BBG Watch confirms Andrew Lack’s departure

BBG-LogoOnly moments after posting news that Andrew Lack may be leaving the BBG CEO position to rejoin NBC, the website BBG Watch has confirmed Lack’s departure.

Click here to read BBG Watch’s full story.

Leaving so soon? The BBG may lose their new CEO, Andy Lack

Jeff Shell, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, congratulates Andy Lack after swearing him in as the first ever CEO of U.S. international media. (Image Source: BBG Press Release)

Jeff Shell, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, congratulates Andy Lack after swearing him in as the first ever CEO of U.S. international media. (Image Source: BBG Press Release)

Many thanks to Dan Robinson, who shared links to several news stories that propose Andrew Lack may be leaving the CEO position of the Broadcasting Board of Governors to return to NBC.

Here’s a clip from the Washington Post:

Former NBC news president and former Bloomberg Media chairman Andy Lack, who was brought in to fix the perennially troubled U.S. international media operations, is leaving after just six weeks on the job.

[…] Lack is in negotiations with NBC News to return to a top job there, according to report Tuesday in Variety, the entertainment news publication, dashing the hopes of State Department and BBG officials who wanted the high-powered media executive to energize U.S. overseas media operations.

The negotiations were spurred, Variety noted, by the crisis set off at NBC News by the Brian Williams debacle and suspension.

So rather than right the ship at BBG — he had talked about growing the operation, not cutting it — Lack is apparently going off to right the other ship.”

[Read the full article on the Washington Post website.]

Indeed, this story was featured in the following news sources:

If Andy does make the move, we’ll post an update.

Andrew Lack sworn-in as CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors

Jeff Shell, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, congratulates Andy Lack after swearing him in as the first ever CEO of U.S. international media. (Image Source: BBG Press Release)

Jeff Shell, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, congratulates Andy Lack after swearing him in as the first ever CEO of U.S. international media. (Image Source: BBG Press Release)

Below, you’ll find the full press release from the BBG regarding Andy Lack’s appointment. At the end of the press release I’ve noted another article from the NY Times.

(Source: BBG Press Release)

WASHINGTON – Respected journalist and media executive Andrew Lack was sworn-in today as the Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees the five networks and broadcasting operations of U.S. international media. Those networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

Lack is the first-ever CEO of U.S. international media. Creating the position of a CEO has been a key objective of the agency’s governing board and the Administration.

“We are at a unique time in the extraordinary history of this agency. The 21st Century’s global war on information is increasingly threatening to our country and our values,” said Lack. “I am lucky to join a great group of journalists and news professionals spread across the globe who care so deeply about our critical role in that battle.”

Lack’s selection follows an almost year-long search process that began in October 2013.

“To say we are fortunate that Andy has agreed to accept this challenge is a huge understatement,” said Jeff Shell, Chairman of the BBG. “He is an experienced media executive, a respected journalist, and an energetic and inspirational leader. We are grateful that Andy has decided to serve his country and lead the BBG at this critical juncture.”

Prior to being selected by the BBG, Lack served as the Chairman of the Bloomberg Media Group. He joined Bloomberg in October 2008 as CEO of its Global Media Group and was responsible for expanding television, radio, magazine, conference and digital businesses.

Previous to joining Bloomberg, Lack was Chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, where he led the company’s roster of prominent international artists and vast catalog of recorded music from around the world. Before joining Sony Music Entertainment, he was president and chief operating officer of NBC, where he oversaw entertainment, news (including MSNBC and CNBC), NBC stations, sales and broadcast and network operations. He was responsible for expanding the Today show to three hours and creating the show’s street-side studio in New York’s Rockefeller Center.

From 1993 to 2001, Lack was president of NBC News, which he transformed into America’s most-watched news organization through NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press, Today and Dateline NBC.

Before going to NBC, Lack spent much of his television career at CBS News. After joining in 1976, within a year, he became a prominent producer for 60 Minutes and subsequently, senior executive producer of CBS Reports. Lack’s broadcasts at CBS earned numerous honors, including 16 Emmy Awards and 4 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Journalism Awards.

Lack received a bachelor’s degree from the College of Fine Arts at Boston University, where he is currently a trustee.

