House passes bill to reform US-funded broadcasts

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee unanimously approved a bill on Thursday to reform U.S.-funded broadcasting to counter what a California congressman dubs the "weaponization of information" from Russia and anti-American propaganda being aired by Iran and Islamic State militants.

"The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency charged with leading the U.S. response effort, is crippled by an inefficient bureaucracy and incoherent leadership structure," said Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "We cannot allow these problems to fester any longer at an agency that is so important when the stakes are so high."

New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said America's rivals are spending massive amounts of money to spread violent messages and disseminate propaganda. "This bill creates a new management structure to oversee our international broadcasting efforts, streamlines our broadcasting organizations and modernizes our tools for getting our message out," Engel said.

The bill would reform five U.S. entities broadcasting overseas and set up a full-time agency head, reducing the role of the board, which meets once a month, often without a decision-making quorum. It would clarify Voice of America's mission so that it would not only provide uncensored news and information, but would explain U.S. foreign policy to its listeners. And it would consolidate into a single organization Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network to improve collaboration and save money.

The bill aims to save $160 million over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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