BBG – USAGM Watch
According to an e-mail seen by BBG – USAGM Watch, a top lieutenant to the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) holdover CEO John F. Lansing is blaming the former president of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for the current scandal in RFE/RL’s Tajik Service. However, the former president of RFE/RL was appointed by none other than John Lansing who has presided over a constant stream of scandals at RFE/RL, the Voice of America (VOA), Radio and TV Marti of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB)–on and on within the agency which was placed under his leadership and control back in 2015 during the Obama administration.
It is time for USAGM CEO John Lansing to take responsibility for these scandals that never stop.
John Lansing had been warned about many of them and failed to take effective measures until the scandals were revealed by mainstream media.
These warnings were about extreme partisan bias in VOA’s 2016 presidential election coverage, posting of obscene political memes by VOA reporters, subtle anti-Semitism in RFE/RL reporting, illegal targeting of Americans with Facebook ads by VOA and RFE/RL, repeating of Iranian regime propaganda by both VOA and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, and most recently allegations that a Voice of America television reporter responsible for an anti-U.S. Russian propaganda film with anti-Semitic messages has been hired to produce television programs for VOA and RFE/RL Current Time TV broadcast in Russian.
After an outside journalist informed Lansing about the latest allegation, the VOA reporter continued to post reports on the VOA Russian Service website.
Another scandal was the shortening of the whistleblower VOA Mandarin Service interview with Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui under VOA Director Amanda Bennett, and the senior management’s retaliation against VOA China Branch journalists instead of taking responsibility for the lack of prior engagement and leadership on the part of top VOA and USAGM leaders on such an important interview.
Prior to the shortening of the interview, a senior Voice of America official was in touch with the Chinese Embassy which conveyed to VOA the persistent threats from the Chinese government over the whistleblower interview, as did earlier Chinese Foreign Ministry officials in Beijing.
VOA Director Amanda Bennett insisted later that her decisions about the shortening of of the live Gun Wengui interview in April 2017 were not influenced by any pressure from China. Bennett also said that she was protecting high journalistic standards.
In February 2017, John Lansing told NPR “we have the greatest respect for the President,” while both before and after he made his assertions, some VOA reporters were posting anti-Trump memes showing him with a Nazi swastika and as a male sex organ. They also streamed on Facebook a sex joke about Mrs. Trump.
During the 2016 presidential election campaign, one of VOA’s language services translated and posted on the VOA Facebook page a one-sided political campaign video in which Hollywood actor Robert DeNiro called Donald Trump American “punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid.” The video was eventually withdrawn but only after several protests were made to the agency.
Audience Research Scandal
However, the biggest scandal may be allegations made by a former USAGM audience research analyst Kim Andrew Elliott, Ph.D. that the agency has engaged in manipulating research to produce false audience size figures.
This is one scandal too many under USAGM CEO John Lansing.
Former Analyst Challenges USAGM Audience Measurement Methods, Claims of Sharp Increases, BBG – USAGM Watch, March 27, 2019
Twitter poll: VOA and Radio Farda USAGM Iran audience claims are false, BBG – USAGM Watch, March 27, 2019.
RFE/RL Tajik Service Scandal
Here is more information on the latest RFE/RL Tajik Service scandal from various media sources and from RFE/RL.
Open letter: What is going on at RFE/RL’s Tajik service? OPEN DEMOCRACY
Multiple investigations have revealed how Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service systematically cooperates with the country’s repressive Rahmon regime. This needs to change.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has justly earned a proud legacy. Its stated mission is to provide “fair and objective news, analysis, and discussion” and project “democratic and pluralistic values.” In regions like Central Asia, where the press is severely restricted and critical journalists have been routinely harassed, beaten, arrested or murdered, journalists who report for RFE/RL’s affiliates often do so bravely and at great personal risk in the service of human rights and democratic ideals. As scholars working on Central Asia, we frequently turn to RFE/RL’s reporting as a crucial independent source of information on the latest developments in the region.
