New BBG chief executive Andrew Lack.

New BBG chief executive Andrew Lack. BBG

Broadcasting Board’s New CEO: 'I Didn't Come Here to Cut'

Andrew Lack tells troubled staff he is aiming for growth.

Executives and news staff at the troubled Broadcasting Board of Governors responded warmly this week to inaugural remarks from the agency’s first-ever chief executive officer.

Andrew Lack, a veteran of NBC News, CBS News, SONY Music Entertainment and Bloomberg Global Media Group, was hailed as an “icon of the news business” at his first board appearance, by board chairman Jeffrey Shell. Lack, according to an unofficial BBG newsletter, reassured the larger Voice of America staff separately that “I didn’t come here to cut, I came here to grow.”

BBG, which has battled low morale, budget cuts and management turmoil, has long sought to empower a chief executive, moving ahead even as a larger reorganization plan remains stalled in Congress.

Lack, who has been working in smaller meetings at BBG since he was sworn in on Jan. 20, arrived late at the board meeting due to snow. He praised the BBG staff’s “strong work, tremendous work” and added, “I’m a lucky guy walking in the door.”

Lack noted he was “just beginning [his] acronym education” and appealed, half-jokingly, to the board and staff to stick to “softball questions.”

Before Lack’s remarks, VOA Director David Ensor reviewed the year’s accomplishments, detailing Kurdish correspondents braving danger to capture video of the Islamic State’s assault on the multi-ethnic Iraqi town of Nineveh, and later when the U.S.-led coalition retook the Syrian town of Kobane from the terrorist group.

Ensor bemoaned “as a flagrant assault on press freedom” the recent shutdown of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty bureau in Baku, Azerbaijan, by the government, which then arrested journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who wrote of her ordeal in a Friday Washington Post op-ed.

Addressing BBG’s mission, Ensor noted that “here in the United States, there is no state broadcast on the air, so most citizens don’t understand its power, but most of the world does. We’re a force multiplier using the considerable soft power of our country” to reach 172 million listeners a week, all around world in 50 languages, in multiple formats, including social media.  The mission is “to combat ignorance, propaganda and anti-Americanism with programming that is relevant to the audience, their regions and the world, according to our values enshrined in the Constitution,” Ensor said. “We’re exporting First Amendment journalism.”

Lack previewed a practical agenda that includes work on mechanical infrastructure for rushing foreign-language text to the BBG’s English language website, and using his contacts for better copyright clearances from the Associated Press and Reuters.

Lack turned and personally addressed audience-member Ted Lipien, a longtime critic of the BBG who runs an anonymous blog, saying he was looking forward to working with the West Coast-based Lipien at BBG’s Los Angeles Bureau and in San Francisco, “the epicenter of innovation.”  Lipien later told Government Executive he found Lack “a breath of fresh air.”

Board chairman Shell praised the interim management team that kept BBG moving in preparation for Lack’s arrival. “I’m not spinning,” he said, “But we’re in a very good place as an agency. For the first time in my chairmanship, I can say I feel good about where we are.”