Victor Ashe got things headed in the right direction at BBG, Radio Liberty

BBG Watch Commentary

Victor Ashe’s legacy at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) will be one of being a man of decency, courage and perseverance. Opposed every step of the way by the bureaucracy, he defended the dignity of every journalist and every other employee.

In a statement issued on the departure of Victor Ashe from his post on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) called him “A Man of Decency and Effectiveness.”

Ashe was presented a certificate of appreciation from the President of the Glasnost Defense Foundation Alexey Simonov as a “token of gratitude for his defense of glasnost in Russia.” Ashe responded that he was grateful but accepted it on behalf of those who stayed the course during the unfortunate time of the prior Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) leadership. “What happened was terrible for Radio Liberty but it is now over and we must concentrate on the future.”

Ashe was presented a certificate of appreciation from the President of the Glasnost Defense Foundation Alexey Simonov as a “token of gratitude for his defense of glasnost in Russia.” Ashe responded that he was grateful but accepted it on behalf of those who stayed the course during the unfortunate time of the prior Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) leadership. “What happened was terrible for Radio Liberty but it is now over and we must concentrate on the future.”

Russian human rights activists presented the former mayor of Knoxville and former U.S. Ambassador to Poland with their Glasnost Award for his leadership in bringing back to Radio Liberty some of Russia’s independent journalists fired by the station’s previous management.

Bureaucrats who opposed him, especially within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), will be remembered as those who in numerous Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys (FEVS) have been rated as some of the worst managers in the federal government. They brought down employee morale to record low levels.

Victor Ashe will be remembered as a now former BBG member who stood up to the bureaucracy, defended its victims and, to a large degree, got things headed in the right direction, a process which the new BBG Board can now continue.

Ashe was a hero to many Voice of America and Office of Cuba Broadcasting employees and was held in high regard by both employees and current leadership of Radio Free Asia (RFA), Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

One of the key managers and veterans of U.S. international broadcasting wrote this about Victor Ashe:

“You made legions of friends and admirers for life when you stepped forward to renew common sense and common regard for employees as abiding virtues of service in the US international broadcasting community.

You showed me and scores of others throughout our organizations such a reach and depth of knowledge about the cause of democracy in the world that we stayed inspired amid a turbulent and unpredictable time.

The word went round … that you were following up with care and thoroughness your dedication to engaging with people directly and openly to hear their views and pay them special attention as a Board member… This specific kind of meeting – Q-and-A-With-Candor – is rare and memorable and deeply appreciated.

…you converted with completely natural and genuine delight into a genial excursion and education into the amazingly complex life of a working democracy, where men and women of greatly divided loyalties and interests reason their ways toward compromise – each and every day in the America that lives its rich and vibrant vision of self-government as a staple of consensual governance.

I’m sure it was a practiced presentation, honed over your years of your distinguished public leadership and public service… It was fresh as a daisy and absolutely bedrock real – a pro talking to the next generation about the fundamentals they may aspire to, hope for, embrace…

Stunning… and as natural as sunlight on a spring morning in Knoxville… Tennessee… U S of A…

You make us all proud and humble at the very same moment.

Thank you for everything.”

During a meeting in Moscow on June 21, 2013, Broadcasting Board of Governors member (now former) Victor Ashe remarked on what prompted him to come to the defense of dozens of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia who had been fired without any warning by the former management of RFE/RL. Ashe was the first BBG member publicly raising the issue of the brutal firing of journalists and responding to protests from people like Mikhail Gorbachev and Lyudmila Alexeeva.

With two other BBG Governors, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, Victor Ashe received the 2013 Champion of Free Speech Award given by the New York Chapter of the Visual Artists Guild. This year’s award also went to blind Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng and Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen.

Susan McCue, Michael Meehan, and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (now former) Tara Sonenshine, joined Ashe to bring in Kevin Klose as acting RFE/RL President. Kevin Klose, who rehired many of the fired journalists and launched other management reforms at RFE/RL, participated in the meeting at the Radio Liberty office in Moscow. Many of the rehired Radio Liberty journalists were also present during the June 21 meeting.

In this video, Ashe describes how difficult it was to fight alone at first for fairness and justice, gives credit to his BBG colleagues who joined him to bring reforms to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and with his characteristic modesty talks about his ending term on the board in charge of U.S. international broadcasting.

Link to YouTube video.

BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS MEMBER (NOW FORMER) VICTOR ASHE: Let me just say, Thank You, for all that you’ve done and continuing during extraordinarily difficult and unfortunate times over last year and a half.

I deeply regret what had happened. But I’m appreciative to those of you who have continued and those of you who have returned.

It’s somewhat difficult being in the United States to have real knowledge of what is happening in Moscow or even in Prague.

But the work that you do is extremely important in providing objective and honest news coverage to the people of the Russian Federation.

And I also know that the conditions of work are not always easy, often are difficult, here in Russia.

But I want to assure you that in Radio Liberty and Kevin Klose, there is new management which is sensitive to the issues that you face day in and day out.

I particularly wanted to come to the new quarters, to see new offices, but also I welcome any comments or questions that you may have, that you want to ask me or Kevin Klose, and I’d be glad to hear them at this time.

QUESTION FROM FIRED AND RE-HIRED RADIO LIBERTY JOURNALIST ELENA FANAILOVA ABOUT WHAT PROMPTED ASHE’S DEFENSE OF FIRED JOURNALISTS

VICTOR ASHE: I’m glad to say that my views now reflect the majority of the Board. There was a while, a few months ago, when I was by myself.

But people in this room certainly know what it is to operate alone. I always felt the truth would prevail and I’m one of those if I feel it’s right I’ll talk about it, even if it may not be popular.

And let me tell you, you all did a lot, particularly those who were in the community, both within Radio Liberty and outside, you look familiar.

It was very important what happened here because the word got out what people here in Moscow and in Russia thought. It was not a secret. And thanks to the Internet and the instant way of communicating today, it became quickly known.

QUESTION FROM RADIO LIBERTY JOURNALIST ELENA POLIAKOVSKAYA AS TO WHETHER VICTOR ASHE IS LEAVING THE BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS ON HIS OWN OR BECAUSE OF OUTSIDE PRESSURE

VICTOR ASHE: Actually neither one. You know, I was appointed to what is normally a three year term and in one week I would have served three years. We’re all appointed by the President and the President’s appointment must be approved by the United States Senate.

And the President has appointed another person to replace me, but it must be approved by the Senate and that can happen in two weeks or in two years. And under American law you continue to serve until your successor is confirmed by the Senate.

I’ve been honored to serve, I’ll continue to serve as long as I can, but I think I’ve already done most important things, … which is to get things headed in the right direction.

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