BBG Watch Commentary

Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press

An independent American journalist who complains of being targeted by officials of the dysfunctional, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), was one of the first ones to report on President Obama’s nomination of Michael W. Kempner to serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees VOA.

In his Inner City Press blog, Matthew Russell Lee accused agency officials, whom Michael W. Kempner is to oversee, of “incompetence and assaults on the principles they supposedly uphold.” President Obama has asked Kempner, CEO of of the MWW Group, a major American public relations firm, to become one of the board members in charge of U.S. international media outreach.

Lee is not the only American journalist complaining about the behavior of VOA executives and other federal officials reporting to the BBG.

Other independent journalists in the United States who had published critical media articles about the management of the Voice of America also saw their professional reputation attacked by VOA managers who are federal government employees. These journalists have also complained about mismanagement and misconduct at the federal agency.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, as one of the Broadcasting Board of Governors members, Michael Kempner will be looking into management problems at the Voice of America. Some personnel and management changes at another one of BBG’s entities believed to be highly dysfunctional, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), have been initiated already by BBG’s new chairman Jeff Shell and other currently serving board members. Even earlier, they had initiated successful management reforms at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is now considered one of the most mission-oriented and best managed among BBG media entities.

See our report on Michael Kempner’s nomination here.

Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press, whose reporting has exposed a number of corruption scandals at the United Nations, where he is accredited as a correspondent, accused VOA officials of trying to get his UN press accreditation revoked last year over a private professional dispute.

The BBG’s mission, posted on its website, “is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.” The attempt to oust Matthew Russell Lee from his reporting job at the UN proved to be highly embarrassing for the BBG and the Obama Administration. It resulted in protests from civil rights and media freedom organizations.

The attempt made in June 2012 to oust him from his reporting job at the UN was unsuccessful, but in his report on a new presidential appointment to the BBG of Michael W. Kempner, Matthew Russell Lee accused officials of the agency which Kempner will eventually oversee if he becomes a BBG Governor, of practicing censorship with regard to Lee’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Another independent journalist whose reputation was attacked by VOA executives is a former VOA senior correspondent and national security news analyst Gary Thomas who after retiring from VOA wrote a critical article for Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) about mismanagement at VOA.

A BBG member at that time, former U.S. Ambassador Victor Ashe, later strongly condemned these attacks and apologized to Thomas and CJR editors for the behavior of VOA executives. Ashe who had left the board late last year is credited with exposing government misconduct and waste and proposing reforms, some of which were later adopted by other BBG members and the new chairman Jeff Shell.

Before Michael W. Kempner can can join the board and address any of the still remaining management issues at VOA and IBB, his nomination has to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

CLICK HERE to read Matthew Russell Lee’s post on the Inner City Press website, “Voice of America? Obama Nominates Banker & Bundler Kempner for Broadcasting Board of Governors, Censorship UNaddressed,” Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press blog.

In his article, Lee seems to question the need for U.S. international media outreach, although he focuses more on the recent change in the Smith-Mundt Act which now allows VOA to distribute its programs to U.S. media upon request. While we also share some concerns about domestic distribution of VOA programs because it may divert funds from the agency’s mission abroad and create bad publicity for VOA and BBG, we believe that the agency’s mission abroad is absolutely critical for America’s security and other national interests.

Despite having some of the worst managers in the federal government, Voice of America journalists are highly dedicated, talented and able to produce news programs of high quality for overseas audiences lacking access to free and uncensored media. Given good managers, they can make even more effective contributions to media freedom.