BBG Watch Commentary

March 8 was celebrated in some parts of the world as International Women’s Day.

According to Wikipedia, the earliest Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York; it was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

International Women’s Day was made an official holiday in the Soviet Union following the October Revolution by the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin. The holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist and socialist countries.

Sadly, women suffered terribly in the Soviet Union and under communism in other countries.

International broadcasts by such U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlets as the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which for many decades during the Cold War reported on human rights abuses and poor living conditions in the Soviet block, contributed to the eventual fall of communism and to great improvements in the rights and wellbeing of women and men alike in the entire region.

Unfortunately, in the last decade or so, the management of media entities such as VOA and RFE/RL, overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency in Washington, DC, has gotten progressively worse, and only most recently we are seeing some small improvements after a new management team was installed at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

But women employees of the BBG media entities usually were, and in some cases still are, the first victims of bad managers and poor management practices.

In general terms, there is only one woman on the BBG Board — Ambassador Karen Kornbluh — and only one woman entity head — Libby Liu, President of Radio Free Asia.

BBG Watch has learned that several women were waiting for a male BBG media entity executive whom they suspect of protecting an abusive manager to go on vacation to file their complaints against one male manager. Even though the charges were apparently serious enough to justify an unpaid suspension, BBG Watch has learned that the manager was allowed to take his suspension in short increments to lessen any financial impact. An implied message to the women employees, those who complained and others, was that they went too far or, worse, did something wrong.

In another incident, an outstanding and highly-respected journalist who specialized in human rights reporting in Russia was recently fired due to what many of her colleagues believe was misguided management at a language service level and unfair treatment at another BBG media entity. A protest letter against the firing signed by leading Russian human rights activists was sent to BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, former CEO Andy Lack and BBG members, BBG Watch has learned. With the recent assassination of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow and President Putin’s intensified propaganda offensive against the United States, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the U.S. international media organization.

Czech and Russian human rights activists are also protesting against what they charge are unfair personnel polices that discriminate against non-American and non-Czech foreign journalists working at RFE/RL headquarters in the Czech Republic. Two former RFE/RL employees who had filed anti-discrimination suits against both RFE/RL and BBG were foreign-born women. Still, overall, the non-federal BBG entities are considered to be much better managed than the BBG’s federal entities.

On a brighter note, BBG Watch reported that in a development that reflects well on the current Broadcasting Board of Governors broad, its chairman Jeff Shell, and new interim BBG CEO André Mendes, BBG Watch has learned that most of the illegally RIFed (reduction-in-force) employees of Radio and TV Marti were informed by the BBG and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) that they will be reinstated as OCB employees later this month. Some of these unjustly fired OCB employees were women.

We hope that new interim BBG CEO André Mendes will take a closer look at the treatment of women and of all employees at some of the Broadcasting Board of Governors entities. The new agency leadership should take immediate and appropriate actions to put a stop to unfair and abusive personnel practices. Poor executives and managers have made the federal part of the BBG one of the least attractive workplaces in the federal government, with some of the lowest employee morale ratings according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) employee surveys (Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey – FEVS).

The way to confront this problem is by having BBG and BBG entity executives and managers who enjoy respect and trust of journalists and other employees. We are reasonably hopeful that the new agency management team will address these problems as soon as possible. We welcome their actions that helped to resolve the OCB RIFed employee issue and look forward to more such positive developments at all BBG media entities.