BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Watch has learned that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Governance Committee, scheduled to meet on September 13, will discuss, among other things, the controversial proposal to consolidate the so-called grantee broadcasters: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks – Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa (MBN). The Broadcasting Board of Governors will also hold a full board meeting on Sept 13-14, 2012, at BBG Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The original grantee consolidation plan went nowhere because it clearly violated Congressional intent to have these broadcasting entities operating independently and to serve as surrogate journalistic and opinion centers for countries without free media. That kind of administrative and programming independence is what has made most of these grantee broadcasters effective. But this administrative and operational independence is disliked by BBG bureaucrats who hope to put these grantees and their surrogate journalists under centralized control — an idea that some BBG members like and others strongly oppose. Opposition from members of Congress and criticism from media freedom organizations kept the plan from moving forward.

One can learn more about mismanagement at the BBG from the letters by members of Congress of both parties: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) PDF and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) PDF.

The word from inside the BBG headquarters in Washington, DC is that “Grantee Consolidation” is out, and the new term to be used is: “Administrative Streamlining.”

We doubt that members of Congress, Congressional staffers, and media freedom advocates will be fooled if there is no substantive change to the original proposal. We were told that the substitution of “consolidation” with “administrative streamlining” was requested by one of the members of the bipartisan BBG Board.

Let’s hope that this is not just a semantic change and that BBG members will realize that the proposed consolidation would damage some of the best-managed and still the most effective elements of the Agency. One can only look at what BBG and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive bureaucrats have done to destroy the effectiveness of the Voice of America (VOA) to realize that giving them more control and more power over Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and Radio Sawa/Alhurra TV would invite nothing but disaster.

One example of centralized BBG bureaucracy in action that the Governance Committee may also discuss at the September 13 meeting is the fact that BBG, IBB, and VOA executives kept BBG members in the dark about the nine-month disruption in the airing of “Parazit,” the highly popular VOA satirical TV program to Iran, while issuing press releases implying that the program was still being broadcast.

Another issue likely to come up at the Governance Committee meeting is the unprecedented and highly embarrassing request to the United Nations from VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch to revoke UN press credentials of independent American reporter Matthew Russell Lee. Mr. Redisch made this request because Mr. Lee became involved in a dispute with a VOA correspondent at the private association of UN correspondents and because he apparently annoyed Mr. Redisch with emails requesting his assistance in resolving the conflict — emails to which one of the VOA’s two top federal officials never replied.

BBG Watch has learned that Steve Redisch’s boss, VOA Director David Ensor, and the International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo are now telling their closest associates that Mr. Redisch “overreacted.” Dennis Mulhaupt, the chairman of the Governance Committee, reportedly told an NGO which inquired about Mr. Lee’s civil rights being violated that the committee will deal with this issue as well as the issue of the dismal state of employee morale.

Another issue that may come up at the BBG Governance Committee meeting next week are the Czech Helsinki Committee (CHC) statements that the treatment of foreign employees at the BBG-managed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague, Czech Republic, is immoral and fraudulent. These employees, mostly journalists from nations without free media, are denied some of the basic protections of Czech and American labor laws. The Czech Helsinki Committee is a highly-respected human rights organization.

“Streamlining” instead of “consolidation.” “Overreacting”

We hope that this is not yet another semantic diversion by senior executives and that Broadcasting Board of Governors members of the Governance Committee will order Mr. Redisch to apologize to Matthew Russell Lee and to officially withdraw his request to have Mr. Lee’s credentials revoked. We also hope that BBG members will put an end to unfair personnel policies at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Otherwise, what is the point of these verbal games. Words mean nothing without actions. If there is no substantive change that will result from these reported statements, mismanagement at the Broadcasting Board of Governors will continue no matter what definitions are used.

Broadcasting Board of Governors members should know by now that their management team does not smell of roses. Applying different names to their proposals and actions will not solve the problem of this worst-managed federal agency. We would respectfully suggest to BBG members a major “streamlining” of the Agency’s executive staff. Reducing and replacing the overblown BBG and IBB bureaucracy could restore employee morale, make Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti more effective, and protect the mission of BBG’s surrogate broadcasters.

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