SWLing Post contributor, Richard Cuff also notes this article about Andrew Lack from the NY Times. An excerpt:

Before Mr. Lack’s appointment, day-to-day international broadcasting operations were overseen by a board that had become known more for its dysfunction than for managing broadcast programs that reach more than 200 million people every week. Now, with Mr. Lack at the helm, the feeling in the agency and in Congress is that the broadcasting board is better positioned to counter the increasing hostile and suspicious views of Americans aboard, and more forcefully engage international rivals such as China and Russia in the high-stakes information war.

I was particularly drawn to to a quote by Ted Lipien, a former VOA staffer and outspoken critic of the BBG. Mr Lipen states:

“I’m quite optimistic, and if anyone can turn the organization around, it’s [Andrew Lack], given his background,” […]“But he faces immense challenges.”

Indeed, “immense challenges” may even be an understatement.

Bon courage to you, Mr. Lack! Let’s certainly hope for the best.

VOA Reduced TV to China during Hong Kong protests

VOA-Weishi-TV

The website BBG Watch recently posted a guest commentary from an anonymous VOA reporter regarding the loss of VOA Weishi TV during the Hong Kong protests. Here is an excerpt from BBG Watch:

“On Monday, September 29, the loyal viewers of Voice of America (VOA) “Weishi,” the VOA Mandarin TV program, were surprised to see their TV screen turned into a blue graphic during some hours when the original program previously aired was repeated. In the place of the professionally produced VOA TV broadcast, audiences received radio signals from Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Audience surveys, although underestimating the viewership because many Chinese are reluctant to share sensitive and potentially dangerous information with strangers, show that the popularity of the 2-year-old VOA “Weishi” is growing by leaps and bounds in China. Some of its segments, including “History’s Mysteries,” “Pro&Con” and “Issues and Opinions,” already also attract many millions of viewers on YouTube. The management’s decision to take away some of the repeat hours from the “Weishi” programs will be devastating to VOA’s Mandarin broadcasting. Meanwhile, it will not help RFA, since very few people listen to radio via TV. If they do, there are existing channels leased by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) to broadcast radio programs via satellite to China and Tibet. IBB reports to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency and the bipartisan Board in charge of all U.S. taxpayer-supported media for audiences abroad.”

Read the full commentary on the BBG Watch website.

I listened to China Radio International a few times during the peak of the protests and–no surprise–there was absolutely no mention or even hint of an uprising. Indeed, China has been actively blocking international TV news outlets like CNN and social media sites like Instagram.

China-WPFI-001

China is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world in terms of press freedoms–175th out of a possible 180 countries on the 2014 World Press Freedoms Index.

BBG publishes report on the efficacy and future of shortwave radio

VOA-Greenville-Curtain-AntennasMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, Bennett Kobb, who shares this downloadable Report of the Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting. If you recall, this report was produced by a Broadcasting Board of Governors committee and chaired by Matt Armstrong.

Both Bennett and I believe it’s unfortunate that the committee failed to recognize one of VOA’s most innovative shortwave products: the VOA Radiogram.

Below you can read the full press release which accompanied the report:

(Source: BBG)

WASHINGTON (August 1, 2014) — The Broadcasting Board of Governors today released “To Be Where the Audience Is,” a report that found shortwave radio to be essential to listeners in target countries, but of marginal impact in most markets. The report’s recommendations came after a comprehensive review, grounded in audience-based research, of the efficacy of shortwave as a distribution platform for U.S. international media.

“Shortwave radio continues to be an important means for large numbers of people in some countries to receive news and information,” said Matt Armstrong, who chaired the BBG’s Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting, which issued the report. “However, many of our networks’ target audiences have moved to newer platforms including TV, FM and digital media. This report maps a way forward for U.S. international media to remain accessible for all our audiences.”

Research-based evidence of media trends suggests that the increased availability and affordability of television, mobile devices and Internet access has led to the declining use of shortwave around the world. Still, the report finds that substantial audiences embrace shortwave in Nigeria, Burma, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Cuba and other target markets for the BBG.

