BBG executives close down Voice of America broadcasting services, pay themselves hefty bonuses

This report was prompted by the news of the Voice of America Croatian Service being forced off the air and the Internet on the orders of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials. VOA Croatian radio and TV broadcasts and online news content have served an important information and public diplomacy function, representing U.S. views, policies, interests, and concerns while providing current news and analysis from an American perspective.

As these BBG bureaucrats undermine critical programs, weaken U.S. public diplomacy media outreach abroad and eliminate American jobs, they collect large salaries and pay themselves hefty bonuses. BBG official claim that countries like Croatia, a NATO member, do not need U.S. information programs provided by VOA, but they have also tried to cut or reduce such programs to countries ruled by authoritarian regimes, including Russia and China.

BBG Watch wants to thank one of our supporters who provided us with information how American taxpayers can easily check on the salaries and bonuses of BBG officials.

Link to salaries of federal employees, including BBG officials.

“If you go to the website datauniverse.com, then to Federal Employees in the Public Payroll section, then to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, you can see the salary of every employee and, more importantly, if they received bonuses. Nearly every manager on the 3rd floor (that is where most BBG executive offices are located in Washington, D.C.) received a large cash award for FY2010. Seriously, some of these guys make $170,000 a year and then take a 10-thousand dollar bonus! It is shameful.”

BBG executives close down Voice of America broadcasting services, pay themselves hefty bonuses

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) executives, who have closed down the Voice of America (VOA) Croatian radio, TV, and Internet broadcasting service the day before Thanksgiving, have paid themselves tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses over the last two years and are expected to receive more such payouts this year. The BBG has also asked OPM for approval to hire a public relations guru at a salary of about $150,000. The BBG already has a well-staffed public and Congressional relations department.

BBG Watch has also learned that one of the main architects of the closures of foreign language broadcasting services at VOA is to receive soon a $10,000 pay raise. He is a member of the team of executives responsible for an unprecedented bipartisan rebuke to the BBG in the U.S. Congress. Congressional committees blocked the plan to terminate VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China and charged that the BBG lacks good judgement and transparency.

But the Voice of America’s Croatian Service, which did not receive similar attention in Congress, signed for the last time Wednesday, after 19 years of broadcast history that began during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Rather than to keep broadcasting to Croatia even at a reduced level to serve U.S. public diplomacy needs, BBG officials closed down the service. VOA Director David Ensor is new to his job and may not yet fully realize that this latest move is part of a strategy of undermining Voice of America’s special role as a news and public diplomacy channel for the United States. One of the BBG’s earliest moves after the 9/11 terror attacks was to eliminate all Voice of America programs in Arabic.

While VOA has each year fewer and fewer broadcasts to be managed, not a single highly-paid VOA or BBG manager has been asked to leave or to take a pay cut. Instead, their numbers keep growing with the money for their salaries and bonuses generated by cutting essential programs and eliminating broadcasting positions within the organization.

A VOA press release states that “VOA Croatian’s five-minute TV NewsFlash was broadcast daily on eight affiliate stations and focused on American news of relevance to Croatian audiences, including business, science, American culture, and politics. The popular Breakfast Show, a roundup of US, Croatian and world news, aired on radio for 19 years, without a single day of interruption. An evening radio show aired on shortwave and ten affiliate FM stations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

Executives who ordered the termination of VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China and Croatia have been rated in government-wide employee surveys among the worst managers in the federal workforce. They chose Valentine’s Day to inform VOA Chinese language service journalists that 45 of them will lose their jobs and picked the day before Thanksgiving to close down the Croatian service. They are well known for their holiday surprises for Voice of America employees

Called “VOA Silencers” for trying to fire 45 VOA journalists specializing in human rights reporting at the time of intensified Chinese government crackdown of freedom of expression, BBG executives are likely to collect yet another round of bonuses on top of their large salaries. One of the chief policy planners, who is paid over $150,000 a year, will be getting a $10,000 on top of $2,500 bonus received in FY2010. However, due partly to the fiasco in Congress over the China proposal, he is rumored to be asked to essentially do nothing but to collect his salary. Another official received $160,000 in salary and a $7,500 bonus in FY2010. A marketing specialist made over $165,000 and received an $7,500 bonus. Their boss, whose salary in FY2010 was $170,000, received a $10,000 bonus in addition to all the usual generous benefits that come with federal employment, including subsidized health insurance, vacation, and retirement.

