CUSIB urges management reforms at BBG

Ann Noonan and Ted Lipien at BBG Miami Meeting, June 20, 2014

CUSIB - Supporting journalism for media freedom and human rights

CUSIB Directors Defend Radio TV Marti Journalists, Support Royce – Engel Bill to Reform Broadcasting Board of Governors

Link to video on YouTube.

At the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) board meeting in Miami, FL on June 20, 2014, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) representatives, Ann Noonan and Ted Lipien, expressed their support for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) Radio and TV Marti journalists who, according to a ruling by a Federal Arbitrator, had been illegally dismissed in 2009 through management-imposed Reductions in Force (RIFs).

Noonan and Lipien called for major management reforms at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). They had met earlier in Miami with five of the dismissed OCB journalists. They learned subsequently that the BBG may no longer challenge in court legal decisions in favor of the dismissed OCB journalists, but the final implementation of these rulings has not yet taken place and the broadcasters have not yet returned to work.

CUSIB's Noonan and Lipien with OCB Journalists: Roxana Romero, Salvador Blanco, Hernando Barrera, Luis Guandia, Jorge Touron

CUSIB’s Noonan and Lipien with OCB Journalists: Roxana Romero, Salvador Blanco, Hernando Barrera, Luis Guandia, Jorge Touron

Ann Noonan described tremendous hardships and suffering of OCB journalists and their families as a result of being unjustly RIFed and mistreated by the agency’s bureaucracy.

“This vicious behavior of the BBG’s legal department has cost these journalists a lot. Their brand of journalism – unlike most forms – is more of a vocation. Instead of appearing on a priority list for RIF’ed employees, they have lost their careers and have been blacklisted by the BBG. Many are skilled in multimedia. The five people Ted Lipien and I met with – despite their multimedia skills – have applied for more than 80 vacant job postings at OCB and VOA for which they were more than qualified and were turned down.

Thanks to the BBG, these Americans have lost their homes, lost their cars, lost their 401k’s, sold their family business to help pay the bills, have been hospitalized because of stress and serious health issues, have lost their health insurance, cannot afford Obamacare, have no health insurance for themselves and their children.

These are people with families, and their families also suffer financial and emotional tolls. Their families witness their disheartened spouse or parent out of work in a tough job market. Their families are where a college-student on the Dean’s list drops out of college to help pay the bills.”

Ted Lipien expressed his support for management reforms proposed in the bipartisan Royce – Engel U.S. International Broadcasting Reform Act of 2014, H.R. 4490. He argued that the central federal bureaucracy of the BBG, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), has grown tremendously in the last few years at the expense of broadcasts and journalistic positions. He stated that the federal bureaucracy is making the work of U.S. international media outreach less effective and more expensive and called for making surrogate broadcasters independent of IBB, as proposed in the Royce – Engel bill. Lipien stated that IBB harms surrogate broadcasters, such as as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), as well as the Voice of America (VOA) and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB).

Lipien observed that because of management and personnel policies promoted by IBB, the Voice of America posted a map showing Crimea to be part of Russia, while IBB itself conducted a public opinion poll in Russia-annexed and occupied Crimea and promoted faulty results supporting the Kremlin’s propaganda points as completely valid, as did the Voice of America, even though the survey was conducted in an annexed and occupied territory where significant segments of the population, especially Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, had good reasons to fear for their safety of even their lives. Neither IBB nor VOA mentioned the Crimean Tatars in presenting the poll results.

“Incredibly, the agency’s bureaucracy ordered a public opinion poll to be conducted in just annexed and occupied Crimea — a survey in which people — some of whom are afraid for their lives, and certainly intimidated, — were asked if the US is playing a positive role in their country. A U.S. expert said this was ‘crazy’. Not surprisingly, the poll results showed overwhelming support for Russia. Top independent sociologists in Russia and Ukraine, as well as U.S. experts, said the IBB poll was deeply flawed. What did the bureaucracy do, it promoted these faulty results favoring Kremlin’s propaganda and got VOA to promote them as well.”

Ted Lipien acknowledged concerns about some of the wording with the Royce – Engel bill with regard to VOA’s mission, but he stated that including the whole text of the VOA Charter in the legislation could help to resolve this issue. In expressing his strong support for management reforms proposed in the bipartisan Royce – Engel bill, Lipien called on the BBG Board to embrace change.

[Text prepared for delivery was shortened to accommodate the 3 min. limit for a public comment at BBG board meetings. Check the video for the statement as delivered.]