Unfortunately, in the hands of its current editors, RFE/RL’s Tajik language service no longer lives up to those values. Radio Ozodi, once the most credible source of news and information in the country, has become a mouthpiece for the deeply corrupt authoritarian government of Tajikistan’s President, Emomali Rahmon.
Tajiks read Radio Ozodi as Washington’s word.
Mar 26, 2019
After 26 years in power, Tajik strongman Emomali Rahmon tolerates only applause. (David Trilling)
Since its founding at the outset of the Cold War, U.S.-funded news broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has sought to promote press freedoms and advance an American vision of democracy in some of the world’s most hardened dictatorships.
RFE/RL’s mission – to “provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate” – often puts its reporters in the way of harassment from undemocratic governments. As modern authoritarian regimes become more adept at muddying the waters with false narratives, that goal has never felt more urgent.
And yet, in Tajikistan, an economically wrecked and profoundly corrupt former Soviet republic on Afghanistan’s doorstep, RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, is facing Washington’s scrutiny. Critics see Radio Ozodi as overly accommodating to the strongman president, unintentionally enabling him to gloss over his abuses.
Over the course of a months-long investigation into Radio Ozodi, Eurasianet has heard multiple accounts, from almost a dozen current and former staffers, about contacts between Tajik officials and Ozodi editors. According to Eurasianet’s sources, that communication has over several years led to Prague-based senior editors at RFE/RL quashing or watering down stories – especially those that reflect badly on President Emomali Rahmon and his extended family.
As a result, critics say, Ozodi is ineffective in performing its watchdog responsibilities: to hold Tajikistan’s regime to account for its myriad human rights violations and report on the unbridled nepotism suffocating economic development.
This evaluation is echoed in an internal U.S. State Department memo that has been obtained by Eurasianet. The authors of that document argue that when Ozodi “parrots an authoritarian government’s messaging to its own people,” it risks undermining Washington’s standing across a strategically important region.
“The United States cannot risk further staining the American brand in an information space already dominated by anti-American disinformation and anti-democratic norms,” the memo reads.
March 25, 2019
During the past few months, allegations have been made regarding the editorial and professional integrity of the work of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi. The allegations that have been shared with us range from claims of pro-government bias to corruption, mismanagement, and state interference in editorial decisionmaking. RFE/RL does not tolerate any violations of its mission and its code of ethics. Accordingly, in order to determine whether these allegations have merit, we have taken the following steps:
RFE/RL’s Standards Editor has reviewed the Tajik Service’s journalism, with a particular focus on four areas: 1) failure to report objectively on Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and his family; 2) laudatory reporting, of low news value, of the presidential family and top officials; 3) failure to cite Western human rights reports that provided crucial context on key news stories; and 4) prejudicial reporting on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. This review found that RFE/RL’s Tajik Service failed to live up to RFE/RL’s standards in respect to all four areas, and we have already taken steps to correct these lapses.
We have also commissioned an independent external editorial review of Tajik Service content. The panelists are regional experts and native Tajik speakers with a strong grounding in Western academic and journalistic standards. Their findings are expected to be complete in early April and will be made public.
Some non-editorial allegations fall beyond the scope of our ability to investigate internally. Earlier this month, RFE/RL asked the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate those claims. Corrective action will follow any investigation by the OIG, as warranted.
RFE/RL’s Central Asian reporters work in some of the world’s most restrictive environments. Our correspondents are under constant surveillance by security services and openly pressured to avoid scrutiny of top government officials. This month alone, three of our journalists in Kazakhstan have been detained while covering public protests.
RFE/RL’s independent reporting is vital to our audiences living under repressive regimes that have all but silenced dissent. In many countries, RFE/RL is the only alternative to state-run media peddling disinformation and false narratives. Anyone who doubts our commitment to hard-hitting journalism need look no further than Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, where our bureaus have been forcibly closed due to our reporting, and in Russia, where RFE/RL has been declared a foreign agent and our journalists work under constant threat of harassment.
I am committed to resolving this issue in a transparent and comprehensive manner. We at RFE/RL look forward to continuing our important mission of delivering objective news and information to the audiences who need it most.
Acting President, RFE/RL