BBG member may have a conflict in vigorously defending media freedom

BBG Watch Commentary

Ann Noonan at BBG, May 15, 2013At the May 15, 2013 open meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Ann Noonan, Executive Director of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) expressed CUSIB’s concern that some BBG members and nominees may have conflict of interest issues as private companies for which they work do business in countries without free media such as Russia and China. Noonan suggested that repressive governments may retaliate against their businesses if such BBG members are outspoken in defending media freedom.

“CUSIB is … deeply concerned that some BBG members and nominees, whose private media companies for which they work do big business in China and Russia, have a conflict of interest with promoting media freedom, which annoys governments that control business access for such media companies,” Ann Noonan said.

The only current BBG member whose company, Sony Entertainment, is believed to have business interests in Russia and China is BBG’s interim presiding governor Michael Lynton who was not present at today’s meeting. He has missed every BBG board meeting since January 2013. His prolonged and unexplained absence prevents the BBG board from having a quorum and limits oversight over the agency’s bureaucracy, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

IBB executives have been blamed for a number of recent crises in how the agency fulfills its media freedom mission abroad. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) employee viewpoint surveys rate IBB executives as being some of the worst managers in the federal government. BBG also has the lowest employee morale among federal agencies.

In her presentation at the BBG meeting, Noonan congratulated BBG Governors Victor Ashe, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan for receiving the Champion of Free Speech Award from the New York Chapter of the Visual Artists Guild and for their work to restore effectiveness and reputation of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and for protecting broadcasts to China and Tibet. Noonan thanked acting RFE/RL President Kevin Klose for his efforts to reform RFE/RL. Recent attempts by Ashe, McCue and Meehan to reform IBB have encountered strong bureaucratic resistance from IBB director Richard Lobo and his deputies, sources told BBG Watch. There is speculation that some of them may have lobbied the White House to get Victor Ashe removed from the BBG board.

On behalf of CUSIB, Noonan objected to the White House decision to replace Victor Ashe on the BBG board by pointing out that he has been an outspoken defender of good management and the first one to warn about the crisis at Radio Liberty in Russia which was being ignored by IBB executives. She also noted that there are two other unfilled Republican board vacancies. Noonan appealed to the White House and U.S. Senate leaders, including Senator Mitch McConnell, to allow Victor Ashe and reform-minded Governors McCue and Meehan to serve on the BBG board while new nominations are being considered. Ashe is the only BBG governor with a perfect attendance record at board meetings.

LINK TO VIDEO.

May 15 2013

Broadcasting Board of Governors Open Meeting
Washington, D.C.

by Ann Noonan
Executive Director
Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting

On behalf of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting, I would like to congratulate BBG Governors Victor Ashe, Susan McCue, and Michael Meehan for receiving the Champion of Free Speech Award given by the New York Chapter of the Visual Artists Guild. As the former President of the New York Chapter, I was happy to recommend these three BBG Governors for their hard work this past year to promote and improve U.S. news broadcasts to China, Tibet, Russia, and other nations without free media.

We also congratulate these three Governors for all of their outstanding efforts to help restore the integrity of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. We are sure that the courageous journalists in Russia and in other Radio Liberty broadcast areas, who through no fault of their own were removed from their jobs last year, are looking forward to being reinstated. We are confident that their audience appreciates everyone who took this matter seriously so that RFE/RL could uphold their Congressional mandates. And once again, we applaud the efforts of Kevin Klose to reform Radio Liberty.

CUSIB remains aggrieved that cuts to Voice of America and Radio Free Asia broadcast services to China continue. While not discounting the importance of other media delivery platforms, shortwave radio remains the most affordable, the safest and most reliable channel to pass information to the most oppressed and economically deprived groups fighting for their human rights. We implore the BBG to think about this underserved audience and restore radio frequencies and money for broadcasters. The budget for these services needs to be increased by BBG and Congress.

CUSIB is appalled to hear that the White House has chosen to replace Victor Ashe on the BBG board while two other vacancies still remain unfilled. This news came while BBG’s Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton has missed every board meeting for the last five months, thus preventing the board from having a quorum. The loss of Victor Ashe at this time would be a huge blow to U.S. international broadcasting at a time of increasing risks abroad to national security. He is the only Governor with a perfect attendance record at board meetings.

Victor Ashe is a champion of media freedom, free speech, transparency, and good governance. He turned out to be right on every issue of mismanagement and waste he has raised. Together with Governors Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, and with the support of Secretary of State John Kerry’s designee Secretary Sonenshine, he led the fight to save RFE/RL’s mission and reputation. He is a hero to rank and file journalists and other federal and non federal employees. He has won admiration and support of the BBG employee union for his efforts to reform the agency’s bureaucracy at the International Broadcasting Bureau. His efforts demonstrate how bi-partisanship can work effectively.

Replacing Victor Ashe on the BBG board at this time is incompressible and looks to many as an attempt by bureaucrats and big financial political contributors to get rid of a Governor who annoyed them with his demands for accountability, transparency, and good performance for American taxpayers.

CUSIB is also deeply concerned that some BBG members and nominees, whose private media companies for which they work do big business in China and Russia, have a conflict of interest with promoting media freedom, which annoys governments that control business access for such media companies.

Victor Ashe, and for that matter the majority of current BBG members, have no such conflict of interest issues. CUSIB will officially and respectfully request that the White House reconsider its decision to replace Governor Ashe, and to do so in consultations with Senator Mitch McConnell and other leaders in the U.S. Senate, and submit new nominations to fill vacancies on the BBG board before any of the experienced Governors who work hard and show up for meetings are replaced. Thank you.

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