BBG Watch Commentary

Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press
Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press

Official emails posted online by Inner City Press reporter Matthew Lee confirm previous reports that Voice of America executive editor Steve Redisch tried to have Lee’s press accreditation at the United Nations revoked. Redisch sent a formal request to a UN official asking him to “review” Lee’s status as a reporter.

The emails also leave an impression that BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives may have at least tried to limit the amount of negative information about the scandal reaching members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the public. IBB officials also tried to prevent a public discussion on the matter at an open BBG meeting.

See: “Less is Better” and “No More Surprises” emails.

Emails, which Lee obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, indicate that at least one BBG member, Ambassador Victor Ashe, understood the significance of a high Voice of America official trying to prevent an independent journalist from doing his job and called it “a freedom of the press issue.” Ashe was asking for an open discussion in an apparent effort to show that VOA and the BBG do not condone attempts by its executives to place restrictions on the work of outside journalists.

“I do not consider this a personnel matter but a freedom of the press issue regardless of what Mr Redisch’s motive may or may not have been. It is clearly being debated in the public arena at present. Frankly the by laws clearly state that a Govemor can place any topic on the Board agenda and I so request it. If the Board by majority vote wants to refer it to a closed session then that would be the Board decision at that time.”

The Broadcasting Board of Governors Deputy General Counsel Paul Kollmer-Dorsey tried to keep any discussion of the Lee matter out of the public eye.

In his Inner City Press article, Lee claims that UN and Voice of America officials collaborated to censor him. VOA officials said earlier that Redisch only tried to protect a VOA correspondent who was involved in a professional dispute with Lee at the United Nations.

“BBG’s lawyers argued that it was somehow a ‘personnel matter,’ although Inner City Press did not and would not work for VOA,” Lee reported, and on these basis tried to limit public disclosure and discussion. But Redisch’s request to the UN to have Lee’s press accreditation revoked was clearly a public act by a public official.

Lee also reported that VOA director David Ensor wrote to the BBG Governors and then to members of Congress, who made inquiries (but never to Inner City Press or the UN), admitting that the request to get the UN to dis-accredit Inner City Press “was not appropriate.”

VOA's Steve Redisch's Complaint to the UN Against Matthew Russell Lee asking for his UN press accreditation to be reviewedBBG Watch firmly believes that Mr. Redisch’s request to the UN to ban an independent reporter was one of the darkest moments in the history of the Voice of America as a public American institution established to promote free flow of news and information from the United States to the rest of the world.

We do not think that Mr. Redisch acted with malice or even that his intention was to censor Mr. Lee’s reporting at the UN.

But what Mr. Redisch did as the second in command executive at the Voice of America was simply unthinkable and utterly unacceptable for an official of an U.S. taxpayer-funded institution devoted to strengthening media freedom abroad.

By refusing to publicly condemn Mr. Redisch’s extremely poor judgement and his appalling decision to write to the UN to expel a journalist, and by trying to cover up the scandal, Broadcasting Board of Governors, International Broadcasting Bureau and Voice of America executives proved once again that they are not capable of holding nor are they worthy of their important public positions.

Most members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors are also not without blame, although BBG, IBB and VOA executive staff may have withheld from them material and critical information. But had they acted resolutely and publicly to condemn Mr. Redisch’s request to the UN, it would have sent a clear message to their executives that the Broadcasting Board of Governors is committed to media freedom and to holding its top managers to very high standards of professional behavior.

Most BBG members did not act in this manner and that may have made it later easier for BBG-appointed executives like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steven Korn and his top deputies to launch and nearly complete their historic and tragic destruction of Radio Liberty in Russia. BBG members are now facing their own historic decisions on how to save Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. We sincerely hope that this time they will do the right thing.

LINK to Inner City Press latest article on the scandal.

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