The same officials are denying basic employment benefits to full time contract employees who now constitute 45 percent of VOA workforce. Because some of these executives switch jobs between the BBG, which is a federal agency, and private broadcasting 501(c)3 entities managed by the BBG, some collect hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in combined salary and retirement benefits, all paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

At the time when the U.S. economy is struggling, millions of Americans are unemployed, and millions more could only wish to be making even a small portion of what the Broadcasting Board of Governors executives are making, these officials have been eliminating American jobs and giving money to Internet companies that outsource their work overseas. They are also signing contracts with foreign advertising agencies in countries like Russia to help drive visitors to their websites while firing broadcast journalists and engineers employees by the BBG in the United States. They are planning to shut down the BBG Transmitting Station in Greenville, North Carolina, and to put dozens of Americans out of work at this and at other broadcasting facilities and units.

BBG officials have also signed a contract with the giant consulting firm Deloitte, potentially worth $1.3 million. The contract is designed to give a blessing for their strategic plan, which they had already gotten BBG members to approve. It includes $150,000 in travel expenses. They also want to privatize the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti. This action would put them in charge of yet another bureaucracy which would operate with fewer government restrictions and less oversight from Congress. Radio and TV Marti broadcast news to Cuba. The Cuban regime would welcome their privatization as a sign of the Obama Administration’s diminished support for democracy in Cuba.

BBG executives’ more immediate plan is to eliminate some of the journalistic and administrative independence that made U.S. government-funded stations like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty successful in delivering highly-targeted news and defending human rights abroad. The merger plan would create a large corporate bureaucracy that would manage the BBG’s surrogate broadcasters: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Alhurra TV, and Radio Sawa. A top-ranking BBG official referred to some of the architects of RFE/RL’s surrogate radio operations as “old white guys” and wished for their quick departure.

Some of the members serving on the bipartisan Board, however, have begun to question the advice they are getting from the BBG executive staff. A senior Republican member, Ambassador Victor Ashe, expressed his opposition to extravagant spending by BBG bureaucrats while critical broadcasting operations are being eliminated or reduced and employees are denied basic benefits. During open BBG meetings, he received some support from a Democratic member Michael Meehan. Ashe announced that he plans to visit the Greenville transmitting station despite the objections of BBG officials who want to close it down.

BBG Chairman and former CNN executive Walter Isaacson, who was busy writing a biography of Steve Jobs, has allowed BBG bureaucrats to run the show without much supervision from the part-time Board. They developed a strategic plan to reflect Isaacson’s vision of privatizing the BBG and turning it into a CNN-like news agency. Critics say that the centralization of news gathering proposed under this plan would destroy the independence and the human rights focus of surrogate broadcasters like RFE/RL and Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Critics also say that privatization of the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti would destroy their effectiveness as authoritative voices of the American government and the American people. American taxpayers would still have to pay for this new NPR-like structure, since the BBG staff wants to ask Congress to repeal the Smith-Mundt Act’s restrictions on the domestic distribution of BBG programs while still relying entirely for funding on Congressional appropriations. This is likely to cost U.S. taxpayers even more money than the current arrangement. Critics say that the BBG plan will weaken overseas broadcasts in support of democracy and human rights which are considered one of the essential non-military contributions to the war on terror and to countering anti-American propaganda.

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VOA/BBG Press Release:

VOA Ends Croatian Broadcasts

Washington, D.C., November 23, 2011 — Voice of America’s Croatian Service signs off for the last time Wednesday, after 19 years of broadcast history that began during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia, and ends with Croatia’s emergence as a democratic member of the European community.

VOA Director David Ensor called the service “a model of journalistic integrity that provided the people of Croatia with fair and impartial news during the dark days of civil war in the Balkans.” Ensor commended the service, which he said, “served as a vital source of independent reporting and insight into American policy.”

Voice of America established its Croatian Language Service on February 20, 1992, a time when the most brutal war since World War II was raging in the Balkans. Spun off from the former Yugoslav Service which had been broadcasting to the area since 1943, VOA Croatian broadcasts began on radio, but were quickly expanded into television. The service was one of VOA’s first to establish an online presence.

VOA Croatian’s five-minute TV NewsFlash was broadcast daily on eight affiliate stations and focused on American news of relevance to Croatian audiences, including business, science, American culture, and politics. The popular Breakfast Show, a roundup of US, Croatian and world news, aired on radio for 19 years, without a single day of interruption. An evening radio show aired on shortwave and ten affiliate FM stations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In addition to news coverage, VOA Croatian served as a source of entertainment and cultural programming for more than a decade. Nearly 700 episodes of Saturday’s American Cultural Magazine were aired, with stories on leading entertainers, from blues guitar legend B.B. King, to Los Lobos, the Grammy-winning Los Angeles band that performed in Zagreb in 2010.

VOA Croatian Service Chief Zorz Crmaric called going off the air a “bittersweet moment” that comes as the country begins a new chapter in European integration. He noted Croatia is now a NATO member and is scheduled to join the European Union in 2013.

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BBG executives close down Voice of America broadcasting services, pay themselves hefty bonuses

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