Broadcasting Board of Governors Meeting
Miami
June 20, 2014

Changes at the BBG need to be made

Ann Noonan
Executive Director, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org)

Yesterday, Ted Lipien and I met with five of sixteen Americans who once worked for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. On December 19, 2009 – just one week before Christmas, they were unceremoniously fired for an alleged Reduction in Force. None of the firings were done because of poor job performance nor any misdeeds of any of the workers. While their union, AFGE Local 1812 has been tremendous, the extreme adversarial-ness of the BBG’s legal department has left their lawsuit unresolved.

This topic has been brought up at former BBG meetings, but today, here in Miami, here at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, it seems fitting to implore the BBG Governors to put an end to this injustice.

At arbitration, the employees won at every point: reinstatement, back pay, and attorney’s fees. Nevertheless, the BBG appealed the decision. The FLRA upheld their decision. The BBG re-appealed to the US Circuit Court of Appeals in the in DC Circuit – which upheld the original arbitrator’s decision.

This vicious behavior of the BBG’s legal department has cost these journalists a lot. Their brand of journalism – unlike most forms – is more of a vocation. Instead of appearing on a priority list for RIF’ed employees, they have lost their careers and have been blacklisted by the BBG. Many are skilled in multimedia. The five people Ted Lipien and I met with – despite their multimedia skills – have applied for more than 80 vacant job postings at OCB and VOA for which they were more than qualified and were turned down.

Thanks to the BBG, these Americans have lost their homes, lost their cars, lost their 401k’s, sold their family business to help pay the bills, have been hospitalized because of stress and serious health issues, have lost their health insurance, cannot afford Obamacare, have no health insurance for themselves and their children.

These are people with families, and their families also suffer financial and emotional tolls. Their families witness their disheartened spouse or parent out of work in a tough job market. Their families are where a college-student on the Dean’s list drops out of college to help pay the bills.

While I’d like to believe that these former OCB employees were fired to save money, their replacements are contractors who get paid much, much more. Where 3 people could get a job done in the past, now it takes 10 people. Furthermore, the arbitrator found that rather than a legitimate reduction in force, these layoffs were in fact a bad faith plan to intimidate – if not, get rid of – internal critics.

Our meeting was heartbreaking. I wanted to cry. I urged each of these people to make a short video directly pleading their cases to the BBG Governors. If these videos do get aired, please watch them and listen to their stories and the cruelty they have endured by the BBG’s Legal Department.

I’d like you to realize that this unresolved lawsuit serves not only as a complete embarrassment for a federal agency in the United States whose mission is to report human rights cases, but it is also a clear example of why low morale plagues the BBG.

Changes at the BBG need to be made, and my suggestion today is that they begin in the Legal Department, and demand for the Legal to advise the Circuit Court that the BBG will not file any motions to re-argue nor to have the full court hear further appeal – and that instead that the agency will immediately honor the relief granted by the arbitrator.

[Text prepared for delivery was shortened to accommodate the 3 min. limit for a public comment at BBG board meetings. Check the video for the statement as delivered.]

Broadcasting Board of Governors Meeting
Miami
June 20, 2014

Protect Independence of Surrogate Media and Voice of America from Bureaucracy

Ted Lipien
Director, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting

Thank you Chairman Shell for this opportunity to speak. Thank you for your leadership, and the commitment you and the other board members have to management reforms. The new interim management team is a great improvement over the old one, but it cannot reform the bureaucracy and save the agency without a complete organizational transformation and help from Congress and the Board.

I speak in support of U.S. international media outreach because I was a listener to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America when I was growing up in Central Europe under communism. I retired a few years ago as acting associate VOA director for English news programs, and before that I placed VOA and RFE/RL programs on stations in Russia, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Bosnia. I helped to launch the VOA Ukrainian TV program that is so popular today and started a multi-language, multimedia VOA online magazine — “New Europe Review” — that had Vaclav Havel and Zbigniew Brzezinski on its advisory board.

The noble mission of U.S. broadcasting not only helps those without access to uncensored news and opinions, it also serves U.S. national security interests and ultimately saves American lives by winning with words (soft power) — as we saw in the great victory of the Cold War — at least for some people — but unfortunately not yet for Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other parts of the world. That is why I’m here.

I’m also here to express my strong support for the bipartisan Royce – Engel U.S. International Broadcasting Reform Legislation. In three minutes, I can just make three points.

1. This bipartisan legislation is essential to free U.S. international media outreach from the bureaucracy that has made it “defunct,” to quote former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It would make surrogate media outlets truly independent and save them from the federal bureaucracy which is making their job extremely difficult and less effective.

