foreign Relations Authorization Act for FY 1986 and 1987 mandated State's attendance at BIB meetings.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with Board members, should invite State to periodically send a representative to BIB meetings to provide State's perspective on programming issues.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: RFE/RL revised its procedures for distributing guidance in line with this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, BIB, working with the Board, should have the President, RFE/RL, formally disseminate written program and policy decisions resulting from the various daily policy meetings, including decisions to use or not use certain news articles, to the broadcast services. This information should also be provided to the Broadcast Analysis Department so that checks can be made to ensure that the broadcast services have complied with policy decisions.

    Agency Affected: Board for International Broadcasting

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An accomplishment report has been prepared addressing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should reemphasize the important role the foreign service posts can play in providing feedback on RFE/RL broadcasts and provide post input to the BIB for use in its oversight responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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