BBG Watch Guest Commentary
This commentary was written by a former senior Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) official who wants to remain anonymous because of numerous contacts with both former and current BBG staffers and Washington policy makers. The writer comments on a management crisis which has been developing at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for some time and on what the writer sees as BBG’s lack of effective handling of U.S. international media outreach in response to threats from Putin and ISIS.
All views expressed are those of the author.
BBG sleepwalks through RFE/RL crisis
By A Former High-Level Broadcasting Board of Governors Official
RFE/RL is in deep crisis. It can’t get powerful programming on the air in a timely fashion or of the quantity needed, due in no small part to having no senior leadership for more than a year in a half. What its language desks actually put on the air is rarely scrutinized, and it certainly is part of no overall strategy.
The BBG sleepwalks through this crisis, enjoying seminars on interesting topics for its members, but apparently little time spent to fix the cascading problems. They have now had nearly two years to tackle Ukraine, and they were made aware of the issues now involving IG [Inspector General] and other government agencies for more than a year. Instead they have tried to cover their inaction with repeated self-backslapping and ludicrous claims that they have made sweeping changes.
Some change: no CEO, and the embarrassment of the Andy Lack foolishness; no RFE/RL president for nearly two years; no VOA director; half and hour of programming to Ukraine; an adolescent management troika at the BBG level with daggers drawn for one another; and a remaining cast of ineffective or compromised senior network executives that should have been swept out in this board’s first few weeks.
One hopes that new CEO John Lansing will come up to speed on international broadcasting—its history, its mission, its modalities—rapidly, and quickly surmount the strong corridor skepticism among VOA and RFE/RL professionals and alumni about the probability of his successfully translating his experience at the Food Network or DIY Networking to US international broadcasting.
Will he even be here in a year, especially when he realizes that he really has little power, the BBG probably will not support his efforts to alter today’s failing trajectory, and few trips to the White House are likely to be offered as a reward for accepting this weak position?
Has he any hope of success without a strongly committed BBG? It’s hard to imagine.
Thus the larger questions loom: Is anyone on this BBG really involved in its mission, and are they prepared to take risks to make it succeed?
Or do the governors simply enjoy the perks of a substantial tax payer-provided travel budget enabling junkets to exotic places while defaulting to what evidently is its preferred modus operandi of ignoring USIB’s real problems while drowning criticism in a torrent of over-inflated bombast trumpeting invisible successes?
A note and commentary from BBG Watch
RFE/RL has been without permanent leadership for a year and a half since highly respected media executive and journalist Kevin Klose retired in March 2014. John Giambalvo, who along with Nenad Pejic had been named an Interim Manager and co-CEO of RFE/RL by RFE/RL’s Board of Directors [composed of BBG board members] effective March 2, 2014, announced last Saturday that he will depart RFE/RL within a week.
While not nearly as mismanaged as the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and the Voice of America (VOA), and still delivering some excellent programs, RFE/RL has put online recently several news reports which critics describe as falling for Russia’s or Iran’s propaganda. RFE/RL’s performance has not been consistently good; VOA’s performance even less so, with critics putting the blame on the BBG board and its IBB executive staff.
READ: Radio Free Europe Flacks for Iranian Terrorist Commander, Sean Durns, SNAPSHOTS CAMERA Blog, August 26, 2015
Recently a Wall Street Journal editorial writer Sohrab Ahmari commented on even more disturbing violations of journalistic standards in Iran coverage by the Voice of America, RFE/RL’s sister broadcaster which is also overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
READ: “Selling Policy With the Voice of America,” Sohrab Ahmari, Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2015
Neither Mr. Giambalvo’s message to the staff nor Mr. Pejic’s message in response to Mr. Giambalvo’s announcement mentioned any controversies connected with RFE/RL’s operations.
Even though there are rumors of serious management problems at the organization, some of which are believed to be under investigation by the BBG and possibly other government units, both Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty co-CEO managers presented a highly positive picture of RFE/RL, as did recently BBG Interim CEO and Director André Mendes in discussing employee morale at the federal part of the agency (RFE/RL is a non-federal BBG grantee entity).
“RFE/RL is at the forefront of responding to recent terrible world events. I am proud of what we all have accomplished and I hope I have been able to support you and all of our colleagues as you pursue our noble mission. I look forward to seeing RFE/RL continue to move forward.” — John Giambalvo, August 29, 2015
“I think it is fair to say that in these eighteen months, we moved the company to the next level and toward a brighter future. We are in a time of growth, RFE/RL is a leader within U.S. international media, and every day I see evidence that we succeeded in our goal to get the best people doing the best possible work to support our mission. John’s contributions to this have been crucial, and it would not have been possible without him. It will be extremely difficult to fill his shoes.” — Nenad Pejic, August 29, 2015
“Here is hoping that our results [Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS)] in September reflect a new era in our Agency’s outlook and that we make substantial gains in our rankings as compared with the other Government Agencies.
Onward and upward!” –André V. Mendes, BBG Interim Chief Executive Officer and Director, July 27, 2015