Do not believe for a moment that a central bureaucracy of any kind can run U.S. international broadcasting better or with greater savings for U.S. taxpayers. This bureaucracy is what we have now, and we need to move away from this model. Do not fall for “the silos argument” and the idea that all U.S. international media outreach and public diplomacy can be merged and controlled from the center.

2. Do not believe for a moment that Voice of America and surrogate media outlets have the same mission or that there is a big duplication problem. They are vastly different, and should be vastly different. The surrogate media outlets can be vastly more effective in many critical countries if allowed to do their job without interference from the federal bureaucracy (IBB). Protect their independence. They were created with the help of great Americans like George Kennan and General Eisenhower precisely in order to remove them from and protect them from the government bureaucracy in Washington that was making the Voice of America fail in the late 1940s and the early 1950s.

3. Voice of America has again lost its way, moved away from its Charter and desperately needs management reforms. It is the closest to the bureaucracy, and it shows. Management reforms proposed in the bipartisan Royce Engel bill are absolutely essential. I understand that some people are concerned about the wording with regard to VOA’s mission, but that is an issue that can be resolved by putting the whole text of the VOA Charter in the legislation — its key provisions are already included. Congress could specify once again that all three elements of the Charter must be observed.

Why do I think a central bureaucracy is unproductive and destructive — because it has no direct link to any audience or any programs, it does not specialize in producing any kind of media content, and after USIA was abolished, it does not even have any connection with foreign affairs or foreign countries. It exists largely for its own sake.

Why do I think that surrogate media outlets are needed now more than ever — because they know their audiences and they specialize in reporting the most sought after news to these countries.

Let me give you some examples and facts without any further comments. You can draw your own conclusions.

1. When I lived in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, I and all people I knew preferred to listen to Radio Free Europe and considered their programs far more relevant, but we also appreciated VOA for different reasons — as the voice of the American people. This is still the case in many countries.

2. When I was later in charge of very successful VOA broadcasts to Poland during the Solidarity period, I still listened to Radio Free Europe to find out what was going on and to plan my own coverage from Washington accordingly.

3. The current bureaucracy versus USIA. When martial law was declared in Poland, VOA increased broadcasts from one and a half hours daily to seven hours daily almost overnight. A senior USIA official called me a home and asked me what can be done to help, as did the VOA director. I suggested moving some Polish-speaking USIA employees to VOA’s Polish Service. I had half a dozen new employees the next day and many more were hired not much later.

4. The VOA Ukrainian Service now still has the same number of permanent staffers (10) it had months ago when the crisis started. The service is still unable to promptly update its website and social media pages.

5. The bureaucracy made a statement that VOA journalists do not perform essential U.S. government functions. It’s a legal term that allows the bureaucracy to hire contractors, to cut VOA programs and programming positions while increasing the number of IBB bureaucratic positions by 37 % in the last seven years.

6. A contractor posted a map on the VOA worldwide English news website showing Crimea to be part of Russia, embarrassing the U.S. government in front of the whole world.

7. Incredibly, the agency’s bureaucracy ordered a public opinion poll to be conducted in just annexed and occupied Crimea — a survey in which people — some of whom are afraid for their lives, and certainly intimidated, — were asked if the US is playing a positive role in their country. A U.S. expert said this was “crazy.” Not surprisingly, the poll results showed overwhelming support for Russia. Top independent sociologists in Russia and Ukraine, as well as U.S. experts, said the IBB poll was deeply flawed. What did the bureaucracy do, it promoted these faulty results favoring Kremlin’s propaganda and got VOA to promote them as well.

8. The non-partisan International Republican Institute announced that it would not be doing any polls in occupied Crimea. A Ukrainian expert said that the IBB poll simply legitimized the Russian-annexation of the territory while producing questionable results.

9. A VOA English News report from President Poroshenko’s inauguration failed to mention that it was attended by Vice President Biden and a bipartisan congressional delegation.

10. VOA English News did not report on Secretary Kerry’s statement on the deportation of Crimean Tatars or on President Obama’s meeting with Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev. The IBB poll presentation made no mention of Crimean Tatars — who account of 12 % of the population of Crimea

I could go on and on. The bottom line is: management reforms are essential. This is a critical mission. You need more people like recent RFE/RL president and CEO Kevin Klose to lead this important and valuable organization and its entities. You have good managers in charge of Radio Free Asia and MBN. The value is in the surrogate media outlets and in VOA language services, like the Ukrainian Service. They need to be given resources, and journalistic independence and be protected from the bureaucracy.

Thank you.

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