BBG Watch Commentary
The writer of this journalistically confused and one sided New Republic article about the Voice of America (VOA) “cheerfully” reports several non-facts and half truths that come close to being ” fake news”:
“Republicans have worked to strip the VOA of any semblance of being objective and fair;”
“Republicans in Congress changed the VOA’s governing structure;”
“the Trump administration dispatched two young staffers to monitor the VOA’s operations;
“BBG Watch cheerfully reports that Trump may replace the agency’s current CEO with Kenneth Timmerman.”
READ MORE: Will the Voice of America Become the Voice of Trump? The president is poised to turn a government broadcaster into his personal megaphone. BY CHRIS IOVENKO, New Republic, April 11, 2017
Both Republicans and Democrats had supported the BBG reform bill which was signed by President Obama, a Democrat. Various versions of the bill had received unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It is true that the Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) pushed for the reform bill, but it was fully supported by and co-sponsored by Ranking Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel (D-CA). Eventually, a different bill was inserted as an amendment into a defense budget legislation, but it also received full bipartisan support.
The only people who have worked to strip VOA of any semblance of being objective and fair were VOA managers and editors, some VOA reporters, and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) executives — all of them Federal Government employees — and not Republicans or Democrats in the U.S. Congress who pay the agency employees salaries and its bills with U.S. taxpayers’ money.
The writer correctly states that two representatives of the Trump administration were dispatched to the BBG. This is a routine move with every transition. There is absolutely no evidence that they have made any decisions affecting VOA, nor are they in a position to make such decisions. They will be made by any new BBG CEO who will be nominated by the President and vetted and confirmed by the U.S. Congress. The current CEO was not nominated nor was he vetted or confirmed by the Senate.
BBG Watch does not report “cheerfully.” [If anything, we report with sadness about the decline of the Voice of America and the continuing decline of BBG employees’ confidence in BBG and VOA leadership, as measured by the OPM surveys.] What BBG Watch has reported is that several [among many] critics of the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, not just one individual, are also interested in being considered for the BBG CEO position, but they have not made their interest public. That’s all.
The cheerful writer mentions in passing that there may have been some minor partisan issues with VOA content of the anti-Trump category, when in fact this has been a major issue, as it was objectively outlined by a Democrat, Executive Director of the non-partisan and independent NGO Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – CUSIB.org) Ann Noonan. If the cheerful New Republic commentator wanted the real story, the writer should have read Ms. Noonan’s statement to the BBG Board which was delivered on April 6, 2017.
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.