BBG Watch Commentary

Dec. 2012 Meeting of the BBGSpeaking off the record, well-placed sources within the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) administration in Washington told BBG Watch that statements recently made to Russian media by the director of Radio Liberty Russian Service Masha Gessen were completely unauthorized by the BBG or the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive staff. The same sources also characterized Gessen’s statements as completely false in most respects.

Gessen told Russian media that changes initiated by her and her patron, the outgoing Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steven Korn, will continue and that she will not be removed from her current position by the BBG or any new RFE/RL president appointed by the BBG.

See: Masha Gessen sends a message she’s untouchable at Radio Liberty.

Sources would not comment publicly because BBG members have not been fully consulted in this matter, but they told BBG Watch off the record that many within the BBG are outraged by Gessen’s misleading statements to Russian media regarding her status and her unprecedented rebuke of a sitting BBG Governor appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Such outrageous and false statements cannot be tolerated by the BBG as they mislead the Russian public opinion and make BBG members and IBB top officials look confused and ridiculous in Russia, one highly-placed BBG source told BBG Watch.

It is not clear when and how the BBG will respond to Gessen’s statements to Russian media. It would depend on BBG members, who work only part time, consulting and agreeing on a response, one source told BBG Watch.

BBG Watch reported earlier, based on information from several sources within the BBG administration who spoke to BBG Watch off the record, that several BBG members are discussing ways of rehabilitating the fired Radio Liberty journalists and bringing them back to work at the station as a step toward restoring the broadcaster’s former reputation in Russia.

A former high BBG official, who also spoke off the record, gave this comment to BBG Watch:

“Gessen has no authority to question a sitting Governor and criticize him in the Russian media Is this an attempt to insult him or the United States Government? Or for that matter the President of the United States? Ashe represents the United States and the President. This is very serious.

If Gessen was not given the authority to speak about the departure of Korn and his intentions—-that were discussed in a closed session of the BBG–then did she break or release any privileged information? The Board was asked to keep a close hold until a certain date. The Board needs to know what other information is she choosing to release? Does she maintain a security clearance? Has she compromised it? If she does not have a clearance—-why not? Can she be trusted with confidential or classified information? There may be a breach here.

Gessen forgets she works for a grantee of the United States Government. Her actions will be scrutinized. She does not get to go rogue. She does have to report to the President of RFE/RL–he has to report to the Governors–who report to the Congress and the American people.

If she continues to insult the United States, maliciously ignore the mission of RFE/RL, and cause further damage to RFE/RL’s capability to broadcast (by losing its journalistic reputation)–or fail to re-instate the fired 41 journalists, the Board must find out why and pursue an investigation of fraud, waste and abuse. This should include questions of why she was given such a hefty salary–terms and conditions of her contract. Did Gessen ask Korn to fire those journalists as part of her assuming her position? What was the timing?”