BBG Watch Commentary

BBG member Dennis Mulhaupt
Dennis Mulhaupt

Sources tell BBG Watch that the resignation on Tuesday of Dennis Mulhaupt from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) was sudden, strange and unexplained. As late as Monday, Mulhaupt was telling staffers that he would participate in BBG’s meetings on Wednesday and Thursday by phone.

In his letter to President Obama, he did not explain his reasons for leaving the BBG:

“Over my tenure I, along with some of my board colleagues, have consistently advocated for necessary and far-reaching reform of the governance structure and organization of U. S. international broadcasting (USIB). My belief in the importance and need for these reforms has only grown stronger the longer I have served. I hope that the administration and Congress will address soon the urgent issues facing USIB and the BBG, the components of which do such vital work advancing freedom and human rights in many countries throughout the world.”

The suddenness and timing on Mulhaupt’s resignation are raising questions within the BBG. Sources at the agency’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) told BBG Watch that as late as Monday Mulhaupt was communicating by email with staff about participating in various BBG committee and board meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. He reportedly informed the staff that he would take part in the BBG Governance Committee and RFE/RL board meeting as well as Thursday’s board meeting by phone. He then submitted his resignation to the White House on Tuesday.

The head of a U.S. media freedom NGO told BBG Watch on background that unless there is a health-related or other serious reason for Mulhaupt’s sudden resignation, his decision to leave may be also viewed as irresponsible, considering that BBG’s Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton has for months not attended any BBG meetings and the board may now lack a quorum to do its important business.

Lynton who has not been heard from since January on BBG business issued a statement praising Mulhaupt:

“Dennis Mulhaupt has been tireless and selfless in his service to the BBG. He passionately believes in the mission of U.S. international broadcasting, has approached his role with the utmost integrity, and has earned widespread respect in Washington, Prague and beyond. We will miss him greatly as a colleague on the Board, but would welcome his continued contribution to our work.”

BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe also issued a statement:

“While we differed on several significant issues, I personally wish him the best.

Meanwhile it is important the remaining Board members double down and push ahead in these difficult times. We must and will provide leadership.”

During Lynton’s prolonged absence, Ambassador Ashe and two other BBG members, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, have taken a lead on a number of reforms at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, focusing on Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the BBG’s bureaucratic arm, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which is blamed for most of the agency’s ills.

Some sources attribute Mulhaupt’s departure to the meltdown at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and his support for former RFE/RL president Steven Korn who had resigned and was replaced in January 2013 by Kevin Klose. Ashe, McCue and Meehan have been responsible for initiating the management change and other reforms at RFE/RL, sources told BBG Watch. According to sources, Mulhaupt was highly displeased with his three colleagues, as they were with him. He got along well with Michael Lynton. Both of them were strong supporters of Steven Korn and his programming changes at RFE/RL, sources told BBG Watch, but later even they became concerned by the crisis in Russia over Radio Liberty.

According to a comment posted online, Mulhaupt, who had served as the chairman of the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty board was present when an employee made a number of complaints in a public meeting last year about allegedly counterproductive programs and mismanagement at one of RFE/RL’s language services. Mulhaupt reportedly responded to the employee that complaints should be handled according to RFE/RL policies. Later the employee was fired by RFE/RL management as part of a restructuring plan, which also resulted in the firing of dozens of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia to the delight of President Putin.

Former RFE/RL president Steven Korn claimed that journalists were not fired but resigned voluntarily and were treated with great respect. According to journalists, however, they were forced to leave and even prevented by RFE/RL security guards from saying good bye to their radio and online audiences of many years.

The dismissals in Moscow produced a moral outrage among pro-democracy Russians and complaints and protests from leaders such as former President Mikhail Gorbachev and this year’s Nobel Peace Prize nominee Lyudmila Alexeeva. Leading Russian human rights activists and anti-Putin opposition political leaders have asked for the fired Radio Liberty journalists to be returned to their former jobs and for their investigative journalism programs to be restored.