BBG Watch Commentary
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) employee union, AFGE Local 1812, has posted on its website a number of commentaries on the crisis at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) brought about by the actions of its outgoing president Steven Korn and his closest associates. They include RFE/RL vice president of content Julia Ragona, vice president of administration Dale Cohen, and the new director of Radio Liberty Russian Service Masha Gessen. Together, they managed to make Radio Liberty an enemy of the entire human rights and political opposition movement in Russia and to alienate the majority of the station’s supporters.
Korn, who was selected for his position by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, claims he is resigning on his own for personal reasons. But BBG Watch and other media report that he was forced to resign by the BBG and stripped of authority to fire any more RFE/RL employees.
Korn ordered the firing of dozens of Radio Liberty’s best journalists so that Masha Gessen could bring in her own team composed of her friends and associates. Most of them are completely unknown in Russia, unlike the star journalists who were fired. After they were suddenly dismissed without any warning, they were not permitted by RFE/RL management to say good bye to their radio and online audience of many years.
AFGE Local 1812 does not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty employees. They have a different employment status than BBG employees in the United States. Most of RFE/RL employees are based overseas.
But the union representing BBG’s federal employees is taking a keen interest in the events in Prague and in Moscow out of union and professional solidarity, but also because the same BBG executives who have oversight over RFE/RL also manage the Voice of America (VOA) and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). These executives were responsible for formulating BBG’s strategic plans. To what degree they take direction from part-time board members and what degree they pursue their own agenda is a matter of some dispute, but the BBG employee union believes strongly that the blame for many of the things that went wrong with U.S. international broadcasting falls on this group of BBG officials. In the opinion of many critics, they failed to advise BBG members on the right course of action and failed to warne them about serious risks and looming crises.
BBG Watch is reposting several recent commentaries from the AFGE Local 1812 website which compare management decisions at RFE/RL with actions of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives, under the directorship of Richard Lobo, which affect the work of VOA and OCB.
by American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812
We at AFGE Local 1812 second the call by The Federalist in favor of an external investigation of the fiasco at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, that has resulted in a catastrophic loss of audience in record time of its flagship Russian Service. We also encourage a thorough investigation into the fiasco at the Voice of America, that has reduced almost to the point of irrelevance its Russian Service, eviscerated the English language newsroom and reduced audiences by prioritizing fluffy stories in new media to the detriment of more serious stories aired using more reliable methods. Not to mention the lawsuits costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, which senior management refuses to settle even as they’ve been told by Federal Arbitrators and the FLRA that they are breaking U.S. laws.
The Federalist makes very valid points: while the BBG/IBB claims that it intends to conduct a “Russia Review”, such internal reviews, like previous ones, will probably lead nowhere. Proof is the fact that in spite of the Agency’s abysmal rating in the annual OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint surveys, the same managers who have presided over these ratings for the past 10 years are still there, still pursing the same destructive agenda, still giving themselves bonuses in the thousands of dollars, presumably for a job “well-done.
“The top priority of the IBB in this matter is not transparency. The top priority is self-preservation. There should be no confidence whatsoever that the IBB will conduct a transparent, objective review” states The Federalist. “Hear, hear,” we say!
Where do VOA, the OCB, RFE/RL stand: if we are to believe the annual survey, the BBG/IBB, is, as so well stated by The Federalist, rated “the worst organization in the Federal Government, perpetuating a hostile workplace (the worst place to work in the Federal Government), a collapsed audience base, following a strategic plan which operates on the premise that there is no international broadcasting, closing language services and dismantling its core news operation.”
Why, we ask, are people seemingly bent on destroying these tools of U.S. public diplomacy allowed to continue running the Agency? With Congress and the White House unfortunately busy wrangling with the manufactured crises of the budget and debt ceiling, with the State Department undergoing a transition from one Secretary of State to another, we second the call by The Federalist for others to intervene to protect what remains of U.S. international broadcasting.