BBG Watch Commentary

Susan McCue
Susan McCue
BBG member Michael Meehan
Michael Meehan

Two board members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, will travel to Russia at the end of the week to assess progress in restoring Radio Liberty’s reputation and effectiveness in the country after the turmoil of the last few months brought about by the firing last September of dozens of journalists.

In addition to serving on the BBG board, Susan McCue is also the chairwoman of the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) corporate board, which includes Meehan and all other BBG members. BBG member Victor Ashe serves as the co-chair of the RFE/RL board. He is currently on a trip to Asia and was unable to travel to Russia at this time.

With BBG’s Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton absent from meetings without any public explanation since January, McCue, Ashe, Meehan, and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine, who represents ex officio BBG member Secretary of State John Kerry, are now the only ones in charge of U.S. international broadcasting. They selected Kevin Klose, a distinguished journalist and former NPR executive who had been RFE/RL president in the 1990s, to resolve the crisis at Radio Liberty, which in the last seven months has lost not only its reputation but also much of its previous audience.

Klose took over as acting RFE/RL president and CEO in January. Some of the RFE/RL managers who had planned the firing of journalists in Moscow have already resigned from the U.S. taxpayer-supported media freedom institution.

RFE/RL announced Tuesday that Masha Gessen, the controversial director of the Russian Service, has now also submitted her resignation. She claims that she had nothing to do with the decision to fire the journalists, but her resignation may open the way for returning them to Radio Liberty.

Journalists were dismissed by the previous American management of the station after Gessen’s appointment was announced but before she officially assumed her duties. She had previously worked as a management consultant for former RFE/RL president Steven Korn who was responsible for hiring her and firing Radio Liberty journalists.

Kevin Klose will be present in Moscow during the visit by McCue and Meehan. They are expected to meet with Russian human rights activists and media experts who strongly support the fired Radio Liberty team. They include Nobel Peace Prize nominee Lyudmila Alexeeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Kevin Klose has been in close contact with Alexeeva and other Russian democratic leaders.

BBG member Victor Ashe
Victor Ashe

Sources told BBG Watch that both McCue and Meehan are in favor of returning the journalists to Radio Liberty and restoring their programs. Victor Ashe has taken the same position. He was the first BBG governor to call publicly for management reforms at RFE/RL. Ashe had apologized earlier to the fired journalists on his own behalf.

“We cannot let the tragic events at the Moscow Bureau over the past six months go unmentioned. As one Board member, As one individual Governor, I want to apologize for what happened. I can assure you the Board was never informed in any significant way as to what happened. That does not lessen the scope or the manner in which decisions were made and implemented. I feel with Kevin Klose, RFE/RL has a new leader who generates confidence and deserves our support as he works to deal with the situation.”

McCue, Meehan and Ashe have also tried to reform the bureaucracy within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the executive arm of the BBG, which had failed to alert the board to the developing crisis at RFE/RL and a public diplomacy disaster in Russia. These reforms are proving to be more difficult to achieve, however, due to resistance from IBB officials, sources told BBG Watch. But, according to the same sources, BBG members are determined to resume their efforts to transform the IBB bureaucracy after they return from their overseas trips.