At the same time, the committee’s recommendations make clear that the BBG will need to continue to reduce or eliminate shortwave broadcasts where there is either minimal audience or that audience is not a U.S. foreign policy priority. It also ratifies reductions that were made in redundant signals in 2013 and further cuts in transmissions that were made in 2014.

Even with these recent reductions, the BBG makes programs in 35 of its 61 broadcast languages available on shortwave where there is a strategic reason to do so.

The report notes there is no evidence that shortwave usage increases during crises. At such times, audiences continue to use their preferred platforms or seek out anti-censorship tools to help them navigate to the news online, including firewall circumvention tools or offline media including thumb drives and DVDs.

The Shortwave Committee report will be discussed at the August 13 public meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The report can be found here.

BBG Watch: VOA coverage of H.R.4490 “lacks balance”

VOA-Screen-Shot-2014-07-28-at-9.53PM-EDT(Source: BBG Watch)

“It took Voice of America a few hours to post a report, which includes quotes by two outside opponents of the bill: former VOA deputy director Alan Heil and Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire, but has no quotes from any outside supporters of the bill, including human rights NGOs, U.S. community leaders, and former Voice of America journalists who wrote a letter to President Obama in support of the legislation.

So much for balance in Voice of America news reporting as required by the VOA Charter.

For an alternative view, see BBG Watch report and commentary on the House passage of H.R. 4490, called the U.S. International Communications Reform Act of 2014.

If VOA English News quotes non-congressional critics of the bipartisan bill — there was no criticism of the bipartisan bill voiced today in Congress since it is widely supported as essential for saving Voice of America from mismanagement — VOA English News should have also quoted non-congressional supporters of the bill.”

Continue reading…

Hat tip to SWLing Post reader, Dan for sharing this post.

US House passes H.R. 4490

View of the Capitol Building from the roof of the Voice of America on 330 Independence Ave., S.W.

View of the Capitol Building from the roof of the Voice of America on 330 Independence Ave., S.W.

The United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490) has just passed the the House today, next it will go before the US Senate.

This bill proposes major changes to the overall structure of US international broadcasting. Click here to read previous posts about the bill and read the press release below for more information.

We will update the SWLing Post with news about H.R.4490 as it is presented before the Senate–follow the tag HR4490.

(Source: House Committee On Foreign Affairs)

Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, applauded House passage of bipartisan reform legislation to improve the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters, such as the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN).  The legislation, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490) was unanimously passed by the Foreign Affairs Committee in April.  Chairman Royce and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Memberintroduced the legislation in April.

On House passage of H.R. 4490, Chairman Royce said:  “For many years, our international broadcasting has been broken and ineffective.  While strongmen, despots, and terrorists are working overtime on their public disinformation campaigns, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees our international broadcast efforts, meets once a month.  The status quo is a recipe for failure on the critical information front.  The legislation the House passed today provides serious reforms to U.S. international broadcasting, allowing for a strong, effective tool in the fight against censorship and harmful misinformation.”

H.R. 4490 reforms U.S. international broadcasting, including in the following ways:

Fixes Well-documented Management Problems — Currently, five U.S. international broadcasting entities report to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (“BBG”), a group of 9 part-time individuals, who meet once a month to make management decisions. Important decisions can languish if the Board does not have a quorum, which is often the case. This legislation would establish a full-time, day-to-day agency head and reduce the role of the Board to a more appropriate advisory capacity. These changes have been recommended by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General and are widely recognized as needed reforms.

Clarifies the Mission of the Voice of America (VOA) — The VOA charter states that VOA will provide a “clear and effective presentation of the policies of the United States.” Over time, VOA has abandoned this mission and adopted a mission of the so-called “surrogates” to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies. This legislation makes clear that the Voice of America mission is to support U.S. public diplomacy efforts.

Consolidates “the Freedom Broadcasters” — Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) have the same mission – to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies – with different geographic reach. Consolidating these organizations into a single, non-federal organization will achieve cost savings, allow for closer collaboration, and improve responsiveness. While the consolidation would mean shared administrative staff and other economies of scale, they would retain their distinct “brand names.”

For information of Chairman Royce’s efforts to reform international broadcasting, visit www.foreignaffairs.house.gov/broadcasting.