Michael Lynton: absentee BBG Governor with business interests in Russia resigns

BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton

Michael Lynton

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton who has missed every BBG board meeting since January 2013 has resigned. His prolonged absence prevented the BBG board from having a quorum and made the agency in charge of U.S. overseas broadcasts virtually ungovernable. With Lynton’s departure, the bipartisan BBG board will have no quorum unless new BBG members are confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Outside of his former public service, Lynton is CEO of Sony Entertainment which has business interests in Russia and China, two main countries without free media where BBG is expected by American taxpayers who pay its bills to vigorously promote media freedom. But during Michael Lynton’s tenure on the BBG board where he was its interim chair, the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting tried to eliminate or reduce many of Voice of America (VOA) radio and television broadcasts to China and Tibet and several other countries lacking media freedom.

Tibetans protesting at BBG's Michael Lynton's Sony office in Los Angeles against silencing of Voice of America radio broadcasts to Tibet by the Broadcasting Board of Governors

Tibetans protesting at BBG's Michael Lynton's Sony office in Los Angeles against silencing of Voice of America radio broadcasts to Tibet by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

While the attempt to cut broadcasts to China and Tibet was blocked by the U.S. Congress, the former management of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which reports to the BBG, succeeded in firing dozens of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia and in eliminating many pro-human rights news programs.

It is not known what role Michael Lynton or his company’s business interests may have played in BBG decisions regarding programs to China and Russia, but he was known to defend former RFE/RL managers who fired journalists and softened Radio Liberty’s news coverage in Russia.

Lynton stopped showing up for BBG board meetings after the other governors, Victor Ashe, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, joined forces in a bipartisan effort to change RFE/RL’s management and to reverse changes in Radio Liberty programs in Russia.

Michael Lynton, a Democrat, is known to be one of President Obama’s financial political supporters. Susan McCue and Michael Meehan are also Democrats. Victor Ashe is currently the only Republican serving on the BBG board, which by law should have four Republicans, but the White House wants to replace him.

Ashe has led the effort to change the management at RFE/RL and to reform the bureacracy at BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). IBB Director Richard Lobo and his wife are known to be one of President Obama’s major financial political supporters. Ashe annoyed Lobo and other top IBB officials with his demands for accountability and transparency.

President Obama nominated two new Republicans to the BBG board and Jeff Shell, Chairman, NBCUniversal International, to serve as BBG Chairman. They have not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

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BBG Press Release

Presiding Governor Lynton Steps Down from the BBG Board   
May 23, 2013

Washington, DC – Broadcasting Board of Governors leader Michael Lynton has informed the White House that he is leaving the BBG effective today.
 
“It has been an honor to serve our country by taking part in the work of this board, which was established to oversee an agency with a complex and vital calling,” Lynton wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama about his decision. “Time and time again, we have seen that the journalists and other staff of the BBG are dedicated to the agency’s mission: to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. They prove it around the clock and against steep odds, in many cases amid some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
 
“In an effort to sustain this mission, I was proud to work with fellow board members on promoting long-needed reforms of the agency’s structure and governance– among them, enhancing collaboration between the broadcasters and establishing the position of a Chief Executive Officer with day-to-day operational responsibilities,” he continued. “I wish the current members and our successors the very best in seeing these reforms through.”
 
Lynton thanked his fellow Governors for electing him to lead the Board in February 2012, adding, “circumstances kept me from taking part in their recent formal meetings, but it is my hope that the BBG board will enjoy a full and productive membership soon.”

Michael Lynton is CEO of Sony Entertainment, Inc. He is the former CEO of AOL Europe and Chairman and CEO of Pearson plc’s Penguin Group.
 
A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Lynton serves on the boards of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Rand Corporation, and the Harvard Board of Overseers. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.
 
Lynton was named the BBG’s interim presiding governor following the departure of Chairman Walter Isaacson. He joined the board on July 2, 2010, serving a term expiring on August 13, 2012. By law, any member whose term has expired may serve until a successor has been appointed and qualified. His departure leaves the Board with four members, including Secretary of State John Kerry, who serves as an ex-officio member.
 
Here is the full text of Lynton’s resignation letter:
 
May 23, 2013
The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
With this letter, I submit my resignation from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) effective May 23rd. 2013.
 
It has been an honor to serve our country by taking part in the work of this board, which was established to oversee an agency with a complex and vital calling. Time and time again, we have seen that the journalists and other staff of the BBG are dedicated to the agency’s mission: to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. They prove it around the clock and against steep odds, in many cases amid some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
 
In an effort to sustain this mission, I was proud to work with fellow board members on promoting long-needed reforms of the agency’s structure and governance– among them, enhancing collaboration between the broadcasters and establishing the position of a Chief Executive Officer with day-to-day operational responsibilities. I wish the current members and our successors the very best in seeing these reforms through.
 
And I’d like once more to thank fellow board members for asking me to take the reins more than a year ago. Circumstances kept me from taking part in their recent formal meetings, but it is my hope that the BBG board will enjoy a full and productive membership soon.
 
Respectfully,
Michael Lynton
 

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasting organizations include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti). 

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