BBG Watch Commentary
“Mindful of the damage to RFE/RL’s reputation in Russia caused by the previous RFE/RL management, CUSIB remains aggrieved that dozens of courageous journalists who were fired from Radio Liberty in Moscow in September 2012 have not yet been reinstated.
More than 6 months have passed, but we will remain vigilant on behalf of these brave reporters. We expect that good news about them will be heard later this month and that they will be brought back to Radio Liberty.” — Ann Noonan, Executive Director, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB)
BBG Watch is reposting the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) press release on their open meeting in Washington on April 11. The press release gleefully ignores enormous hardships imposed by the management on the agency’s employees, which were at least touched upon although not fully discussed during the meeting. The press release also does not mention that due to the absence of BBG’s Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton, this was not a formal board meeting and neither was the previous one in February.
No explanation was provided for Lynton’s prolonged and unexplained absenteeism from BBG board duties.
The official BBG press release also does not refer to the elimination of Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to Iran and other cuts and program reductions at VOA, Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), and Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). There is nothing in the press release about the proposed elimination of over 80 employee positions at the Voice of America alone.
The BBG press release also does not summarize public comments during the meeting.
The press release rightfully notes several significant achievements of BBG journalists, broadcasters and IBB support employees. All of them do a great job of delivering news and uncensored information to many countries without free media. The press release also shows that BBG Governors who were present, Ambassador Victor Ashe and Michael Meehan, conducted a productive meeting, albeit without a quorum, and focused on a number of issues of great concern to BBG staff. It was noted by one of BBG members that they managed to save a Voice of America radio program “Issues in the News,” which the management wanted to eliminate along with many others.
Although not reflected in the press release, the continued poor performance of IBB executives was evident throughout the meeting, especially during the public comments period.
Ann Noonan, Executive Director of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB), spoke for three minutes. Tim Shamble, the President of the BBG employee union, AFGE Local 1812, also spoke. Both of them focused on serious problems at the agency, which the BBG press release ignored.
Shamble pointed out that the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives are refusing to settle a suit filed by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) employees who were illegally RIFed.
Despite several judgements against the agency and practically no hope that the agency will ever prevail in court, the Office of General Counsel and IBB’s top leadership (Acting General Counsel Paul Kollmer-Dorsey, IBB Director Richard Lobo and IBB Deputy Director Jeff Trimble) refuse to settle the case while RIFed employees are threatened with foreclosures on their homes and are otherwise exposed to great hardships. U.S. taxpayers will also be losing millions of dollars because of the delay tactics adopted by these officials.
In the case of illegally fired OCB employees, IBB officials choose to ignore Arbitrator’s decision and that of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). The FLRA rejected all of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ exceptions to Arbitrator Suzanne R. Butler’s decision in the Office of Cuba Broadcasting 2009 RIF (reduction-in-force) case involving illegal firings of OCB broadcasters. But the Agency Executive Staff has apparently told agency lawyers to continue to appeal that supposedly binding decision. The Director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, along with the rest of the Agency Executives, refuse to honor the two judicial decisions which overwhelmingly supported the RIFed employees and to re-hire and compensate them for the unjustifiable lay-offs and hardship.
In painting the picture of the top IBB officials’ contempt for BBG employees and the law, Tim Shamble explained how ironic it is that IBB executive staff is talking to the union about ways of improving dismal employee morale — an initiative the union president welcomed — while ignoring the plight of the illegally RIFed OCB broadcasters. Shamble also pointed out that IBB officials are even refusing to agree in union-management negotiations to the use of such terms as “fairness” and “dignity.” IBB officials participating in these negotiations along with others have been consistently rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) employee surveys as being some of the worst managers in the federal government.
BBG’s Ambassador Victor Ashe took a note of these issues during the meeting by asking IBB and OCB officials to make a strong effort to resolve the case of illegal RIFs at OCB and to save U.S. taxpayers’ money. He also indicated that the management’s inability to come to terms with the union on a new contract may also be a waste of taxpayers money in addition to making employee morale even worse than it is. It was clear from looking at the IBB officials that since the money does not come out of their own pockets they could care less and are going to ignore Ambassador Ashe’s comments.
CUSIB Executive Director Ann Noonan told BBG Watch that in addition to her prepared statement she also wanted to express her appreciation for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) acting president Kevin Klose’s “powerful and persuasive explanation how surrogate broadcasters and the Voice of America complement each other’s work and in different but effective ways serve their audiences, help to advance freedom and protect America’s security and other interests abroad.” Noonan also wanted to express her appreciation for Governor Michael Meehan’s efforts to improve the delivery of BBG programs into China and Tibet and for his leadership together with Susan McCue, Ambassador Ashe and acting RFE/RL president Kevin Klose in resolving the management crisis at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.
For Immediate Release
April 12, 2013
CUSIB Executive Director Ann Noonan Congratulates Susan McCue and Victor Ashe on Becoming New Chair and Vice-Chair of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Board, Opposes Cuts in Broadcast Services
CUSIB Executive Director Ann Noonan presented the following remarks at the Public Comment section of the BBG Open Meeting held on April 11, 2013 in Washington, D.C.:
On behalf of CUSIB, I’d like to echo our heartfelt congratulations that was expressed yesterday by our Director Ted Lipien, to both Susan McCue who has been elected to serve as Chair of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Board, and to Victor Ashe who has been elected to serve as the Vice-Chair.
We also congratulate Tenzin Tethong who was chosen to lead Radio Free Asia (RFA) Tibetan Service. CUSIB remains deeply concerned about the ongoing and desperate situation in Tibet which is causing the number of self-immolations to rise. We continue to support all RFA and VOA services for the people in Tibet with the hope that these communications will help their plight and offer them hope.
