BBG Governors offer support to journalists in nations without free media

BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Governor Victor Ashe, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd, and RFA President Libby Liu speak with journalists and staff at the RFA offices in Phnom Penh.

BBG Governor Victor Ashe, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd, and RFA President Libby Liu speak with journalists and staff at the RFA offices in Phnom Penh.

In recent visits to Russia and Cambodia, members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) have offered support to journalists who work under difficult conditions in countries without free media. The visits show increased involvement on the part of BBG members in presenting the agency as a defender of media freedom.

A BBG press release announced that during a personal trip to Southeast Asia, BBG Governor Victor Ashe stopped by the Radio Free Asia (RFA) office in Phnom Penh to check on operations and offer support to the staff and journalists there.

“We salute you, and we recognize and appreciate the risks you take every day to bring news to the people of Cambodia,” said Ashe, who serves as the vice chairman of the board of RFA.

Reporters from both RFA and the Voice of America have felt increasing pressure and intimidation in Cambodia. Freedom House recently listed Cambodia as “Not Free” in its 2013 Freedom of the Press Report, a BBG press release noted.

Ashe, who is a former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, also arranged for U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd to visit the staff of Radio Free Asia in Phnom Penh last week.

The visit was designed to support the journalists’ efforts to provide accurate news and analysis to the people of Cambodia, a BBG press release announced.

“Ambassador Todd’s visit was a real boost to the staff of RFA,” said BBG Governor Victor Ashe, who also serves as vice chairman of the board of Radio Free Asia. “His willingness to take time out of his busy schedule communicated a strong signal of the priority and interest that he and the State Department have for the RFA mission – it speaks volumes,” said Ashe.

According to the BBG press release, “the hour-long visit included conversation with the staff and a discussion on current issues facing U.S. international media in Southeast Asia.” “Radio Free Asia’s mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press,” the press release noted.

Governors Meehan and McCue and Acting RFE/RL President Kevin Klose join VOA's Russia Bureau Chief Jim Brooke in a meeting with the U.S.Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (center)

Governors Meehan and McCue and Acting RFE/RL President Kevin Klose join VOA's Russia Bureau Chief Jim Brooke in a meeting with the U.S.Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (center)

At the end of their May 3-7 visit to Moscow, BBG Board members Susan McCue and Michael Meehan released the following statement:

“Given the rapidly shrinking independent media across Russia over the past few months, we have asked the management of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Russian Service and Voice of America Russian Service to redouble US international media efforts in that country. After our many meetings in Moscow with a range of Russian media experts and champions of human rights and civil society, we believe it is critical to have the best, most experienced news reporters working for us covering Russia both inside and outside of the country.”

“In particular, we have asked Acting RFE/RL President Kevin Klose and his team to continue their timely outreach now under way to all the former Radio Liberty journalists, whose expertise could assist in providing important insight and valuable analysis of the inner workings of Russia today.

“We wish to underscore recent observations by Reporters Without Borders, which noted that ever since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, the Russian government ‘has had a spate of repressive laws passed in order to prevent the growth of more freedom of information,’ and that this is ‘a crucial moment for freedom of information in that country.’

“Upon our return to Washington, DC, we intend to follow up on positive dialogues with Ambassador Michael McFaul and others about seeking creative partnerships to explore the potential of expanding platforms for distribution of our broadcasters’ programs. Radio Liberty is more critical than ever as Russia tightens the flow of communication throughout the country.”

This kind of involvement by BBG members was badly needed after years of mismanagement of the agency by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive staff and the recent public diplomacy crisis in Russia created by the former management of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

BBG Governors Ashe, McCue and Meehan, as well as newly-appointed acting president of RFE/RL Kevin Klose, should be applauded for their efforts to repair the damage to U.S. international broadcasting in Russia. We also applaud them for starting the process of returning to work Radio Liberty journalists who had been unjustly and wrongly fired by the previous RFE/RL management.

McCue, Meehan, Klose with Alexeeva, Gorelik and Fistein

(Photo – from left to right) Former (fired) Radio Liberty human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Board of Directors Chairwoman Susan McCue, Radio Liberty Senior Adviser Jefim Fistein, human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeeva, BBG member and RFE/RL Board member Michael Meehan, RFE/RL Acting President and CEO President Kevin Klose.

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