Broadcasting Board of Governors woos Voice of America Chinese broadcasters after trying to get them firedAdvertisement
First, Broadcasting Board of Governors permanent executives convinced presidentially-appointed BBG members to end all Voice of America radio and television broadcasts to China. They also proposed to fire 45 broadcasters who specialize in human rights to China. Incredibly, BBG members agreed. One can say in their defense that they were new and inexperienced. They did not anticipate what happened next.
Media freedom and human rights organizations were outraged, as were both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Congressional committees in the House and the Senate blocked the BBG plan and chastised BBG members for lacking transparency and exercising bad judgement.
After VOA programs were saved, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher hosted a party on Capitol Hill to celebrate 70 years of VOA broadcasting to China. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, recorded a special video message in support of VOA Chinese radio and TV programs. Amazingly, BBG executives, who had advised BBG members to end VOA broadcasts to China, still refused to issue a press release about the Capitol Hill reception and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen statement.
The tide, however, may be now turning against BBG bureaucrats thanks to BBG Watch reporting and the efforts of a least one BBG member, Ambassador Victor Ashe, who has started to meet with rank-and-file employees and is asking uncomfortable questions in open meetings about the mismanagement of the agency by the executive staff.
On Thursday, Ashe visited the VOA Chinese Branch accompanied by VOA Director David Ensor. A VOA broadcaster sent us this report:
The meeting lasted about 15 minutes and the atmosphere was friendly. We presented the 70th VOA Chinese Anniversary Calendar and an anniversary button to both Ensor and Ashe. We also played for them out 70th Anniversary video. David Ensor repeated what he had said before that VOA “will keep the multi-platform for Chinese broadcasting.” Governor Ashe expressed his appreciation to all staff members in the Chinese Branch and presented a “Certificate of Recognition”, with the signatures of all BBG Governors. We also played a video which filmed by our TV viewers and radio listeners in China. The video is in Chinese with English subtitles.
David Ensor mentioned that he and Governor Ashe went to visit seven VOA language services, including the Chinese Branch, on the same day. It sounded, however, that this is Governor Ashe’s idea and that he’s the only one among BBG Governors who wants to meet with Voice of America broadcasters. A BBG photographer was there and took lots of photos. I guess this is some kind of a PR ploy as well.
BBG and VOA public affairs officials have not yet issued a press release or posted any photos from Governor Ashe’s visit to the VOA China Branch. The BBG website did have a short item and a photo from Ashe’s meeting with the staff of Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa. The BBG website also reported on Ashe’s earlier meeting with employees of the Edward R. Murrow Greenville Transmitting Station in North Carolina. The BBG executive staff wants to close down this facility. Sources have told BBG Watch that Ashe supports shortwave radio broadcasting to countries without free media and to reach those who are too poor to have Internet. He is reportedly also concerned about giving up strategic communications assets on U.S. soil and the loss of American jobs.
BBG Watch wants to believe that the meeting at the VOA China Branch was not just a PR ploy designed to fool Voice of America broadcasters and Congress. We are convinced that Governor Ashe’s concerns about employee morale, waste, abuse and mismanagement of the agency by the BBG executive staff are genuine. Ashe is a Republican, a former mayor of Knoxville and former U.S. Ambassador to Poland.
Another BBG member, Michael Meehan, a Democrat, has emerged as Ashe’s unexpected ally at board meetings. Meehan may have realized that he had made a mistake of listening to the advice of BBG and VOA executives. Sources told BBG Watch that after a shaky start at the BBG, Meehan has become a supporter of pro-media freedom radio and television broadcasting. Both Meehan and Ashe have been also raising questions about the proposed de-Federalization of VOA and the merger of the surrogate broadcasters into a new large bureaucracy.
BBG executives who have proposed to end VOA broadcasting to China and developed the de-Federalization and merger plans may still have the ear of the BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson, although he also may now have second thoughts about their recommendations. Critics have warned that under the proposed plans U.S. taxpayers and Congress would lose control of U.S. international broadcasting and the management of important national security assets would be transferred to unaccountable corporate bureaucrats who developed these plans largely for their own benefit. One BBG Source was quoted as saying: “keep in mind that these same bureaucrats, who make $170,000 a year and give themselves $10,000 bonuses, wanted to fire 45 Voice of America Chines broadcasters at the time when China was greatly increasing the censorship of the Internet and imprisoning pro-democracy activists.”