CUSIB Calls Upon the BBG to Restore Transparency
The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) has released the following statement expressing deep concern that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is pursuing a strategy of concealment and intimidation rather than respond to oversight by the U.S. Congress and the legitimate concerns of its own employees.
On June 7, 2012, the BBG approved a resolution that would prohibit the disclosure of “deliberative information,” defined as any non-public information, either tangible records or otherwise, exchanged between two or more Board members, or between Agency staff members and Board members. Disturbing in itself, this directive was then communicated to employees in a manner that made it appear more absolute and more oppressive. First, a senior lawyer for the BBG asserted, publicly, that the directive could and did bar disclosures to the media. Then the BBG initially published a version of the directive that omitted any exception for whistleblowing, only substituting the corrected version several days later and without announcement.
The effect of these actions can only be intended to chill discussion of BBG decisions. They are, in CUSIB’s view, profoundly misguided.
The BBG already has a poor track record before Congress, where Members from both sides of the aisle have criticized the Board for its lack of transparency and responsiveness. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stated that the BBG is “opaque in its decision making and incredibly tone deaf to Congressional priorities.” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) noted that the BBG’s proposal to merge the grantee broadcasters (Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks) “would be contrary to Congressional intent and may have a negative impact on programming.” Directives favoring an increase in opaque and insular decision-making will not improve Congressional acceptance of BBG actions.
Moreover, this directive can only cause morale at the U.S. broadcasters – already abysmal – to deteriorate further. The atmosphere there can only be described as fraught with fear and mistrust. The BBG continues to receive the lowest ratings in leadership and management knowledge of all federal agencies. The union representing Voice of America employees, AFGE Local 1812, has withdrawn from the Union-Management Forum in protest over the management’s reluctance to share any meaningful pre-decisional information with the union on major programming changes and layoffs of employees. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s policies toward non-U.S. citizen employees have been described as “immoral” by a highly-respected human rights group, the Czech Helsinki Committee; a suit over these policies is currently before the European Court of Human Rights, and another is in the Czech courts. The current group of senior executives at RFE/RL seem an odd fit with the institution: none are journalists with substantial international reporting experience; one has referred to employees as “old white guys” or “a cute high school intern.”
In this environment, BBG action suggesting employees may be punished for disclosing mismanagement and abuse is simply alarming.
CUSIB is aware that the idea of forbidding employees to speak out did not originate with the BBG itself. It came from senior executives at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), in effect the day-to-day managers of the institutions that the BBG supervises.
The IBB executives have a record of generating dubious ideas for the BBG to take up. CUSIB was relieved, and encouraged, that BBG members voted to overturn the senior staff’s earlier recommendation to terminate some Voice of America broadcasts to China and Tibet.
CUSIB is also encouraged to note that several BBG members seem to have different views on transparency than IBB staff. BBG Governor Victor Ashe has advocated for greater openness vigorously, and has encouraged employees to share their views with him by publishing his email address. And at the last BBG meeting, BBG Governor Susan McCue, BBG Governor Michael Meehan, and Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine all made statements about the importance of transparency. We are relieved that the Board voted in favor of BBG Governor Ashe’s amendment to protect whistle-blowers, but regret that they considered such a poorly-drafted resolution and did not submit it to vetting and debate.
CUSIB urges the BBG to reverse its present course and confirm its commitment to open discussion and transparency.
U.S. international broadcasting, and the Board itself, can only benefit from unsealing the doors and leaving the star chamber behind.
For further information, please contact:
Ann Noonan, co-founder and Executive Director
Ted Lipien, co-founder
The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) is a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization working to strengthen free flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries with restricted and developing media environments. www.cusib.org