Thursday, February 25, 2016

Who Will Head RFE/RL?

Pejic image from

Wednesday, February 24th 2016
Soon the BBG is expected to announce the appointment of a new president for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). If the rumors in Prague and Washington are true, the news will be underwhelming, to say the least. After two years without a president – and two searches with two different headhunter firms – the BBG is expected to make permanent the current interim management. This means that Nenad Pejic, an in-house candidate who has been there all along, will lead RFE/RL at a time when its target audiences are being hammered by Russian propaganda and ISIS recruiting campaigns. 
Defenders of the choice say the BBG is playing safe by trying to avoid another debacle like the one that followed the 2012 hiring of former CNN executive Steven Korn, whose 18-month tenure resulted in the firing of scores of courageous journalists and the near destruction of the company. In early 2013 Mr. Korn was replaced by the veteran broadcaster Kevin Klose, a steady hand brought in to guide the ship. But since Mr. Klose’s departure in early 2014, RFE/RL has been led by Mr. Pejic and another insider (who recently left the company).
To be sure, Mr. Pejic is a known quantity. But what is known about him does not recommend him for this crucial position. His critics describe him as a heavy-handed, top-down manager who works hard to ingratiate himself with the higher-ups in Washington (that is, the BBG board and staff), while doing little to inspire the rank and file, either as a manager or as a shaper of editorial policy. For my part, I do not know Mr. Pejic personally, but when I was in Prague last summer doing research for a report on “best practices” throughout the US international media system, I discovered to my astonishment that a directive had been issued ordering RFE/RL staff not to meet with me. That directive was widely ignored, fortunately, and I cannot say for sure that it came from Mr. Pejic. But it reflected poor judgment, and a degree of secretiveness, that is the exact opposite of what RFE/RL stands for. And it was issued under his watch.
It is no secret that the BBG staff has a history of overreaching and micromanaging, and that the BBG board members have a history of letting this happen, because they serve on a part-time basis that makes it difficult to acquire the necessary understanding to make decisions on their own. Of late, this problem has been mitigated by the recruitment of more knowledgeable board members and the appointment of former Scripps Networks CEO John Lansing as CEO of the board. But from where I sit, the decision to make Mr. Pejic head of RFE/RL has all the hallmarks of overreach by the BBG staff.
Therefore, I urge the BBG board to reconsider this appointment, especially given that there are several other highly qualified candidates out there who have expressed genuine interest in the job.  Have any of these individuals been seriously considered? And if not, why not?

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