America’s Megaphone at Risk: The Future of the U.S. Agency for Global Media

July 1, 2020  • Aspen Digital

Since the Bill of Rights, the US has championed a free and independent press as a cornerstone of democracy. And since World War II, the U.S. federal government has directly funded overseas radio and digital outlets for the purpose of distributing fact-based news and American values… with editorial independence at the core. Yet on June 17th, the heads of Voice of America, the Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund were fired by a newly installed political appointee at the head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. How we talk about democracy to the world is inseparable from how we conduct it at home. What are the risks to these critical outlets?

We are joined by:

  • Steve Capus, Former Senior Advisor to the CEO, U.S. Agency for Global Media; Former President, NBC News
  • Ryan Crocker, Diplomat-in-Residence, Princeton; Former Ambassador; Member of the Open Technology Fund Board of Directors
  • Libby Liu, Former CEO, Open Technology Fund; Former President, Radio Free Asia
  • Ben Scott, Executive Director, Reset and Policy & Advocacy Advisor, Luminate; Member of the Open Technology Fund Board of Directors
  • Vivian Schiller, Executive Director, Aspen Digital

Steve Capus was the Senior Advisor to the U.S.A.G.M. CEO. In his capacity as a management expert, Capus provides expert advice and guidance on all matters involving the Agency’s mission and operations, as well as developing and implementing the Agency’s strategic plan and priorities. With more than 30 years of experience, Capus is renowned for his proficiency in journalism, production, senior management, multi-platform newsroom transformation, strategy development, communications and executive education. Capus’ 20-year career with NBC included a nearly 8-year tenure as President of NBC News. He directed overall editorial and management oversight of the global news organization and served on NBC corporate management committees under the ownership of General Electric and Comcast. From 2014 to 2018, Capus was the executive editor of CBS News and the executive producer of the “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.” Capus also managed and executive produced CBS News’ Campaign 2016 Presidential debates in Iowa and South Carolina; RNC & DNC convention broadcasts and live election night coverage. Capus graduated from Temple University in 1986 and serves on the Board of Visitors of Temple’s Klein School of Communications. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ryan Crocker is Dean and Executive Professor at the George Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University, where he holds the Edward and Howard Kruse Endowed Chair. He was the James Schlesinger Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia (2012-2014), and he served as the first Kissinger Senior Fellow at Yale University (2012-2013). He retired from the Foreign Service in April 2009 after a career of over 37 years but was recalled to active duty by President Obama to serve as US Ambassador to Afghanistan in 2011. He has served as US Ambassador six times: Afghanistan (2011-2012), Iraq (2007-2009), Pakistan (2004-2007), Syria (1998-2001), Kuwait (1994-1997), and Lebanon (1990-1993).He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the Association of American Ambassadors. In August 2013, he was confirmed by the United States Senate to serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors which oversees all U.S. government-supported civilian international media. He is also on the Board of Directors of Mercy Corps International.

Libby Liu is the former Chief Executive Officer of the Open Technology Fund, where she provided strategic and operational direction to meet OTF’s mission of advancing internet freedom around the world. Prior to leading OTF, Ms. Liu served as President of Radio Free Asia, where in addition to directing editorial and administrative policies and procedures, she coordinated issues in these areas with USAGM and other associated entities. Her responsibilities included ensuring the highest quality administrative and technical support to the editorial staff. In this capacity, she worked to facilitate effective, timely communication and broad-based collaboration among all divisions and bureaus. Prior to assuming this role in 2005, Liu served as vice president for administration and finance from 2003–05. A California native, Ms. Liu is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and she has traveled widely in East Asia. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Berkeley, an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

 Ben Scott is Executive Director at Reset, an initiative run by Luminate in partnership with The Sandler Foundation focussed on tackling digital threats to democracy. Prior to joining Luminate, Ben co-led the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung (SNV) in Berlin, where he helped to develop it into a leading tech policy voice in German politics. He also was a senior adviser to New America in Washington DC. Previously, Ben was Policy Adviser for Innovation at the US Department of State, where he helped steward the 21st Century Statecraft agenda, with a focus on technology policy, social media, and development. Before this, Ben led the Washington office of Free Press, a public interest organisation expanding affordable access to an open internet and fostering more public service journalism. 

Vivian Schiller is Executive Director of Aspen Digital. Over the last 30 years, Vivian has held executive roles at some of the most respected media organization in the world. Those include: President and CEO of NPR; Global Chair of News at Twitter; General Manager of; Chief Digital Office of NBC News; chief of the Discovery Times Channel, a joint venture of The New York Times and Discovery Communications; and head of CNN documentary and long form divisions. Documentaries and series produced under her auspices earned multiple honors, including three Peabody Awards, four Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, and dozens of Emmys. Schiller is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and a Director of the Scott Trust, which owns The Guardian. She is also strategic advisor to Craig Newmark Philanthropies.