BBG Watch Commentary

Visual Artists GuildThree members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting, will receive the 2013 Champion of Free Speech Award from the New York Chapter of the Visual Artists Guild. The award will be presented to Victor Ashe, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan at the Annual Tiananmen Anniversary Dinner which will be held in New York on Saturday, June 1, 2013.

BBG member Victor Ashe
Victor Ashe
Susan McCue
Susan McCue
BBG member Michael Meehan
Michael Meehan

Ashe, McCue and Meehan are presidentially-appointed members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Victor Ashe is former U.S. ambassador to Poland and former mayor of Knoxville, TN. Susan McCue is President of Message Global, a strategic advocacy firm she founded in 2008 for social action campaigns. She is former Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from 1999 to 2007. Michael Meehan runs communications strategy and public relations firm, VennSquared Communications. He had previously served in senior roles on Capitol Hill for U.S. Senators John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and Congressman Vic Fazio and John Olver.

BBG broadcasting organizations include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).

Visual Artists Guild is also honoring this year Chen Guangcheng, the blind “barefoot” human rights lawyer who, thanks to the efforts of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been permitted to reside in New York City with his family as a visiting scholar. The organization is also honoring Lhamo Tso, the wife of imprisoned Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen.

Established in 1985, Visual Artists Guild’s mission is to support freedom of speech and expression. “Our nonprofit organization holds the belief that the right of freedom of expression is the lifeblood of all artists,” said Visual Artists Guild Board Chair Ann Lau. “Our mission is to bring to world attention whenever such a right is threatened or suppressed,” Lau added. The organization has lobbied members of Congress to continue funding of U.S.-supported broadcasts to nations without free media to to resist proposals to cut these programs.

Visual Artists Guild will be honoring this year Victor Ashe, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan for “their tremendous efforts to defend and promote media freedom through their work at the Broadcasting Board of Governors,” said Peggy Howard Chane, President of the Visual Artists Guild NYC.

The New York chapter of Visual Artists Guild was established in 2008 by Ann Noonan, past Board member of Visual Artists Guild and current Executive Director of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – CUSIB Advisory Board members Tala Dowlatshahi (Reporters Without Borders) and Harry Wu (Laogai Research Foundation) are some of the past recipients of of the Champion of Free Speech Award. CUSIB supported the nomination of the three BBG members to receive this year’s Champion of Free Speech Award as being the most active and effective advocates of media freedom through the Broadcasting Board of Governors programs.

BBG Watch has learned that Visual Artists Guild wanted to honor this year Ashe, McCue and Meehan as BBG members who prevented proposed cuts in Voice of America and Radio Free Asia broadcasts to Tibet and China and for initiating management reforms at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the International Broadcasting Bureau to repair damage caused by the 2012 firing of dozens of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia and cancelation of their programs in support of human rights. Thanks to their intervention, new RFE/RL management is working on restoring Radio Liberty’s media freedom role in Russia and management reforms are expected at the International Broadcasting Bureau as well to improve flow of information to other nations without free media.

Archive Photo, Sept. 2012. (l to r) BBG Governor Michael Meehan, Aung San Suu Kyi, BBG Governors Victor Ashe and Susan McCue at RFA in Washington, DC.
Archive Photo, Sept. 2012. (l to r) BBG Governor Michael Meehan, Aung San Suu Kyi, BBG Governors Victor Ashe and Susan McCue at RFA in Washington, DC.

History of Champion of Free Speech Award

The Goddess of Democracy by Tom Van SantIn June 4, 1989, Tom Van Sant, an artist with the Visual Artist Guild and board member was driving through Boston on the way to the airport when he saw several hundred students on a vigil in front of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology administration building. Van Sant was very much moved by this silent protest of the Tiananmen massacre. He got off his car and joined the students for an hour before he proceeded on this journey. While on the plane trip back to Los Angeles, he started to design a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue from a magazine. The next day, at the Visual Artist Guild board meeting, Van Sant presented the idea to build a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue that was destroyed at Tiananmen Square. The board overwhelmingly decided to support him in this project. In the early morning of June 12, 1989, a 23 foot replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue made of foam and wood was erected at the Los Angeles Civic Center by Tom Van Sant and his fellow artists.

That morning, thousands of people in Los Angeles saw the statue and were amazed at this symbol of support for the students in China. The City Council of Los Angeles held an emergency meeting to decide if the statue would be allowed to remain on the pedestrian overpass of a thoroughfare as no permit were given prior to its installation. During the Council meeting, a 4.2 earthquake happened and people rushed out of the building. The Councilmembers saw that the statue stood still even after the earthquake, they subsequently allowed the statue to stay for a month.

In 1991, Los Angeles City Council members presented Visual Artists Guild President Ariel Hart and Tom Van Sant with commendations.

In 1992, Visual Artists started giving out awards at our annual award dinner and Tiananmen Commemoration.

Among the many past awardees were: Todd Carrel (ABC News Bureau Chief), Harry Wu ( Human Rights activist), Emily Lau (Hong Kong Legislator), Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, PEN West (Writers group), Wan Dan (Tiananmen student leader), Committee to Protect Journalist, Mak Yin Ting (Hong Kong Journalist Association president), Han Dong Fang (Labor Rights activist), Tom Van Sant (sculptor), Wei Jingsheng (pro-democracy activist), Mia Farrow and Ronan Farrow (Darfur activists ) and others.

The New York chapter of Visual Artists Guild was established in 2008 by Ann Noonan, past Board member of Visual Artists Guild.

Visual Artists Guild have held press conferences, speakers forums, protests, art exhibitions and other performance arts to highlight issues on freedom of speech and prisoners of conscience.

Visual Artists Guild have also produced documentaries and videos on those issues. Some of the issues can be found as: (Hong Kong in Transition ) (20th anniversary Award ceremony) (March for Human Rights) (Appeal for journalist Ching Cheong’s release)

Some of the VOA reports and other videos from New York activities: (appeal not to cut VOA budget)

Some of the New York activities:

Visual Artists Guild’s web site is