Report: Director of RL Russian tries to disinvite the boss of her boss from dinner in her honor.

Posted: 24 Apr 2013   Print   Send a link
World Affairs, 15 Apr 2013, Judy Bachrach: "Because I thought it more than worthwhile to meet Masha Gessen, I accepted with gratitude Victor Ashe’s invitation to join him at a dinner honoring the relatively new director of Radio Liberty’s Russian service. ... [But] one of the event’s publicity people [told Ashe as he arrived at the event]: 'I’m sorry, but the guest of honor has requested that you not be admitted to the dinner.' ... It was at this point that the normally quiet and contained [Kevin Klose, acting president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty] who is Gessen’s boss, spoke up about the incident. 'If you are not allowed into the dinner,' he told Ashe, 'I won’t be there either.'"

BBG Watch, 17 Apr 2013: "RFE/RL and BBG English-language websites ... posted no press releases about the award for Gessen, but the RFE/RL English website had an announcement, 'RFE/RL’s Gessen Honored For "Vanity Fair" Putin-Khodorkovsky Profile,' slugged as 'Communications / Kudos & Awards.' By calling it something else than a news story, editors apparently could justify not reporting on the incident with Ambassador Ashe or the ongoing controversy over the fired Radio Liberty journalists. ... (UPDATE: It appears that after we published this information, the article/announcement has been removed from the RFE/RL website.)"

Liberty Media Corporation press release, 11 Apr 2013: "Liberty Media Corporation last night honored the winner of its fourth annual Media for Liberty Award, a $50,000 prize that recognizes media contributions that explore the link between economic and political liberty. 'The Wrath of Putin,' a story by Masha Gessen, was selected by the Media for Liberty Award Jury as the 2013 award winner. ... 'The Wrath of Putin' masterfully chronicles the clash between two titans, Russian President Vladimir Putin and former wealthiest man in Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in a relationship which led to Khodorkovsky's almost decade-long imprisonment and the downfall of his empire. Masha Gessen's diligent reporting illuminates the bitter war between 'one man's truth and another's tyranny.'"

It's interesting that press release does not mention that Gessen works for RFE/RL, and that RFE/RL's website does not mention that she received the award. In any case, the Media for Liberty Award appears to be a prize for media contributions that come to the desired conclusion. The call for entries gives the impression that the winning item is likely something that would make Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises smile. Tempting as $50,000 might be, real journalists would avoid this award. (Next year, I might submit an article about how political freedom flourished in Sweden when Olaf Palme was prime minister, thus eliminating any danger of winning.)

In USIB, it's not duplication, it's "parallax." In that case, no need for reform.

Posted: 23 Apr 2013   Print   Send a link

Broadcasting Board of Governors press release, 9 Apr 2013: "BBG Board member Dennis Mulhaupt today informed the White House and his colleagues that he is leaving the Board. Mulhaupt had been serving as alternate presiding governor, chair of the BBG Governance Committee and chair of the board of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty." From Mr. Mulhaupt's letter of resignation to President Obama: "Over my tenure I, along with some of my board colleagues, have consistently advocated for necessary and far-reaching reform of the governance structure and organization of U. S. international broadcasting (USIB). My belief in the importance and need for these reforms has only grown stronger the longer I have served. I hope that the administration and Congress will address soon the urgent issues facing USIB and the BBG, the components of which do such vital work advancing freedom and human rights in many countries throughout the world."

Mr. Mulhaupt did not provide a reason for his resignation, but he did address the need for reform USIB, suggesting that he may have been frustrated by the lack of movement in that direction. BBG members Susan McCue and Victor Ashe take over as chair and vice chair of the RFE/RL board. The Board itself is now down to four members in addition to the ex officio Secretary of State.

Acting RFE/RL president Kevin Klose was one of the USIB entity heads who spoke at the April 11 meeting of the BBG. He is clearly not of the side of the reforms mentioned by Mr. Mulhaupt. He noted he was deeply interested in collaboration with the other entities, the names all of which he could not remember. (There really are too many of them for most people to remember.) But he also spoke of the "rubric" of "overlap and duplication." Noting that cars and trucks have two headlights, he said "we need parallax."

"I don't buy it that there is duplication and that there is overlap... . We accept that there are differences" between RFE/RL and VOA, but "we need to emphasize our common strengths and not get into a dialogue with anybody about overlap and duplication because we don't do that."

Mr. Klose mentioned "parallax" and "depth perception." This website has documented many instances of duplication and overlap in USIB. It did not take much depth perception to do so. In USIB, one cannot swing a cat without hitting an instance of duplication. A casual perusal of the USIB websites provides the evidence. Duplication is a significant form of waste in federal spending. There is never a legitimate excuse to waste the taxpayers' money.

Mr. Klose no doubt thought he was giving a passionate defense of his entity and of the jobs of his entity's employees. What entity heads, who spend so much of their energy trying to preserve their entities (and their own jobs), don't seem to realize is that USIB, if its limited budget continues to be drained by duplication, and if its scarce resources are divided among competing entities, has no chance of competing with the real competition out there in the real world. And that will be to the detriment of all the entities and all their employees.

I give Mr. Klose credit, however, for coining "parallax" as a surrogate (if you will) term for "duplication." I think members of Congress, journalists, senior distinguished think tank fellows, and other Washington types will swallow it. I think the "parallax" concept will ensure that USIB continues to fall short of its potential.

In a recent national survey in Cambodia, respondents were asked how many minutes of a newscast from the United States should be about Cambodia, about the United States, and about the rest of the world. Ethics regulations prevent me from providing the three numbers here (although the BBG could make them public), but suffice it to say that the result is more news about Cambodia than VOA can do well, and more US and world news than RFA can do at all. In the present structure of USIB, the one that the entity heads are trying so hard to preserve, there is no provision for a station that provides news in the proportions that audiences in Cambodia and elsewhere want. Listeners in Cambodia and elsewhere must do their part for the parallax concept, and for the maintenance of five senior management suites, through the inconvenience of tuning to two USIB stations at two different times to get complete news coverage.

Data from comScore, which employs representative panels of internet users, shows the number of visitors to the RFE/RL, VOA, and BBC websites in Russia. Again, I can't provide the numbers, but can note that RFE/RL and VOA are fighting it out rather far below the BBC Russian website, which is soaring. Keep in mind that the UK spends less on international broadcasting than the United States. The BBC World Service, however, has the advantage of not frittering much of its budget on duplicated, sorry, parallaxed efforts, and not dividing scarce resources among competing entities. ComScore shows a similar situation in Vietnam between the VOA and RFA websites versus a considerably more successful BBC Vietnamese website.

Television is playing a greater role in US international broadcasting. For example: VOA is developing television services for Burma. RFA is developing television services for Burma. There are several other instances where more than one entity is increasing its television products for a single target country. When radio prevailed, the taxpayers might have been able to afford duplicated efforts of two entities. The entities might have been able to divide talent and other scarce resources between them. In television, however, the days of profligacy are over. As the entire federal government looks to reduce spending, duplicated television services can neither be justified nor afforded. And there is not enough talent, not enough outlets in target countries, not enough of other resources to divide between entities. In the television age, preservation of multiple USIB entities is folly.