BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Board MembersBBG Watch has learned that two Broadcasting Board of Governors members, interim presiding governor Michael Lynton and Governor Dennis Mulhaupt, as well as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine (not a BBG member but representing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) have advised the BBG staff that they will not be able to attend the BBG open meeting previously scheduled for November 15.

Their absence prevents having a quorum and therefore this month’s BBG open meeting most likely will be cancelled.

This would be already a second BBG open meeting cancelled this year because some board members are too busy to attend. The BBG meeting scheduled for July did not take place as not enough governors were able to participate.

Sources told BBG Watch that Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Corporation of America and Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, may be working in Japan and does not have time to attend the meeting, even though the date for it was set nearly a year ago. Lynton’s participation in BBG meetings has be spotty and he has been seen during BBG meetings looking at and texting on his cell phone for long periods of time.

Among the current BBG members, only Victor Ashe and Dennis Mulhaupt have had so far a perfect attendance record. We do not know what prevents Mulhaupt from attending this time.

Tara Sonenshine, who had attended previous meetings, missed the last BBG meeting in October, during which Ambassador Ashe criticized the mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow and expressed lack of confidence in RFE/RL president Steven Korn. At that meeting, Lynton defended Korn, but his statement of endorsement of Korn on behalf of the board was later removed from the BBG website at Ashe’s insistence.

Sources told BBG Watch that Sonenshine had planned to attend the last meeting but could not after its timing was changed at the last moment at Lynton’s request to allow him to participate in an event at the White House.

Some observers speculate that due to a number of crises, including the Moscow firings controversy and yet another dismal rating for the agency’s executives in the latest OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, some BBG members want to avoid having televised open meetings during which Ashe is likely to ask difficult questions.

Ashe has been highly critical of the BBG executive staff and the unwillingness on the part of most board members to deal with mismanagement and other issues. The lack of engagement on the part of many BBG members allows the worst-rated managers in the entire federal government to run the agency without much supervision or oversight from the board. Their direct supervisor, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) director Richard Lobo, has defended their record by claiming that rank-and-file BBG employees do not understand the meaning of the word “leadership” and may blame problems with their lower-level managers on the IBB director, his top aides and even BBG members.

BBG Watch has learned that a previously announced closed meeting of the BBG Governance Committee will take place by telephone tomorrow (Thursday). Governors Ashe, Mulhaupt and Susan McCue are expected to participate but Michael Lynton may not.

The official announcement posted on the BBG website says that the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Governance Committee telephonic meeting on Thursday, November 8, 2012 “will consider the IBB Director’s plan for the creation of an agency Chief Executive Officer.” The announcement points out that the meeting is not open to the public. Governor Ashe and outside critics object a proposal that a CEO should not be subject to a confirmation by the U.S. Senate. They fear that this would further weaken congressional oversight.

BBG Watch has also learned that the Strategy and Budget Committee, which has only two members, Ashe and Michael Meehan, will meet later this month as it will have a quorum. The committee is likely to further investigate the firing by RFE/RL president Steven Korn of Radio Liberty journalists, which many critics, including leading Russian human rights activists and opposition political leaders, have condemned as illegal and amoral.

RFE/RL executives used guards to prevent journalists from entering their news bureau in Moscow and from saying good bye to their radio and online audience of many years. Highly experienced and skilled radio and Internet professionals are being replaced with friends and associates of the new Russian Service director Masha Gessen, many of whom lack political reporting and multimedia skills.