Broadcasting Board of Governors – Just How Bad It Is, And How Much Worse It Will Be, Part One

Broadcasting Board of Governors – Just How Bad It Is, And How Much Worse It Will Be, Part One

by The Federalist

If the press releases by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) were Christmas presents, we’d have a closet full – stacked floor to ceiling.

These guys are the perfect combination of arrogance and incompetence – a combination that has led to a failed agency with a failed mission.

Let’s consider the latest press release from the BBG’s Public Affairs Office (the Office of Propaganda, as we like to call it) dated October 11, 2012: “BBG Condemns Jamming, Intimidation as Threats to Media Freedom.”

Part One of this commentary addresses the fiasco perpetrated by the BBG regarding the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) – Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda).

The BBG has neutered US Government international broadcasting to Russia. This started in 2008 when the BBG ended Voice of America (VOA) Russian Service radio broadcasts, right before the Russians invaded the Republic of Georgia.

Now, in 2012, the BBG has totally eviscerated its Radio Liberty Russian Service Moscow bureau staff, firing about 40 employees (five of them resigned on their own in protest against the brutal treatment of their colleagues) at the bureau and, according to sources, another 17 being lined up for similar treatment at the RFE/RL facilities in Prague.

As part of its disinformation campaign regarding this fiasco, the BBG is saying that it offered these employees a “buyout.” Baloney. This was no buyout. They were fired. They were given a choice between a cash severance payment or to be fired with nothing – if they wanted to fight the dismissals in Russian court. This is standard operating procedure by the BBG and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) senior staff. Legal and administrative law proceedings can take a long time and cost a lot of money. Consider the recent decision by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) regarding the illegal reduction-in-force (RIF) at Radio/TV Marti and the landmark Hartman court decision in a class action lawsuit against the agency which cost the American taxpayers half a BILLION dollars.

These RFE/RL fired employees exercised the only rational decision available to them under the circumstances and with no notice.

The agency has used the term “buyout” because that is the impression it wants to sell to Members of Congress and others. In the Federal Government, “buyouts” have been used most often as an incentive to get employees to voluntarily retire from the Federal Service. The tactic used at RFE/RL with its Russian Service employees was under conditions best described as brutal, coercive and under duress.

BBG Federal employees take note: don’t think you’re safe and secure back there in the Cohen Building. These guys want to de-Federalize you and rob you of civil service rights and protections. They would be more than happy to use tactics on you similar to those used against the RFE/RL employees.

In place of these RFE/RL employees will be newer and fewer employees – but costing as much in salary and benefits as the more numerous employees being let go! That blows any “efficiency” argument by the BBG/IBB right out of the water.

In addition, the Moscow bureau will be headed by an individual known in Russia for being something of a media gadfly. In short, the chief will be the story rather than a nose-to-the-grindstone journalist or manager. She is also well known for interviews that put her at odds with the traditional values of Russian culture and the Russian Orthodox Church.

These are not the ingredients that augur well for a successful RFE/RL presence in Russia.

Add to that, the Russian government has taken steps to put in place more effective controls over news media in Russia. On top of that RFE/RL has lost its AM radio station/frequency/license in Moscow.

How is this looking so far?

But wait, there’s more!

The BBG is talking about new facilities in Moscow. So the questions are:

Who owns the building?

Who are the other tenants in the building?

If the bureau will contract out technical services, who owns the company providing those services?

Are new employees subject to security clearances to be working for an agency of the US Government?

Our sources tell us that the building may be partly owned or at least occupied by Vladimir Posner, a well known Russian media figure with ties to the government – and back in the old days he was the chief Soviet propaganda master appearing on American TV.

We know the Russians very well. You can be assured that the Russian security services will keep the RFE/RL Moscow bureau on a short leash, using various tactics at their disposal to make sure the new staff does not go “off the script” as determined by the Russian government. The journalists who were highly respected by the democratic opposition have shown that they have the courage to criticize the Kremlin and expose human rights abuses and corruption are gone.

And there’s even more!

As the BBG press release states:

“(Presiding Board Member Michael) Lynton spoke at length of recent Russian legislative steps that have imposed restrictions on freedom of expression, including a law that is forcing RFE/RL programs off of the organization’s last AM affiliate in Moscow. He noted, “This board strongly objects to the tightening stranglehold on the free flow of information taking place today in Russia.” Lynton reiterated Governors’ support for Steve Korn’s leadership of RFE/RL in its efforts throughout the region.”

What?!?

The agency just got clocked by the Russian government and these guys added to the fiasco by hammering their own employees in the RFE/RL Moscow bureau!!!

Lynton admits to getting clocked and then turns around and says the equivalent of, “You’re doing a great job, Stevie!”

Our editors report this ringing endorsement has been removed. It’s not on the website anymore. But it is the press release of record that was send out to the entire world. To the best of our knowledge, no one has not been advised that the endorsement of Mr. Korn had been revised or the statement removed.

This is yet another perfect example of the hypocrisy of the BBG.

Our sources tell us that Mr. Korn, the RFE/RL president, is saying this will all blow over.

More baloney.

With all the negatives surrounding the decision regarding the RFE/RL Russian Service Moscow bureau: the firings, the new service chief, the protests from well known Russian opposition figures — former President Gorbachev, former Prime Minister Kasyanov, former Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, legendary human rights leader Lyudmila Alexeeva — and their opposition political parties and organizations, what Korn is doing is poking the Russian public in the eye every day with the mere existence of the “new” bureau. It has become a monument to stupidity and a reminder to people that the agency being co-opted by the Russian government.

And you can take it to the house: the Russian public won’t forget, especially when the BBG blows off criticisms of its actions with dismissive statements.

You can take the “L” out of RFE/RL and just label it: dead-on-arrival.

We have to say it:

US Government international broadcasting is in the hands of the wrong kind of people. On any level, the only things they do consistently well are enable and facilitate (a) the failure of US Government international broadcasting and (b) effective countermeasures by those opposed to the agency’s mission.

Whose side are these guys on?

Regimes large and small that want nothing of US Government international broadcasting, websites and the like are following a very successful playbook in how to defeat the US Government in its outreach programs.

This leads to the question:

Why are we spending close to a billion dollars a year to subsidize a brain-dead, failed mission led by venal, self-aggrandizing officials who only care about the size of their annual bonuses on top of their six-figure salaries?

This is commonly referred to as:

Waste, fraud and abuse.

Forget the trash talk from the BBG about “supporting freedom and democracy.”

Actions by the BBG would appear to indicate that they may well be the purveyors of intimidation and threat to media freedom.

The Federalist
October 2012

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