Ambassador Victor Ashe, a member of the bipartisan board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting, has written a letter to the editor of U.S. News & World Report, in which he challenges other board members to become more engaged. He mentioned the latest crisis with Radio Liberty in Russia as an example of management problems not being addressed by the board. Ashe wrote that “the Radio Free Europe audit committee has not met since May, despite an ongoing audit delving into questionable Moscow personnel firings, travel and compensation packages issues, and repeated calls for a meeting which have been ignored.”
Ashe, a Republican, was responding to another letter to the editor from the BBG’s interim presiding governor Michael Lynton, a Democrat, who took issue with criticism directed at the board in an earlier U.S. News & World Report article. BBG Watch has learned that Lynton, CEO of Sony Corporation of America and Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, did not consult Ashe before publishing his letter to the editor.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has been in the center of controversy after all major Russian human rights organizations and opposition political parties objected strongly to RFE/RL president Steven Korn’s decision to fire dozens of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow and to cancel their pro-human rights radio programs and web content. Korn said recently that he did not care if he couldn’t convince leaders of the anti-Putin Russian opposition of anything. Ashe has expressed his complete lack of confidence in Korn’s management of U.S. taxpayer-funded RFE/RL programs to Russia and other countries.
November 12, 2012
It pains me to disagree publicly with my colleague, Michael Lynton, whose letter disagrees with the October 19 article by Elizabeth Flock on Voice of America, but the record should state that it reflects his views and not those of a unanimous board. I offer the following information:
The unfortunate truth is that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees VOA, has not had a full board meeting with all members present in the same room in over 16 months. While some participate by phone, it is still not a substitute for face to face meetings.
Our BBG July meeting was canceled due to no shows and we skipped August. The September meeting failed to consider 85 percent of the agenda in a day meeting. The October meeting was reduced to a short morning meeting with numerous topics deferred due to a luncheon one member wished to attend instead of staying at BBG. The November 15 BBG meeting may not occur as two members will be in Japan and cannot call in, although the meeting was set a year ago.
Meanwhile, the Radio Free Europe audit committee has not met since May, despite an ongoing audit delving into questionable Moscow personnel firings, travel and compensation packages issues, and repeated calls for a meeting which have been ignored.
As we say in Tennessee, if you don’t want to work, you should not hire out. I am proud to say that I have attended every meeting of BBG in person since I was confirmed by the U.S. Senate two years ago.
BBG Board member
Ambassador to Poland, 2004-2009
October 30, 2012
In countless ways and on a consistent basis, the Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees the federal agency that operates Voice of America. Your October 19 article (“Voice of America, 70 Years Later, Faces Bureaucratic Troubles”) about VOA stated–unattributed–that we are “disinterested.” But the six current appointed board members have been energetically engaged for more than two years in helping bring much-needed change to a venerable institution trying to adapt to today’s complex media environment. We take our charge seriously.
The reporter attended just one public meeting and relied on an indeterminate number of anonymous sources to form conclusions about the board. Regarding our level of engagement, she did not consult all–or even most–of the board members or any of the agency staff who work most closely with us. Had she done so, she would have learned that each member of the board is actively involved via numerous meetings in person and by telephone, as well as continuous E-mail correspondence. Informed that the board spent a full year developing a strategy to modernize the agency and help it grow–a document that is available online–and told of the road map for structural reform that we devised and are now pursuing, she chose to ignore all that. Further, the observation that one of us has not attended a meeting in person since her move to New York is an error of omission that overlooks her attendance by phone and engagement behind the scenes.
There are many more problems with this story. It is a shame that the reporter omitted the views of people within and outside this agency who support what we are trying to achieve, as well as the impressive efforts by professionals in U.S. international broadcasting who are innovating every day to bring news and information to those without access to unfettered media.
The men and women who carry out our agency’s mission, some at great personal cost, deserve better than this slanted, poorly-reported story. And so do your readers.
Michael Lynton, Presiding Governor
Broadcasting Board of Governors