BBG Watch Commentary

Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Director Richard Lobo meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine, Sept. 13, 2012.
Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Director Richard Lobo meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine, Sept. 13, 2012.

BBG Watch has learned that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) will soon make an announcement on the new Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interim president to replace the outgoing executive Steven Korn. RFE/RL managers were told by RFE/RL board chairman Dennis Mulhaupt not to make any personnel changes in the meantime. The new interim president will be a person of extensive experience and high integrity who has support of all BBG members, sources told BBG Watch, and is likely to be positively received by RFE/RL employees and supporters of U.S. international broadcasting.

The attempt to resolve the crisis at RFE/RL has united BBG members more than at any time before and members hope that the journalists fired by Korn and his deputies will see some kind of rehabilitation under the new president, their good name restored as outstanding news reporters and multimedia professionals, sources tell BBG Watch.

We interpret these signals as good news for RFE/RL and U.S. international broadcasting, especially if the new executive has the support of RFE/RL board chairman Dennis Mulhaupt and Ambassador Victor Ashe, as well as Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, the two Democrats who, according to our sources, played an active and critical role in the selection process and want to address the injustice inflicted upon the fired Radio Liberty staff. Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs Tara Soneshine, who represents Secretary of State Clinton at BBG meetings, is also believed to be pleased with the likely nomination. We can also report that the BBG Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton has reached out to a prominent outside critic of Mr. Korn to hear his views on the crisis.

This BBG board, like the previous ones, has never been split along partisan lines, and the RFE/RL issue was no exception, a point made in a television interview by John O’Sullivan, former RFE/RL executive editor and former advisor to Margaret Thatcher forced out from RFE/RL by Steven Korn. O’Sullivan said that RFE/RL has always enjoyed strong support from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and from Secretaries of State during both Republican and Democratic administrations.

All or nearly all BBG members, Republicans and Democrats, now agree that they made a phenomenal mistake in selecting Steven Korn and blame themselves for not spotting the crisis earlier. They also blame the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive staff for not bringing personnel, political and public diplomacy issues connected with Korn’s actions to their attention much earlier. Some have learned about some of these issues for the first time from the BBG Watch website and the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB –, sources told us.

BBG Watch has learned that RFE/RL board chairman Dennis Mulhaupt had told top RFE/RL managers in Prague not to make any personnel changes until the new interim president takes his position.

We have also learned that some BBG members were amazed by a strange message from the management to the RFE/RL staff, which said: “Yes, we will soon have a new interim president. But in a sense, that should not matter. We are the company. RFE/RL is us.”

Some BBG members are believed to be stunned that top managers like Julia Ragona and Dale Cohen would still attempt to mislead the staff with suggestions that the appointment of a new RFE/RL president is irrelevant and by their eleventh hour appeal for support to the employees whose input they ignored, retaliated against critics and kept others in fear until now.

Sources believe that this strange appeal may have been triggered by critical statements from still employed Radio Liberty’s famous Chechnya war correspondent Andrei Babitsky and one of Ukraine’s most famous journalists and TV personalities Vitaly Portnikov who used to be an important guest commentator for RL’s Ukrainian and Russian services. Both suggested strongly that RFE/RL managers appointed by Korn should leave with him. Many independent Russian journalists and political and human rights leaders are refusing to collaborate with the Russian Service under the current leadership.

BBG Watch has also learned that one of the top RFE/RL executives told members of the BBG Strategy and Budget Committee that Steven Korn could not participate last week in a committee meeting by phone from Prague because he was ill, but sources told us that he was seen in the RFE/RL building on the day of the meeting.

Steven Korn is claiming in media interviews that he has resigned on his own for purely personal reasons, but sources within the BBG administration in Washington have confirmed that BBG members had asked him to resign, gave him a deadline, and stripped him of his authority to fire RFE/RL employees.