Two Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials described by BBG Watch sources as chief architects of the failed BBG plan to end Voice of America (VOA) radio and TV broadcasts to China have been rewarded with new positions. The International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Director Richard Lobo named Bruce Sherman as director of a newly-formed Office of Strategy and Development. Lobo also named Jeff Trimble as IBB deputy director.[Update: A comment posted by someone claiming close knowledge of the BBG staff charges that BBG Watch sources are wrong and that neither Mr. Trimble, Mr. Sherman, Mr. Lobo nor even the current members of the BBG had anything to do with the plan to end VOA broadcasts to China, which the current Board did submit to Congress and vigorously defended. (BBG Watch has received a copy of a lengthy memo sent to Congress by one of the current BBG members who strongly defends the decision to end VOA broadcasts to China and cites research and analysis from the BBG staff.) The author of the comment to this story, however, puts the entire blame on former VOA Director Dan Austin and one other VOA manager and claims that the BBG staff, presumably that includes Mr. Trimble and Mr. Sherman, had opposed this plan. BBG Watch sources tell a different story and point out that the same two individuals were also responsible for arguing in favor of ending VOA radio and TV broadcasts to Russia in 2008 and for supporting eliminations or reductions in other broadcasting services to countries without free media. BBG Watch sources do concede, however, that former VOA Director Austin did support the China plan.] [Correction from IBB Director Lobo: BBG Watch has learned that IBB Director Richard Lobo has corrected a mistake in his memo. Paul Kollmer-Dorsey does not have the tile of General Counsel. He is Deputy General Counsel. The General Counsel position has been vacant for some time.]
Sources describe Sherman and Trimble as being primarily responsible for formulating the plan to end VOA broadcasts to China. The plan had generated strong bipartisan opposition in Congress, which forced the BBG to give up its intention to end VOA radio and TV broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese and to fire 45 VOA Chinese Branch journalists, most of whom specialize in human rights reporting.
According to BBG Watch sources, Trimble and Sherman are protected by the BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson who wants to de-federalize VOA and Radio and TV Marti and to limit the independence of the BBG-managed surrogate broadcasters: the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Lobo had been appointed to his position by President Obama.
BBG Watch sources describe Trimble and Sherman as the chief authors of the BBG strategic plan which calls for these changes. One source told BBG Watch that not all BBG members supported Sherman’s promotion. BBG Governor Victor Ashe, who has become an outspoken critic of the BBG/IBB management team, was — according to BBG Watch sources — opposed to rewarding Sherman and Trimble with these new positions.
BBG Watch has also received reliable information that the heads of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) and of Radio Free Asia (RFA), Brian Conniff and Libby Liu, have raised serious reservations about the Sherman-Trimble plan to merge MBN and RFA together with RFE/RL into a large corporate bureaucracy. Critics of the BBG strategic plan point out that the main feature that makes these surrogate broadcasters successful is their administrative and editorial independence, while the BBG strategic plan calls for administrative and editorial centralization and creating a BBG global news network.
The head of RFE/RL Steven Korn, an old friend of Walter Isaacson (they both worked at CNN), is described as the only one supporting the merger without any objections. Sources tell us that Korn has been making controversial personnel changes at RFE/RL designed to protect careers of his favorite subordinates after the proposed merger.
From an official IBB announcement:
From: IBB Notices Administration [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 5:58 PM
To: IBB Staff
Subject: Message from the IBB Director
The merger of the IBB and BBG staffs will become effective on January 15, 2012.
This action reflects the Board’s commitment to streamline and increase the efficiency of agency operations, as called for in the newly adopted 2012-2016 Strategic Plan. The merger will facilitate the development of BBG-wide strategies and objectives, strengthen oversight of program and organizational performance, and enhance collaboration among our Federal and non-Federal entities.
An organizational chart showing the restructured, merged IBB/BBG operation is attached. Here are the key changes:
A new Office of Strategy and Development will lead development and implementation of strategy through coordinated planning, agency-level audience research and impact assessment, program placement, development, and international media training. The Office will work with the broadcast services to align strategy at the Agency and language service levels as well as across entities to enhance performance and meet the goals set by the Strategic Plan. It will incorporate the former BBG Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Measurement, the IBB Office of Marketing and Program Placement, and VOA Business Development. Bruce Sherman will serve as director.
The Office of Performance Review takes on enhanced responsibilities under the continued leadership of Kelu Chao. The Office will continue to conduct VOA and OCB language service research and programming reviews. It will now also be responsible for conducting management analyses of the operational effectiveness of all BBG elements and for coordinating inspections and reviews by the Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office. The Office, together with the performance review elements of the non-Federal entities, will also provide feedback to help shape strategy.
The Office of Communications and External Relations is responsible for communications and outreach activities for the Board and will serve as the Board’s chief advisor for Congressional and external relations. The Office also coordinates communications operations of the BBG’s media networks — VOA, RFE, RFA, MBN, and OCB. The Graphics Unit, under the continued supervision of Tuleda Johnson, will move from the Marketing and Program Placement office to the Communications office. The position of Director of the Office of Communications and External Relations was recently advertised, and I hope shortly to be able to announce the selection of the Director of this office.
The Office of New Media has been renamed the Office of Digital and Design Innovation to better reflect its role in the development and implementation of innovative projects, programs, and services across U.S. international media. The Office will continue to play a key role in expanding the use of the best core technology platforms, as well as assisting entities in executing global digital and brand strategies, but also build out the next generation of digital products that present our content in an increasingly complex media landscape. Rob Bole continues as the Director of this Office.
A Board Operations Staff will be formalized under the direction of the Board Secretary and General Counsel, Paul Kollmer-Dorsey, and will continue to support the Board in its meetings and other operations.
The Secretariat staff and the Analysis and Administration Division will be combined as the Administrative and Secretariat Operations Unit. The Unit will coordinate the development, approval and codification of Agency administrative policies in the form of the Broadcasting Administrative Manual and provide Secretariat services to the BBG, along with the Division’s current functions. Doris Garay-Nellius will head this Unit.
I have designated Jeff Trimble as IBB Deputy Director. Jeff will assist me in overseeing IBB operations, and will carry out special projects at my direction, including the ongoing work to create a BBG global news network, a core element of the new Strategic Plan.
While this merger is a significant step, it is only a part of an ongoing, longer-term restructuring process. In coming months we will continue to study and evaluate this new organization, with an eye toward making further changes to achieve greater efficiencies and otherwise improve our performance. I look forward to your continued cooperation and assistance as we move forward.