BBG Watch Commentary
In Moscow, Russian human rights activists presented today Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member, former mayor of Knoxville and former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe, 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. As a member of the bipartisan federal board, Ashe played a major role in pushing for reforms at the U.S. taxpayer-funded media freedom broadcaster.
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 also met with a leading Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeeva who was a strong supporter of fired Radio Liberty journalists. She had written letters to the U.S. Congress and the Broadcasting Board of Governors urging American officials to rehire fired journalists and replace managers who carried out the firings. Most of these managers have resigned and BBG brought in Kevin Klose to oversee management reforms.
After his meeting with Lyudmila Alexeeva at her home, Ashe said: “It was an honor to meet this brave lady, who is an icon of freedom for us all.” Ashe also met in Moscow with civil society leader Sergei Kovalev.
In a meeting with employees of Radio Liberty in Moscow, Ashe told them: “Your long nightmare is over. I deeply regret it ever happened and the current Board is determined to keep a closer watch in the future so this never repeats itself. We feel Kevin Klose is the right person at the right time to bring stability and progress to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.”
Ashe also met in Moscow with James Brooke who runs the Voice of America Moscow bureau, with as well as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Russia Sheila Gwaltney.
Ashe is in Moscow with new acting RFE/RL president Kevin Klose whom he had praised earlier for carrying out reforms at the U.S. broadcaster. The previous management of RFE/RL had fired dozens of Radio Liberty Russian journalists in September 2012. The firings, which were carried out without any warning and without allowing broadcasters to say good bye to their radio and online audiences of many years, produced moral outrage among Russian human rights activists and generated protests from Mikhail Gorbachev and other Russian democratic leaders.
Many of the fired journalists were invited to return to work at Radio Liberty, but some contract employees have not been brought back.
At the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) meeting on June 19, 2013 in Washington, DC and in Prague, Czech Republic, Governor Ashe commented on what he said were successful management reforms at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty led by acting RFE/RL president Kevin Klose.
While much progress has been made, critics point out that RFE/RL’s new management has not yet resolved the longstanding issue of third-country employees in Prague being discriminated against with the denial of Czech labor law protections. The Czech Helsinki Committee and at least two members of the Czech Parliament have asked Kevin Klose to address this issue.
Ashe’s comments about RFE/RL were not included in the press release issued by the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the agency’s executive and administrative bureacracy. Agency sources told BBG Watch that after Ashe had complained about it, IBB staff issued another press release that included his comments about RFE/RL.
Some of IBB’s top executives are blamed for ignoring the Radio Liberty crisis as it developed last year. They are also unhappy with Ashe’s criticism of their performance and his efforts to expose corruption and increase transparency.
Sources told us that these officials can’t wait to see Ashe leave the BBG board. Some of them may have been involved in persuading the White House personnel office to replace him. Ashe cannot be replaced, however, until his proposed replacement, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, is confirmed by the Senate.
The BBG’s employee union, AFGE Local 1812, and other employee groups which in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Employee Viewpoint Surveys rate IBB managers as the worst in the federal government, have written to leaders of both parties in the U.S. Senate to keep Ashe on the BBG board for as long as possible. He is currently the only Republican on the bipartisan board which should have four Democrats and four Republicans. The U.S. Secretary of State is an ex officio member.
A group of Radio Liberty employees and other independent Russian journalists also sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate with an appeal to keep Ashe as a BBG member.
In his efforts to bring management reforms to RFE/RL, Ashe was assisted by two other BBG members, RFE/RL corporate board chair Susan McCue and Governor Michael Meehan, as well as by Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affiars Tara Sonenshine.
In May, McCue and Meehan visited Moscow where they were also warmly received by Radio Liberty employees and Russian human rights activists.
BBG Press Release
JUNE 21, 2013
BBG Governor Victor Ashe traveled to Moscow on June 20 with Acting Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Kevin Klose to meet with RFE/RL and Voice of America journalists, U.S. officials and prominent human rights activists.
Ashe was presented a certificate of appreciation from Alexey Simonov, President of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, on June 21 as a “token of gratitude for his defense of glasnost in Russia.”
While at the Radio Liberty offices, Governor Ashe spoke to assembled employees and told them, “Your recent nightmare is over, and it is a new day for Radio Liberty in Moscow with Kevin Klose as President. The RFE/RL Board is determined you will be as viable and important to objective news as is humanly possible.”
Ashe visited the bureau that is shared by the Russian services of RFE/RL and VOA, and spent time with VOA Moscow Bureau Chief James Brooke.
Additionally, Ashe met with prominent human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva at her home and discussed the importance of free media in Russian society. “It was an honor to meet this brave lady, who is an icon of freedom for us all,” said Governor Ashe.
While in Moscow, Governor Ashe was also to meet with Deputy Chief of Mission Sheila Gwaltney and civil society leader Sergei Kovalyov.