CUSIB is completely opposed to the proposed elimination of VOA radio broadcasts to Iran, and reduction of radio broadcasts to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Surely, money for these programs, critical for U.S. national security, can be found within the vast non-programming resources and bureaucracy of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). We appeal to Congress NOT to allow these cuts to be implemented. Congress should provide individual media entities with more funding while insisting that the IBB management structure be greatly reduced and reformed. Resources should be given directly to program producers, who can manage them more wisely and more efficiently.
CUSIB opposes the current sequester cuts to VOA Cantonese and Mandarin Services. It is inexcusable to use sequestration to silence U.S. radio broadcasting while keeping the bureaucracy largely intact.
We all know that maintaining short wave and medium wave radio transmissions is an inexpensive and crucial use of resources to reach those who are too poor to afford other media platforms or can’t use them for other reasons. Many people who live in China’s countryside have traditionally relied upon these radio broadcasts and continue to do so. As you know, the Chinese government blocks the Internet and only very few are able to circumvent this kind of censorship.
VOA Cantonese has lost 1 short-wave and 1 medium-wave transmission, and Mandarin Service has lost 2 short-wave transmissions. VOA contractors are forced to take off at least one day every two weeks. Some foreign stringers need to cut back their contract services by around 30% or face layoffs until September 30. This is unacceptable.
We urge RFE/RL to listen to appeals from the Czech Helsinki Committee and other human rights organizations to settle its pending overseas discrimination lawsuits brought by its former foreign employees in Prague. RFE/RL should be a model of human rights and labor rights observance, NOT a target of criticism by foreign media and accusations of hypocrisy.
Mindful of the damage to RFERL’s reputation in Russia caused by the previous RFERL management, CUSIB remains aggrieved that dozens of courageous journalists who were fired from Radio Liberty in Moscow in September 2012 have not yet been reinstated.
More than 6 months have passed, but we will remain vigilant on behalf of these brave reporters. We expect that good news about them will be heard later this month and that they will be brought back to Radio Liberty.
For further information, please contact:
Ann Noonan, co-founder and Executive Director
Ted Lipien, co-founder
The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) is a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization working to strengthen free flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries with restricted and developing media environments.
BBG Press Release
April 11, 2013
Washington, DC – The Broadcasting Board of Governors today discussed innovations across the agency in delivering independent news to transitioning societies, and the implications of the FY 2014 budget request for U.S. international media.
Governors Michael Meehan and Victor Ashe focused at the start on the many threats against BBG journalists worldwide, pausing in remembrance of Somali journalist Mohammed Ali Nuxurkey, who worked for VOA in Mogadishu. On March 18, Nuxurkey was sitting in a café when he was killed by a suicide bomber.
“His death is a sad reminder of the danger reporters face because they live in the volatile places we report on,” said BBG Governor Meehan, who presided over the meeting. Meehan also recounted details of other threats to BBG journalists in Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Cambodia. He reiterated calls for information and the release of Alhurra reporter Bashar Fahmi, who has been missing in Syria for more than seven months.”
Governor Meehan also commended the work of those who help make the transmissions possible. “I’d like to make special mention of the people behind the scenes who work under the same conditions, sometimes at risk to their lives, to help bring the light of truth to people living under repressive regimes and in conflict zones,” he said.
In the context of this volatile global media environment the Board discussed its just-released FY2014 budget request. The BBG’s $731 million request includes proposed investments designed to support initiatives to counter violent extremism, with particular focus on the Trans-Sahel and Maghreb regions of Africa, along with an enhanced reporting capability in Burma.
Discussion at the meeting highlighted the importance of increased funding for the Internet Anti-Censorship program as a key initiative to serve audiences in countries that lack Internet freedom. The Board noted the inclusion in the budget of a proposal to establish a Chief Executive Officer for all civilian U.S. international media. Establishing a CEO is an important objective of the BBG and the Administration.
The Board also received an update on the status of changes to the law that soon will allow greater access in the United States to content produced across the BBG. Draft guidelines on how the agency will handle domestic requests for materials are under development and will be published for public comment following review by the office of management and budget. The changes, made to a law that is commonly known as Smith-Mundt, will take effect on July 2, 2013.
In reports delivered to the Board, leadership of the BBG-supported broadcasters outlined new strategies, programming and platforms that are being used to bring the light of truth to conflict zones. Voice of America Director David Ensor detailed new initiatives in Africa, including an SMS service in Nigeria, new FM and mobile services in Mali, and a new FM service in South Sudan. Acting President for RFE/RL Kevin Klose stressed the importance of the free, independent, fact-based journalism in transitioning societies and thanked the BBG for its assistance in providing shortwave transmissions for their Uzbek and to Turkmen services at “the exact time it was needed.” Radio Free Asia President Libby Liu presented a video made by RFA journalists of violent communal clashes in Burma – the only video known to have made it out of the country. Office of Cuba Broadcasting President Carlos Garcia-Perez and Middle East Broadcasting Networks President Brian Conniff also provided reports.
Governor Meehan also took a moment to recognize the “tireless and selfless service” of Dennis Mulhaupt, who resigned from the Board earlier in the week. As a result of his departure, Governor Susan McCue will chair the RFE/RL corporate board and Governor Victor Ashe will serve as vice chair. Governor Ashe was also chosen to chair the audit committee for RFE/RL.
The Governance Committee will recommend to the full Board that Susan McCue become the committee chair.
Under a new policy, members of the public who had registered to attend the meeting were given the opportunity to speak for up to three minutes.
The Board will reconvene on April 24 and plans to hold a town hall meeting on May 15. Further details will be posted on www.bbg.gov as they become available.
Video of the board meeting can be viewed here.