BBG Watch had reported earlier on the self-censorship by the Voice of America Russian Service to comply with restrictive media laws in Russia with regard to pre-election news coverage. This was done to keep rebroadcasting on a local AM transmitter in Moscow controlled by the Russian government. Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation has just published an article on the same problem.
Depending on Russian government-funded media to broadcast news from Voice of America (VOA) is about as brain-dead as depending on Russian spaceships to send American astronauts into space or depending on Russian fuel supply for the U.S. ground and air forces in Afghanistan. The outcome will surely not be in America’s interest.
And yet, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has contracted with Voice of Russia for rebroadcasting VOA programs in English. The BBG has closed down most of its own radio transmitters around the world and even closed down VOA’s Russian-language broadcasting in 2008. The board’s reasons are, firstly, to cut costs and, secondly, to move away from radio toward other more glamorous media, like satellite television and the Internet. The fact remains, however, that most of the BBG’s global audience are still radio listeners, and the way U.S. radio programming now gets on the air is through contracts with local broadcasters. Unfortunately, relying on others for rebroadcasting U.S. programs gives them de facto control of programming content and leads to self-censorship.
Helle C. Dale is the Heritage Foundations Senior Fellow in Public Diplomacy studies.
BBG Watch Commentary
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which makes these decisions, ended all direct shortwave radio broadcasts by the VOA Russian Service in 2008. But the problem goes even deeper. Media freedom activists and independent journalists in Russia have accused the VOA Russian Service of having a “pro-Putin bias” and downplaying of reporting on human rights issues.
The BBG fired and pushed out experienced VOA Russian journalists, many longtime US citizens, and replaced them with poorly-paid and untrained contractors hired directly in Russia or shortly after they arrived in the United States, some of them only on temporary visas.
Some of these full-time contractors, whom the BBG executive staff shamelessly exploits by denying them basic employment rights and benefits, posted on the VOA Russian Service website a fake interview with a Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The interview, designed to embarrass Navalny, was probably crafted and passed on to these contract employees by the Russian secret services or their agents. The new VOA Director David Ensor has taken some actions to prevent similar missteps in the future, but he or anybody else at VOA can do only so much against the BBG and IBB bureaucracy and their policies and plans, which are killing U.S. international broadcasting and sound journalism.
Some of the most recent plans of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive staff have included terminating all Voice of America radio and television broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese to China, ending VOA Tibetan radio broadcasts and creating a CEO position which would not be subject to presidential appointment and confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Some of these plans of BBG and IBB executives (China and Tibet) were killed by Congress and by BBG members themselves, but others designed to limit Congressional and public scrutiny of the incompetent BBG staff are still on the table.