BBG Watch EXCLUSIVE News and Commentary
Journalist and media executive Andrew Lack, who had been selected by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to be the agency’s CEO, met in New York Tuesday with members of the NGO Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org), which advocates for better management and more funding for U.S. international media outreach. The meeting was chaired by CUSIB Executive Director Ann Noonan and included Chinese writer and democracy activist Wei Jingsheng who spent a total of 18 years as a political prisoner in China.
Andy Lack has been Chairman of the Bloomberg Media Group for the past year. He joined Bloomberg in October 2008 as CEO of its Global Media Group. Prior to joining Bloomberg, Lack was Chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment. A BBG press release noted Lack’s strong journalistic credentials in addition to his accomplishments as a media executive.
“Before joining Sony Music Entertainment, he was president and chief operating officer of NBC, where he oversaw entertainment, news (including MSNBC and CNBC), NBC stations, sales and broadcast and network operations. He was responsible for expanding the Today show to three hours and creating the show’s street-side studio in New York’s Rockefeller Center. From 1993 to 2001, Lack was president of NBC News, which he transformed into America’s most-watched news organization through NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press, Today and Dateline NBC. Before going to NBC, Lack spent much of his television career at CBS News. After joining in 1976, within a year, he became a prominent producer for 60 Minutes and subsequently, senior executive producer of CBS Reports. Lack’s broadcasts at CBS earned numerous honors, including 16 Emmy Awards and 4 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Journalism Awards.”
The New York meeting with Andy Lack was organized by CUSIB Executive Director Ann Noonan. She co-founded the organization in 2011 to successfully oppose the previous BBG Board’s decision to cut all Voice of America radio and satellite television broadcasts to China and later VOA radio broadcasts to Tibet. CUSIB member, Justin Yu, the former President of the New York Chinese Journalists Association and the Chair of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of New York, hosted the meeting.
Wei Jingsheng and some of the other participants at the New York meeting on Tuesday shared with Andy Lack their experiences of living under authoritarian regimes and their views on the importance of U.S. international media outreach for those who are denied freedom of expression and access to uncensored news. Wei Jingsheng authored the essay, “Fifth Modernization,” which was posted on the “Democracy Wall” in Beijing in 1978. He was deported to the United States in 1997. He was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1996, the National Endowment for Democracy Award in 1997, the Olof Palme Memorial Prize in 1994, and the International Activist Award by the Gleitsman Foundation.
Wei Jingsheng spoke about his meeting with John Kerry 20 years ago. He stressed the need for all forms of media in China – including shortwave and medium wave radio. He stressed how poor people and people in the countryside cannot afford cell phones or internet.
Jing Zhang presented Andy with a newly published book, “The Orphans of Shao.” The book was published by Women’s Rights in China.
CUSIB Executive Director Ann Noonan said that her organization is primarily interested in management reforms to improve the work of BBG journalists providing uncensored news to some of the least privileged and the most oppressed individuals, groups and societies. These media programs are a lifeline to people who are still in China and in other countries without free media, Noonan said.
CUSIB members include former political prisoners, such as journalist and human rights activist Jing Zhang, president of Women’s Rights in China, who had suffered five years in prison for her belief in freedom and democracy, and Harry Wu, founder of the Laogai Research Foundation, who had spent 19 years as a political prisoner toiling in the factories, mines, and fields of the Chinese Laogai forced labor camp system. Ann Noonan presented Andy Lack with Harry Wu’s book, “Laogai.” CUSIB also has among its Advisory Board members former BBG Governors, including Victor Ashe who was U.S. Ambassador to Poland and served as mayor of Knoxville, TN. CUSIB members also include current and former leaders of BBG employee unions.
CUSIB Director Ted Lipien, journalist, writer and former Voice of America acting associate director, who participated in the meeting with Andy Lack by phone from California, said that CUSIB sees all three provisions of the VOA Charter as “equally important” and as the best guide for Voice of America’s mission. He explained that the third provision of the VOA Charter does not call for promoting U.S. foreign policy, but it does require VOA to report on U.S. foreign policy and on any significant views in support and in opposition to these policies. He also stressed the importance of cultivating strong support for U.S. international media among members of Congress and constituent groups and organizations advocating for media freedom abroad. Lipien noted that the BBG has primarily a public mission rather than a commercial one.
Ann Noonan talked about the need for better treatment of BBG journalists and the importance of keeping radio for those audiences that have no access to other media platforms, can’t afford them, or can’t use them without the risk of being monitored by repressive governments. She noted the continued plight of Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) journalists whom judges found to have been illegally fired by the management and who have still not been reinstated despite legal orders.
While advocating for management reforms, better treatment of journalists and more resources for those who produce programs, CUSIB does not suggest news coverage or program content decisions, a CUSIB member told BBG Watch, but the organization calls for accuracy and objectivity. Some CUSIB members helped to launch BBG Watch, which serves as a watchdog outlet, but the website is run by volunteers and has no official connection with CUSIB.
CUSIB believes that management reforms would result in better journalism at the BBG and in savings that could pay for more programs and more program delivery platforms, including radio, television, Internet, social media, and mobile phones.
Noonan and Lipien described to Andy Lack the tremendous growth in bureaucratic positions within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and the Voice of America in the last few several years while numerous programs and journalistic jobs were being cut. They talked about the current disconnect between the central federal bureaucracy in Washington and BBG entities, particularly the surrogate ones, and their audiences. They argued for more independence and more resources for BBG media outlets and their journalists. They also mentioned dismal employee morale among the federal entities of the BBG.
CUSIB members told BBG Watch that it is difficult to ask Congress for more money for the BBG while the agency is badly managed, but they also said that more funding from Congress is needed to make it truly successful under a new and improved management, which they hope Andy Lack will provide.
According to some of the participants in the meeting with Andy Lack, he made an excellent impression, appearing highly engaged, asking numerous questions, and expressing strong support for the mission of U.S. international media.
Andy Lack is not expected to take up his position at the BBG until all the administrative procedures are completed, which may include some of the legislative changes proposed in the bipartisan H.R. 4490 bill still pending in the U.S. Senate. Sources told BBG Watch that it may be several weeks before Andy Lack arrives at the BBG headquarters in Washington, DC to assume his new job as CEO.