BBG Watch Commentary

In remarks at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) open board meeting Wednesday (February 18, 2015), CEO Andy Lack praised what he called “really strong work” being done “across-the-board” in all of the assets of U.S. international broadcasting.

On the English language website, Lack said one of his first “happy with introductions” was to the English team (not certain if he was referring to the English web operation). He called the issue of VOA not being able to post breaking news quickly a “tricky piece” saying languages were not as good as we like in getting stories onto the English language website, which can be ever more influential than [it has] been.

But it’s “an internal mechanical problem that can be solved in a number of different ways — manpower, resources involved in getting translations….variety of skills that are required for the site to be as good as we would want it to be and….utilized….infrastructure that we’re heavily invested in.”

He hopes to announce steps at the next BBG meeting on “how we’re going to go, what the timetable is, hope to share more of that….” at next meeting in April (Observation: this is the latest timetable to emerge regarding Digital First).

Lack said he looks forward to visiting the LA bureau (mentions doing this with Ted Lipien from the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting who observed the BBG board meeting). “OK so we can make that Saturday trip…”I fear Ted as well, let the record show…” [Laughter] “San Francisco is epicenter for innovation and technology, looking at where we can get stronger, I think SF would be a place that geographically in 21st century offers some considerations….”

“Copyright issues….this bedevils every news organization, news agency that I have been in…the detailed work that goes into the clearances that are embedded in a lot of the good work…which is inhibited by these….negotiations coming due in next year …will be opportunities to address those details…”

Lack noted he served on board of AP so knows where they are coming from “which is looking for another dollar out of the pocket”….”don’t want to get ahead of my skis here…” “AP guy is probably going to take this conversation around their board” “…very familiar with challenge for news organizations that have the reach and have the infrastructure that USIB has…great questions for me, a little nervous that these are coming up at a board meeting…would like to see a few more softballs…”

BBG Chairman Jeff Shell said he has “never felt better than I do today” about where we are…” He noted that his comment may seem ironic since the world is probably in a worse position from perspective of press freedom.

“Lack is a true icon in the news business,” Shell said. “The things that he can do the first 5 minutes of every day I am not equipped to do…meeting with journalists, that is ultimately where rubber meets the road, how we influence people and what we’re putting out it there, and fixing the governance and the stuff that we have been working on structurally, while immense sometimes, that is the easy part, now it is on to the hard part and having known Andy as well as I have we are incredibly fortunate to have him with us…”

Shell said he hopes that the interim management team can now serve as a stable management team assisting Lack going forward.

After the Voice of America Director David Ensor led a presentation on VOA activities and accomplishments in the past year, Shell asked a question whether the placement strategy favored by the VOA director does detract from direct broadcasting and program delivery. Many fear that over-reliance on placement allows foreign gatekeepers to determine VOA placement content.

Ensor replied that the placement strategy is only used for countries that allow such placement. It is common knowledge, however, that VOA practices self-censorship to achieve placement of its programs in certain countries. In some countries much of the VOA placement is soft-programming. It may also be a combination of news and soft programming requested by stations in countries that already have free media. In Latin America, such placement may provide content that some stations otherwise would not be able to get for free.

VOA Director David Ensor referred to the Voice of America as the only “state broadcaster” the United States has.

Several of our contributors observed that in his comments to the BBG board and to groups of Voice of America journalists, Lack wisely avoided falling into the trap of discussing H.R. 4490.

Lack wants to transform the Voice of America English news reporting and the VOA English website.

As a distinguished news person, journalist and media executive, Andy Lack for sure would not want to be associated with an English news website that is not a world class news and information platform.

At a separate meeting with VOA journalists Wednesday, Lack said “I didn’t come here to cut. I came here to grow [VOA]” and presumably the rest of the BBG media entities.

It’s safe to assume that this remark by Andy Lack probably should not be interpreted that all VOA and BBG elements will grow. Andy Lack may cut some in order to grow others. The best place to start cutting for growing the news organization journalistically would be its enormous bureaucracy.

Andy Lack’s remarks are toward the end of the second video.

Link to Video I

Link to Video II

Several reporters provided information for our commentary.



BBG Welcomes New CEO, Reviews VOA Operations

Andy Lack

CEO Andy Lack speaks at the February meeting of the BBG

FEBRUARY 18, 2015

WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors met today at its Washington, D.C. headquarters and welcomed for the first time Andrew Lack, who joined as CEO and Director in January 2015.

“I feel really good about where we are headed,” said Chairman Jeff Shell, remarking on the newest board members and the arrival of Andrew Lack as CEO. “Our new board members each bring their own expertise, and Andy is an icon in the news business who understands the essence of what we do – the content.”

Shell also welcomed Ambassador Karen Kornbluh to her first official meeting of the BBG. Kornbluh was sworn in after the Board’s December 17 meeting and succeeds Governor Michael Meehan. The board today adopted a resolution honoring his service to the agency.

Along with other threats to BBG journalists, the board discussed troubling developments in Azerbaijan. On December 26, Azerbaijani police raided and closed the RFE/RL Bureau in Baku. On February 13, new charges were brought against Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor, who remains jailed in pre-trial detention and if convicted could receive a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison. RFE/RL’s bureau remains closed, its accounts frozen, and several Baku staff members have left Azerbaijan.

“While Khadija demonstrates fierce resolve, we are deeply concerned and outraged by the Azerbaijani government’s flagrant assaults on press freedom,” Shell said.

Discussing the challenges BBG journalists face in the field, BBG CEO Andrew Lack shared observations from his trip with BBG Governor Ken Weinstein to Kiev and Prague. Lack described “the strong work being done by our people in the field,” and praised the “exemplary collaboration between RFE/RL and VOA in covering Ukraine.”

In addition to board business, the Voice of America gave a presentation on its activities and accomplishments in the past year. VOA Director David Ensor, along with journalists from the Kurdish, Persian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and English services as well as digital media, demonstrated how the network is expanding social media engagement and mobile distribution, responding to information crises in West Africa, Ukraine and Russia, and expanding its successful affiliate model in Latin America and elsewhere.

A recording of the meeting, as well as documents related to board decisions will be made available here.