U.S. official Victor Ashe calls for keeping a radio facility capable of reaching China

BBG Governor Amb. Victor Ashe Raises Employee Morale Issues

This is an exclusive report by BBG Watch (BBGWatch.com). Republication is permitted with attribution.

BBGWatch.com – December 20, 2011 – Victor Ashe, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has called for keeping open the radio broadcasting facility on U.S. territory that is capable of transmitting shortwave radio programs to China. Some Obama Administration officials want to shut down the last remaining U.S.–based international broadcast station located in North Carolina. Ashe also called for urgent reforms in the way the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting operates. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have criticized the BBG for lacking transparency and exercising bad judgement with regard to broadcasting to China.

Victor Ashe’s statement released as a personal wish list for 2012 is unprecedented for a member of the BBG since these presidentially-appointed officials usually do not publicly express their misgivings about how their agency is being managed.

Ashe has become an outspoken critic of the permanent BBG bureaucracy in charge of planning and day-to-day operations of U.S. international broadcasting. He has made his displeasure known by visiting broadcasting services and technical facilities that some of the other BBG members wanted to eliminate based on the recommendations they had received from their executive staff.

It is not clear how the BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson and the other members of the bipartisan board will react to Ashe’s statement. Isaacson, the former Chairman and CEO of CNN, former editor of Time Magazine and the author of the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs, is a Democrat. Ashe, a Republican, was the longest serving mayor of Knoxville and the President to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He had also served as the U.S. Ambassador to Poland from 2004 to 2009.

In his statement, Ashe calls for keeping open the Edward R. Murrow Greenville Transmitting Station in Greenville, North Carolina, which he had recently visited despite objections from some of the BBG executives who want to close it down.

Ashe said in his statement that this facility is the only one on American soil where the U.S. government has jurisdiction. He pointed out that a similar station in the Philippines, operated by the BBG, is barred from transmitting radio programs to China due to the Philippine government’s reluctance to upset the Chinese government. “That could not happen on American territory,” Ashe noted in his statement.

BBG Governor Victor Ashe and VOA Director David Ensor meeting with VOA China Branch employees - BBG photo

Ashe, joined by the Voice of America Director David Ensor, also met last week with broadcasters of the VOA China Branch in Washington, D.C., 45 of whom were at risk of being fired and their radio and television programs terminated. BBG officials wanted to rely only on the Internet to deliver VOA news in Mandarin to China despite the fact that the Chinese government censors the Internet and blocks VOA Chinese websites. BBG officials claimed that the money saved from ending broadcasts and firing journalists would be used to expand online and new media presence in China.

BBG members had initially accepted their staff’s recommendation to end VOA radio and television programs to China on October 1, 2011, but later reversed their decision after a storm of protests by Chinese Americans, human rights organizations, and the action by members of Congress from both parties to block the silencing of broadcasts.

Ashe was reportedly instrumental in getting other BBG members to sign a Certificate of Recognition, which he and Ensor presented last week to the VOA China Branch to mark the 70th anniversary of VOA broadcasting to China. Ashe expressed his confidence in Ensor’s leadership.

Earlier, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) public affairs office had refused numerous employee requests to issue a press release about the Capitol Hill reception, hosted by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Voice of America (VOA) broadcasting to China. BBG public affairs experts also ignored an unprecendented video statement in support of VOA broadcasting to China recorded by the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Ashe is said to be also concerned by the way of some of the BBG top managers treat their subordinates and by the second-class status of the agency’s full-time contract employees. In his statement, Ashe refers to the government-wide employee surveys conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, in which the BBG has been consistently rated as being among the worst-managed federal agencies.

Ashe’s comment about “boorish behavior in the work place” may be a partial reference to a description used by a yet to be identified top official appointed by the BBG who was said to be discussing his desire to promote his favorite employees and contrasting them with “old white guys.” Sources have told BBG Watch that some BBG members wanted to have the official fired for making that remark but could not get a majority vote. The official is believed to be a former CNN associate of the BBG Chairman. Several former CNN employees have been hired in recent months by the BBG. BBG Watch sources describe Isaacson was well-meaning but too removed and distracted by the promotion of his recently published biography of Steve Jobs.

Ashe’s statement points to one success in his efforts to improve employee morale. Due to his recent intervention, contract employees at the BBG headquarters in Washington, D.C. were able to receive flu immunization shots to limit the risk of infection to the entire workforce. Until Ashe raised this issue in an open meeting, BBG executives were preventing these employees from receiving free flu shots, as well as denying them most other usual employment benefits, which these full time contractors still do not get.

In his statement, Ashe called for action and not just words to improve employee morale. Contract employees represent nearly half of the Voice of America workforce.

Ashe also paid a recent visit to Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa headquarters in Northern Virginia and praised Brian Conniff, President of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc. (MBN), and his staff for their dedication in preparing broadcasts to the Middle East.

Ashe is believed to be the only current BBG member who regularly meets with groups of employees and listens to their complaints.

The BBG is likely to face further scrutiny from Congress in 2012. The same BBG executives who wanted to end VOA radio and television broadcasts to China have proposed a merger of Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and MBN into a large corporate bureaucracy and want to de-federalize VOA and Radio and TV Marti.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors encompasses all U.S. civilian international broadcasting, including the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio and TV Martí, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)—Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television. The Broadcasting Board of Governors is a bipartisan board comprised of nine members. Eight, no more than four from one party, are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate; the ninth is the Secretary of State, who serves ex officio.

BBG Watch (BBGWatch.com), an independent website managed by former and current BBG employees, has obtained a copy of BBG Governor Ashe’s statement, which we post below.

Statement of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Victor H. Ashe

I hope that 2012 sees a new era of employee-management relations for BBG. I feel the Governors are becoming increasingly aware that having 45 percent of all VOA employees as contract employees presents major issues of fairness, concern and accountability. It creates two classes of employees for a single work force.

I hope BBG director Dick Lobo will appoint a broad based committee representing all groups to review the issue and make recommendations to the Board. The BBG governance committee must take a hard look at this. The recent flu shot issue which was favorably resolved highlights how foolish the two classes of employees had become as it made no sense to deny contract employees flu shots while offering them to federal employees all working in the same building and office space. How this ever occurred in the first place surprised me.

Surveys have consistently shown bad morale. We must turn this around. Contract employees are not surveyed by OPM. Recently, IBB sent out a limited survey on the contracts themselves but not on general work place issues. While well intended, that attempt falls short of what is needed to gauge employee thoughts. We must make a New Year’s resolution to do better in this area. We must walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

We must also ring the bell that boorish behavior in the work place will not be tolerated. We must be open and transparent in how we deal with it. I am confident that the new engaged leadership of David Ensor will prevail and create a new climate in this field. He is implementing new procedures.

I felt my visit to the Edward Murrow Transmission facility in Greenville, NC on December 7 was a good one and I learned a lot. I am convinced it is a serious mistake to close this facility which is the only one on American soil where the American government has jurisdiction. The station in the Philippines is barred from transmissions to China due the Philippine government’s reluctance to upset the Chinese government. That could not happen on American territory.

The Murrow facility has been hidden from public view and I urge it to be more visible. Its name had become Site B which is effectively nameless. However, President Kennedy had participated in 1962 naming it for Edward R Murrow, one of our nation’s most respected newscasters. The signs should be re-erected in North Carolina and the public of Pitt County invited to visit. We should be proud of the Murrow facility.

On December 14, I spent most of the day visiting and meeting employees of MBN in Springfield, VA and was deeply impressed by Brian Conniff and his dedicated staff. They are outstanding. In March the full Board plans to meet there.

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