BBG Watch Commentary

BBG’s defender of public service Victor Ashe honors VOA Swahili Service, gets award from Poland

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Ambassador Victor Ashe, who makes his colleagues on the U.S. international broadcasting board and the executive staff uncomfortable with calls for transparency and better management, visited the Voice of America (VOA) Swahili Service last Thursday to present its employee with a certificate of appreciation from the board marking the 50th anniversary of VOA Swahili broadcasts.

While the entire board approves these certificates, Ashe is the only BBG member who presents them and regularly meets with rank-and-file employees. He is also the only BBG member who has posted his email address,, on the BBG website and who questioned a recent board resolution which threatened employees with punishment for disclosing possible wrongdoing by agency officials to the media and members of Congress.

Ashe, who is a Republican on the bipartisan board, has also called for concluding a new labor-management agreement after the BBG employee union has withdrawn from the labor-management forum in protest against various actions of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives who manage the agency. He has also voiced his opposition to the proposed merger of Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) as being contrary to Congressional intent and limiting Congressional and public scrutiny. Members of Congress have voiced similar opposition to this plan. Ashe was also questioning the IBB staff’s proposals to end Voice of America broadcasts to China, Tibet and several other countries without free media. Most of these proposals were later rejected by Congressional committees. He has also expressed his concern over a request from a VOA executive to the United Nations to review the U.N. press accreditation of an independent American journalist Matthew Russell Lee.

As part of his regular meetings with BBG employees, Ashe spoke Thursday with staffers of the Swahili Service, which began taping weekly programs in 1961 before launching a live 30-minute Swahili-language daily show the following year. Swahili was the first African language service in VOA’s Africa Division. The 50th anniversary plaque, which was accepted on behalf of the staff by Mwamoyo Hamza, chief of the service. The Swahili Service produces 9.5 hours of original radio programming per week and has a strong presence on the Internet.

Ashe’s previous conversations with rank-and file employees, who voice to him their complaints, resulted in his public calls for fair treatment of contract broadcasters and technicians. Despite working full-time, they are denied basic benefits and in many cases had to wait months to be paid by the IBB administrative staff.

Ashe has more public service and public diplomacy experience than other BBG members, which may explain his strong interest in transparency, employee morale issues and holding the executive staff accountable for their actions. He was the longest service mayor of Knoxville, TN and the longest-serving U.S. Ambassador to Poland.

On Friday, in a ceremony held at the Embassy of Poland in Washington, DC, Ambassador of Poland in the United States Robert Kupiecki presented Ashe with the Bene Merito award for outstanding contributions in strengthening Poland-US relations. The medal is bestowed by Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to individuals whose actions have enhanced Poland’s position in the international arena.