BBG Watch Commentary
U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America “(VOA) used to take pride in interviewing Vaclav Havel who told the truth. It now takes pride in interviewing a hostage taker who told lies,” Ann Noonan Executive Director of the independent NGO Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) told members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which now has an advisory role for BBG CEO and Director John F. Lansing. She spoke in Washington, D.C. on April 6, 2017. Noonan was highly critical of the management of the federal agency which is in charge of U.S. international media outreach.
At the April 6 board meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Ann Noonan, Executive Director of the independent, non-partisan Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) expressed concern over “blatant one-sided partisanship” and use of vulgarities and sexism in some of Voice of America (VOA) programs. Noonan said that such irresponsible behavior undermines bipartisan support for VOA’s and the agency’s vital mission in support of freedom and democracy abroad. Noonan also expressed concern over some VOA reports, which critics described as romanticizing terrorists and pirate hostage takers. Some of these reports have been praised by VOA director Amanda Bennett, while BBG CEO John Lansing assured NPR that the agency “has the greatest respect for the President.” Ann Noonan noted that some VOA reporters have been lampooning and telling in public sexist jokes about the First Lady and President Trump’s daughter. Noonan also mentioned reposting by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) of Iran’s anti-Israel, anti-Semitic statements without proper balance and counter. She also noted continuing restrictions of employee rights at RFE/RL. CEO John Lansing touted the success of the joint RFE/RL-VOA Russian-language program “Current Time” despite its embarrassingly low digital ranking in Russia — multiple times below the ranking of even some of the remaining independent and much less costly Russian media outlets such as Rain TV or MEDUZA.
Noonan also pointed out that BBG staff did not provide for members of the public to register to speak at the meeting and said that she was allowed to speak only after submitting a protest. BBG Chairman Kenneth Weinstein responded that members of the public will be permitted to address the board.
The BBG is funded by all U.S. taxpayers. When it comes to being non-partisan and objective, like Cesar’s wife this agency must be above suspicion and cannot afford to be even suspected of any misconduct, much worse engage in it.
And yet what we have seen in recent months is an unprecedented level of blatant one-sided partisanship being shown by some VOA executives, managers, editors, and a few VOA reporters — and I say this as a Democrat. It is so bad that it has descended even into open and ugly sexism.
Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a VOA reporter — who must be ALWAYS perceived as unbiased — is completely out of line telling in public a sexist joke about the First Lady, lampooning the President’s daughter simply for being a woman, or calling Mr. Trump an F-word in a public Facebook post. Mr. Lansing should not have told NPR that, I quote, “we have the greatest respect for the President.” End quote.
VOA’s credibility and the agency’s funding by taxpayers have been seriously undermined under his watch. Human rights defenders in Russia, China, and Iran will be the victims if bipartisan support for VOA and the agency completely evaporates as a result of such irresponsible behavior.
Employee morale is still at a record low, with BBG’s federal employees rating senior leaders and employee engagement, even lower than before in LEADERSHIP in the latest 2016 OPM survey.
We would like the BBG Board to discover and report to the American public why countless BBG and VOA management elements and managers have, for years, followed and legitimized a VOA Persian Service Twitter account, which VOA now admits was fake and established by an impostor.
How is that possible at the agency that is supposed to exist as a counterweight to fake news?
Scores of BBG’s own reporters as well as outside journalists were fooled by this phenomenal management failure.
We were also stunned by the VOA director’s Facebook post highlighting a blatantly false claim from a Somali pirate who told VOA that he was not a pirate. As someone observed, VOA used to take pride in interviewing Vaclav Havel who told the truth. It now takes pride in interviewing a hostage taker who told lies.
Equally baffling was the VOA director’s post praising a VOA report which compared information being given out by the White House to the press to — I quote — “manure.”
Other VOA reports we have seen imply, to poorly-informed audiences abroad, Stalin-like persecutions in the United States under President Trump. RFE/RL posts with anti-Israel themes from Iran border on being anti-Semitic. They all distort history and trivialize real human rights violations and threats to democracy.
The BBG bureaucracy’s ability to grow while restricting the rights of its employees is equally disturbing. The rights of foreign journalists working for RFE/RL to form a real employee union and to defend themselves against illegal actions by the management are still severely restricted.
CUSIB would like the BBG Board to investigate why the case of Snjezana Pelivan and Anna Karapatian has not been resolved and why RFE/RL employees cannot speak out without the fear of being fired. Thank you for listening.