BBG Watch Commentary
BBG Watch has learned that members of the independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org), a non-partisan NGO which advocates for stronger U.S. international media outreach in support of press freedom and human rights, are pleased with a series of new management reforms undertaken by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Reforms were announced Wednesday by BBG Chairman Jeff Shell at an open board meeting in Washington, DC.
Several CUSIB members told BBG Watch that they welcome Chairman Shell’s statement on the creation of a new, interim three-person management team at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and a promise of further reforms.
CUSIB Executive Director Ann Noonan spoke at the BBG meeting as a member of the public and noted some of the areas of CUSIB’s past and current concerns with the management of IBB and the Voice of America (VOA). They include continuing news handling problems and poor employee morale at VOA and still unresolved cases of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) employees who were dismissed or RIFed.
CUSIB is especially concerned with the treatment of foreign-born RFE/RL journalists. CUSIB is also concerned with the situation of women-journalists and others who were fired from the Kazakh Service by the previous RFE/RL management apparently for objecting to posting offensive and inappropriate content on the service’s website.
Ann Noonan, however, praised RFE/RL CEO Kevin Klose for initiating management reforms and for restoring high journalistic standards. Many previously fired Radio Liberty Russian journalists have been rehired.
Noonan also praised both RFE/RL and the VOA Ukrainian Service for outstanding news coverage of recent protests in Ukraine. She noted, however, serious deficiencies in VOA central news coverage, which were later also mentioned by BBG Governor Matt Armstrong in a question posed to VOA Director David Ensor.
Statement by CUSIB Executive Director Ann Noonan
December 18, 2013
I’d like to be sure that everyone here knows that CUSIB is a non-partisan organization that came about at the request of people who work on matters involving journalism for media freedom and human rights. All of our work is done on a volunteer basis. We have no budget – so we are beholding to nobody.
I’d like to share CUSIB’s Christmas wish list of 8 things we hope will happen in the spirit of peace on earth and good will to all:
1. For the BBG to fully fund and not hinder Voice of America’s Cantonese, Mandarin and Tibetan services – especially radio broadcast services. These vital broadcasts provide desperately needed information for people who are being crushed out of existence in Tibet and China by China’s government. These broadcasts are cheap, they help poor people receive news, and unlike the internet or satellite television dishes – they cannot be monitored. We implore the IBB to stop its efforts to effectively shut down the Voice of America broadcasts to China by insisting it transition to Internet only.
2. For Radio Free Asia — to continue to keep the world apprised about the case of Chinese dissident Zhang Lin, whose trial began today and whose daughters, Anni and RuLi now live in California with CUSIB Board Member Reggie Littlejohn.
3. For VOA to remain fully funded, and for the BBG Governors to break the bureaucratic resistance at VOA and carry out immediate management reforms both at VOA and at IBB. We applaud BBG for the change of management at RFE/RL. We applaud CEO Kevin Klose for his efforts to restore high journalistic standards to RFE/RL and for his outstanding coverage of events in Ukraine. We also applaud VOA Ukrainian Service for its outstanding coverage. But VOA as an organization and VOA’s central newsroom continue to fail. VOA English media’s coverage of Vice President Biden and US Senator McCain were especially deficient. There are personnel changes that need to be made immediately. Experienced journalists with managerial experience should be hired to fulfill VOA’s mission to bring news, information and opinions for worldwide audiences – this includes reporting on U.S. foreign policy.
4. For the BBG to resolve its lawsuits that were brought against RFE/RL by its discriminated foreign employees in Prague. We also appeal to BBG and to Kevin Klose to rehire women journalists who were fired by the previous management from the RFE/RL Kazakh Service after they objected to offensive and inappropriate program content.
5. For the BBG to resolve the lawsuits that were brought by illegally fired RIF’ed employees who worked for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Let these people be reinstated. Their stories demonstrate tremendous injustice by IBB executives.
6. For the IBB to revise its December 16th press release that boasts research showing a growth in their audience. We consider this particular press release to be to be highly deceptive. The BBG has lost audiences in the Middle East and in other critical regions for the United States, and that needs to be addressed. Most of the reported gain appears to be in Latin America, where IBB probably counted an already existing audience.
7. For the BBG Governors to realize the value and independence of surrogate broadcasters. We need them to continue to coexist with VOA, which needs to be reformed to fulfill its own news mission and to start serious reporting of U.S. news and opinions.
8. For the BBG to send CUSIB the documents that we asked for on September 19, 2013 in two Freedom of Information requests. We expect that any of the information that may be redacted in these US government documents will have be done for genuine legal cause, and not because the information turns out to be embarrassing to any current or former IBB employees.
Thank you, and may you all have a blessed Christmas.