EXCLUSIVE BBG Watch News and Commentary

Andy Lack interviewed by Charlie Crowe. Photo from The Festival of Media Asia video.
Andy Lack interviewed by Charlie Crowe. Photo from The Festival of Media Asia video.

BBG Watch has confirmed that Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members voted Friday to offer new job of the CEO of U.S. taxpayer-funded international broadcasting and other media outreach abroad to Andrew R. Lack, Chairman of Bloomberg Media Group, Bloomberg L.P.

Andrew R. Lack, age 66, also known as Andy, has had a distinguished career in television journalism before becoming a highly successful media executive. He started his career in broadcasting by joining CBS News in 1976, where he remained until 1993, when he was named the president of NBC News. At CBS News, he served as a producer on 60 Minutes and CBS Reports.

During his career in broadcasting and network news, he has won 16 Emmy Awards, 4 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Journalism Awards, 5 Ohio State Awards, an Overseas Press Club Award, 2 Gavel Awards from the American Bar Association, a George Polk Award and a Clarion Award.

He has been the Chairman of Bloomberg Media Group at Bloomberg L.P. since September 16, 2013. He served as the Chief Executive Officer of Bloomberg Media Group at Bloomberg L.P. from October 2008 to September 16, 2013.

Mr. Lack served as the Chairman since February 9, 2006 and Chief Executive Officer of Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. from August 2004 to February 9, 2006 , a subsidiary of Sony Corp. and served as its Member of Management Board. Mr. Lack served as the Chief Executive Officer of Sony BMG Music Entertainment from August 2004 to February 10, 2006. Mr. Lack served as the Chief Operating Officer and President of NBC Universal, Inc.

His full biography can be seen here.

The BBG has a budget of over $700 million through Congressional appropriations. It oversees the Voice of America (VOA), program support unit and bureaucracy of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) which accounts for 34% of the BBG budget, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB – Radio and TV Marti), Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN – Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa). VOA, OCB, and IBB are federal government entities, as is the BBG. RFE/RL, RFA, and MBN are 501 c 3 publicly-funded organizations reporting to the BBG and funded from the BBG budget through individual appropriations.

Mr. Lack would be running the agency described by Hillary Clinton as “practically defunct” in its capacity to engage with audiences abroad on behalf of the United States. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was ex officio member of the BBG, as is now Secretary of State John Kerry. The BBG board is bipartisan. Its current chairman is Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment and previously chairman of NBC Universal International from 2011-2013 and president of Comcast Programming Group from 2005 to 2011. Mr. Shell is reported to have high confidence in Andy Lack’s ability to turn the BBG agency around. His job in addition to managing the agency will be to articulate successfully its mission to key constituencies, particularly in the U.S. Congress, and to inspire journalists and other employees to embrace change.

The agency has been poorly managed for many years by part-time BBG boards but primarily by officials in charge of the government bureaucracy of the IBB and VOA. The new job of the permanent CEO will be to reform the federal government part of the agency where most of the problems originate. The BBG’s grantee organizations outside of the federal government structure are better managed than the agency itself.


Tentative reactions before acceptance and official announcement


“If Andy Lack accepts the public service CEO position at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is currently an independent federal agency, U.S. international broadcasting and new media outreach will be in the hands of an executive with some of the most impressive journalistic and corporate media credentials,” former Voice of America acting associate director Ted Lipien said. Lipien is a co-director of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org), an NGO which supports U.S. outreach to nations without free media and keeps an eye on the BBG operations with additional help from Free Media Online, a California-based 501 c 3 organization formed to strengthen media freedom abroad. “But Mr. Lack will have a very challenging job in dealing with the government bureaucracy and in finding ways of expanding impact and audience through mission-consistent high quality public service journalism,” Lipien added. Free Media Online, supports BBG Watch.

The final structure of the BBG and the scope of the CEO’s job may be ultimately decided through the bipartisan U.S. international broadcasting reform legislation, H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act, which is currently pending action in the U.S. Senate after unanimous passage in a voice vote in the House of Representatives. The H.R. 4490 bill was introduced by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). Some senior VOA English correspondents fear that H.R. 4490 will limit journalistic independence, but many VOA foreign language service journalists and the AFGE Local 1812 union strongly support management reforms in the legislation with only minor reservations about the bill’s language with regard to VOA’s mission.

Sources told BBG Watch that Mr. Lack has shown tremendous interest in and strong support for the publicly-supported media mission of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. He is passionate about it, one source said.


What can Andy Lack do?


One VOA journalist joked that Andy Lack’s first task if he accepts the position may be to replace long non-functioning light fixtures in the VOA Central English Newsroom, which looks dark and nearly deserted, even in the middle of the day on weekdays and almost completely empty after business hours and on weekends.

VOA and IBB upper management organizes Bingo Nights and Ice Cream Socials for employees, but employee morale at the federal part of the BBG is still the lowest among all government agencies of similar size. Employees and their union blame the management for lacking vision and ability to manage

The VOA and IBB management has decimated the VOA Central English Newsroom and many other programming units while creating a large bureaucracy composed of SES, GM-15 and GM-14 positions, which members of Congress want to drastically reduce. H.R. 4490, if passed in its current form, would essentially abolish the IBB.

VOA has almost no significant social media outreach in English and in most foreign languages compared to such foreign media outlets as Russia’s RT. In a desperate effort to increase audience, VOA management has negotiated affiliate program placement deals in a number of largely democratic countries and in some countries ruled by authoritarian regimes where news is eliminated from VOA placement programs and sensitive topics are banned in violation of the VOA Charter. The number of IBB bureaucratic positions has increased 37 percent in the last seven years while numerous programs and programming positions were cut by the expanding management.

The BBG is expected to issue a public announcement on Monday if Mr. Lack accepts the CEO position.


Online video with Andrew R. Lack


The Festival of Media Asia published on March 18, 2013: “Shifting the news agenda – Andy Lack.” Andy Lack is interviewed by Charlie Crowe, chief executive, C Squared.



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