Described by a member of the United States Congress as “opaque in its decision making and incredibility tone deaf to Congressional priorities,” the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasts, adopted “a resolution establishing ground rules pursuant to which members of the BBG board agree to keep information regarding deliberations on budgetary and legislative matters confidential, with the level of confidentiality of legislative proposals to be determined by the current head of the board.”
Under the new rules, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is an ex officio BBG member, would be in effect prevented from discussing some BBG matters with the State Department senior staff, members of Congress, and the President of the United States. Some of the BBG members and their senior staffers have been asking Congress to remove restrictions of the Smith-Mundt Act on targeting Americans with their information, but at the same time they want to make sure with the new gag resolution that only the information they approve reaches members of Congress and the American public, while their critics would be silenced.
These critics have described the resolution as an attempt to limit information about U.S. international broadcasting available to members of Congress, NGOs and the general public. While the BBG officials supporting the resolution tried to frame it in national security and foreign policy terms, the information that produced bipartisan rebukes in Congress and among media freedom and human rights NGOs came in an open fashion from the BBG senior staff itself, while information used in media reports focused on mismanagement at the agency and waste of taxpayers’ money. Members of Congress from both parties have strongly criticized BBG officials for secretiveness and ignoring Congressional directives. Congressional committees in the House and the Senate voted to block BBG plans to end broadcasts to China, Tibet and other countries with restricted media.
BBG Watch has obtained a statement from the Broadcasting Board of Governors member Victor H. Ashe who opposed the non-disclosure resolution in its original form and fought successfully to change it. While Ashe, a former mayor of Knoxville and former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, eventually voted for the resolution, he is still expressing his strong reservations in the following statement:
STATEMENT BY BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS MEMBER, HONORABLE VICTOR H. ASHE
“I appreciate my colleagues on BBG making two significant revisions to the non disclosure protocol which was hastily drafted and ill conceived. It shows that they listened and thru the dialogue which occurred they saw shortcomings in the draft. However, many unanswered questions remain on the wisdom of this as well as its implementation.
Are Board members precluded from talking to members of Congress or their own attorneys about drafting of possible legislation? Will First Amendment rights for all be protected? What are the legal consequences should some Board member not follow this new protocol? How will the BBG determine who has violated the protocol? Will there be a hearing on this and will that be in public? Who will determine what evidence is presented and what is acceptable? These are some of the issues.
What bothers me most is that this protocol was conceived in secrecy so that few would know what was in the document until the BBG Meeting actually opened some 4500 miles from American soil in Prague, Czech Republic. It was not even listed on the first printed agenda sent out and posted on the BBG web site. I only received the actual agenda showing this 14 hours before the meeting. The actual proposal changed with each new e mail sent out. The governance committee was bypassed and never held a meeting on it. A meeting by the governance committee could have heard many of the concerns and allowed them to be corrected. A more thoughtful proposal could have been presented. That process never occurred while some Board members were excluded from the process all together. Deputy legal general counsel Paul Kollmer simply failed to answer several of my e-mails seeking clarification and information. He said later he never received them.
This issue will keep coming back to us for further clarification as to what is covered and not covered. Transparency took a beating. I have stated clearly to my colleagues that I will be guided by my conscience on this. Often this is compared to a private corporation but BBG is a public agency and should be honored to operate fully in the open. BBG should not make efforts to carve out areas of secrecy.”
Victor H. Ashe
Ambassador Ashe holds the distinction of being the longest serving mayor of Knoxville. During his time in office, from 1988 to 2003, he was the President to the U.S. Conference of Mayors from 1994 to 1995 and received their Distinguished Service Award for Leadership in 2003.
Ashe served as the United States Ambassador to Poland from June 2004 to October 2009. In 2004, he was a Fellow at Harvard University’s JFK Institute of Politics.
From 1968 until 1974, Ashe served as a Tennessee State Representative. In 1975, he was elected as State Senator and held office until 1984. Ashe served in 1967 as a staff assistant to US Sen. Howard Baker. He was executive director of the Americans Outdoors Commission, 1985-1987 chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander (then Governor).
Five U.S. Presidents, beginning with President Ronald Reagan, have named Ashe to different federal positions. He will be the first former Ambassador and local elected official to serve on the BBG.
Ashe currently sits on the Board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Rivers Association, and is a former member of the AmeriCorps Board of Directors.
Ambassador Ashe earned a B.A. in History from Yale University in 1967 and graduated from the College of Law at the University of Tennessee in 1974.
Ashe is a member of the Governance Committee and the Strategy and Budget Committee and serves as Corporate Board Vice Chair of Radio Free Asia.
Ashe was appointed to the board on July 2, 2010 to a term expiring on August 13, 2010. By law, any member whose term has expired may serve until a successor has been appointed and qualified.
He is married to the former Joan Plumlee and they have two children—J. Victor and Martha.
Ashe resides at 3709 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919 and welcomes comments and views on BBG issues. He can be reached by phone at 865 523-6573 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.