BBG Governor Victor Ashe: situation at RFE/RL ‘has been righted’

BBG Governor Victor Ashe with Russian human rights leader Lyudmila Alexeeva and human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik. Moscow, June 2013.

Photo: BBG Governor Victor Ashe with Russian human rights leader Lyudmila Alexeeva and human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik. Moscow, June 2013.

BBG Watch Commentary

At the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) meeting on June 19, 2013, in Washington, DC, and in Prague, the Czech Republic, BBG Governor Victor Ashe commented on what he said were successful management reforms at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) led by acting RFE/RL president Kevin Klose. Ashe’s comments about RFE/RL were not included in the press release issued by the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

Some IBB executives are being blamed for allowing the crisis at RFE/RL to develop last year. They were reportedly behind efforts to end criticism from Ashe and his calls for more transparency and accountability by getting the White House personnel office to replace him on the BBG board. That action still requires a decision from the U.S. Senate which has to confirm Ashe’s replacement, Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Until Crocker is confirmed by the Senate, Ashe will continue to serve on the BBG board. BBG employee union, AFGE Local 1812, the nonpartisan Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting and a group of independent Russian journalists and RFE/RL broadcasters have written letters to the U.S. Senate urging that Ashe’s membership on the broadcasting board be continued.

Management reforms, which included the resignation of a former RFE/RL president and the appointment of Kevin Klose, were initiated by Victor Ashe and two other BBG members: Susan McCue and Michael Meehan with support from Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine.
Governor Ashe played a critical role in pushing for reforms at RFE/RL and demanding justice for the fired journalists in Russia, Kazakhstan, and other countries. Some of these journalists have been rehired, but others fired by the former RFE/RL management under questionable circumstances have not yet been invited to return.

There is also the unresolved issue of alleged discrimination against third-country employees working at RFE/RL in Prague who for years have been denied full protection of American and Czech labor laws. The Czech Helsinki Committee and some members of the Czech Parliament have condemned these RFE/RL labor policies which date back to mid-1990s when RFE/RL had moved its headquarters from Munich, Germany to Prague. It is not clear what new acting RFE/RL president Kevin Klose and BBG members plan to do to resolve this issue.

One of the former employees, Snjezana Pelivan, is suing RFE/RL in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Another former employee, an Armenian journalist Anna Karapetian, was suing in the Czech courts. Both women allege that RFE/RL discriminates against employees on the basis of national origin. Since the open meeting adjourned after about 15 minutes, it is not known if the issue was discussed by BBG governors and Kevin Klose in a closed meeting.

Wednesday’s BBG meeting was chaired by Governor Susan McCue who also serves as chair of the RFE/RL corporate board. Victor Ashe serves as RFE/RL corporate board vice chair.

During the open meeting, Ashe thanked Under Secretary Sonenshine for her help in pushing forward management reforms at RFE/RL. Sonenshine will soon be leaving her position at the State Department and her position as the Secretary of State’s representative at BBG.
Also participating in the BBG meeting in Washington, DC was Governor Michael Meehan. He and Susan McCue made a recent trip to Moscow to assess the role of Radio Liberty in Russia. They helped to speed up the reform process by calling for the rehiring of Radio Liberty journalists who had been fired by the previous RFE/RL management.

Link to Video on YouTube.

BBG GOVERNOR and RFE/RL VICE CHAIR VICTOR ASHE: Let me just say since I’m here in Prague, and even though Kevin Klose is here with me. I’ve spent goo part of the day, yesterday and today, just walking around the building, meeting with people who work here. And the change in morale and in attitude is truly a sea change. And while you (Susan McCue) and Governor Meehan were in Moscow and I’m sure you saw all the good things occurring there, you can say they’re duplicated in Prague. I’ll be in Moscow on Friday. But I think you and I, as chair and vice chair of Radio Free Europe, can take a great deal of pride and satisfaction in knowing that the ship here in Prague has been righted; it has been stabilized; and there is now enthusiasm even levity and joy in the building to carry on the mission, which is the foundation of Radio Free Europe, that might not have been the case a year ago, but it certainly is the case today.
I have lost count of the number of people who have come up to me and voiced views that I have just expressed. It certainly gives one a sense of satisfaction and I wanted to pass this on to you and the chair of RFE/RL and Secretary Sonenshine who participated in setting the ship right. And I see Governor Meehan has just arrived. Let him know that things are doing much better here in Prague and I’ll stop with that.
BBG GOVERNOR AND RFE/RL CHAIR SUSAN MCCUE: That is great to hear and I look forward to talking to talking with you in more detail when you return. Governor Meehan and I did take a very important and really productive trip to Moscow not too long ago of which we’ll talk about later.

BBG Press Release

Board Calls For End To Harassment And Threats To Press

JUNE 19, 2013
Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors emphasized the need for global press freedom and renewed their call for the release of journalists being held in Syria.
“Bashar Fahmi, a correspondent for Alhurra, is still missing and incommunicado in Syria. It has been 10 months since we have heard from him, and it is devastating for us and his family,” said BBG Governor Susan McCue on the Board’s behalf at a June 19 meeting – the first time that a woman has chaired a meeting of the BBG board. “The Board demands the immediate release of Fahmi, as well as the other journalists being held incommunicado in Syria, including Austin Tice and James Foley.”

Governor McCue added a personal call for anyone with information about Fahmi’s whereabouts or wellbeing to step forward. She also expressed concern about threats to journalists across Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) broadcast region, as well as to a correspondent for Voice of America’s Deewa Radio in Pakistan and several Alhurra journalists in Iraq.

In addition, the Governors thanked Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine for her dedicated service to the mission of U.S. international media.
The Board recognized former Presiding Governor Michael Lynton for his time with the BBG, crediting him for his contributions and accomplishments during his tenure.

The meeting was hosted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague and Washington, D.C. Earlier, Governor Victor Ashe visited the RFE/RL newsroom and met with staff in Prague, congratulating them on their hard work and dedication.

The Board voted to adjourn until its next scheduled meeting on August 14, which will be held at BBG headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The meeting is available for viewing on demand here.