Voice of America English, Ukrainian and Russian services ignored Chairman Royce’s CNN interview from Kyiv urging use of energy leverage against Putin

BBG Watch Commentary

U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) failed to report on the interview Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had Wednesday on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” in which he urged the Obama Administration to make greater use of energy and economic leverage to discourage Russia from invading eastern Ukraine. Chairman Royce spoke with CNN from Kyiv. He and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) led a bipartisan delegation in Ukraine.

Voice of America English news website, and websites of the vast majority of VOA language services, completely ignored the Congressional visit, including a meeting in Kyiv with Ukrainian government officials and visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a trip by U.S. congressmen to eastern Ukraine, their news conference in Kyiv, and Chairman Royce’s CNN interview from the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday.

VOA Ukrainian and Russian services had brief reports two days ago, on April 22, about the press conference in Kyiv, but due to shortages of staff and resources, which have not been provided by VOA and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives who report to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), these services were unable to offer comprehensive and continuous coverage of the Congressional visit, or even to report fully on Vice President Biden’s visit.

VOA English news website had only brief reports on the vice-presidential visit and nothing on the congressional visit. Voice of America failed to send a correspondent with Vice President Biden to Ukraine.

Voice of America did not report on Congressman Royce’s CNN interview yesterday, in which he urged a stronger response from the Obama Administration to Putin’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. Chairman Royce suggested that the United States should arrange for major oil and natural gas deliveries from the United States to the region to undermine Russia’s energy monopoly and its economy. Congressman Royce also said in CNN interview that after the delegation talked with Vice President Biden in Kyiv he thinks that the Obama Administration may be rethinking its position on a U.S. policy of using the energy leverage to assist Ukraine and to discourage Russia’s aggression.

In response to a question from CNN, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce said that what could deter an invasion of Ukraine from Russia would be to show the Kremlin what economic consequences of a military action might be to Russia. He said that this can be achieved by flooding the market in the region with oil to drive down energy prices.

Sources blame these Voice of America news reporting failures on lack of leadership, direction and experience at the senior executive level of VOA and IBB, particularly VOA.

A former minister in one of the East European governments sent BBG Watch this comment in response to the House Foreign Affairs Committee statement that U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman, and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, have been assessing “efforts to expand the hours and quality of U.S. international broadcasting (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) into eastern Ukraine to counter Russian propaganda”:

“Russia is about to start a new offensive in Ukraine. The bureaucracy in charge of U.S. international media outreach is still doing nothing to boost America’s broadcasting to Russia and Ukraine – through any channel, via any country. They are total losers.”

One former Voice of America broadcaster posted this comment:

Marie Ciliberti says April 23, 2014, 6:16 pm

Difficult to explain why the VOA is not marshaling the necessary resources to comprehensively and continuously cover events such as the visit of Vice President Biden or the visit of a top-level congressional delegation to Ukraine including the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

At one time in VOA’s history, higher management together with Division Directors could and would direct adequate resources to ensure breaking-news coverage. At this critical time, Ukrainian and Russian-language specialists including retired VOA broadcasters could have been pressed into service as purchase order vendors to supplement or give respite to existing staff.

What a difference in the way the VOA, both Central News and the Language Services, covered the 1968 crisis in Czechoslovakia, the Velvet Revolution, the Solidarity crisis in Poland (under USIA), the 1991 coup d’etat attempt in Moscow against Gorbachev, the Moscow constitutional crisis of 1993… All before the VOA was governed by a huge BBG/IBB bureaucracy.

Not long ago, Congressmen Royce and Engel held a congressional hearing that posed the rhetorical question of whether the Agency was dysfunctional and defunct. With the way that VOA and IBB management is handling the Ukrainian crisis, it looks as if those adjectives may have been right on target.

At a recent Heritage Foundation event, the VOA was described by a panel member as “hobbling along like a three-legged cat.” Unfortunately, that remark sounds more and more like an apt description.

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Earlier BBG Watch Commentary

Voice of America English News Continues to Ignore Congressional Visit to Ukraine, Call to Reform VOA

BBG Watch Commentary

Rep. Ed Royce

Rep. Ed Royce

Rep. Eliot Engel

Rep. Eliot Engel

Even though U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, have been assessing “efforts to expand the hours and quality of U.S. international broadcasting (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) into eastern Ukraine to counter Russian propaganda,” VOA’s main English news website continues to ignore the visit to Ukraine by a Congressional delegation that also includes Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL).

VOA English News had no report on the Congressional delegation’s meeting in Kyiv with visiting Vice President Biden. According to a statement from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the delegation met with Biden and other U.S. officials and senior Ukrainian officials “to assess the effect of ongoing U.S. efforts to support Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and following the illegal annexation of Crimea.”

VOA English News offered only minimal news coverage of Biden’s visit and did not send a correspondent with him to Ukraine. VOA Ukrainian and Russian services also had minimal online coverage of Biden’s visit due to inadequate staff and lack of sufficient support from Voice of America and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives who still can’t get their act together on surge news coverage and surge broadcasting in response to the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s aggression, sources told BBG Watch.

See: VOA had no correspondent with Biden, offered limited coverage of his visit to Ukraine, but re-posted Al Jazeera tweet, BBG Watch, April 22, 2014.

Unlike VOA English News and most other VOA language services, VOA Ukrainian and Russian website did have reports on the Congressional delegation’s visit to Ukraine, but they are unable to provide comprehensive news coverage or even to update their websites and social media pages on a regular basis due to insufficient resources. Sources blame these failures on lack of leadership, direction and experience at the senior executive level of VOA and IBB, particularly VOA.

Both VOA and RFE/RL operate now under a renewed oversight board, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which also has a new reform-minded chairman Jeff Shell. The BBG board recently made management changes at the International Broadcasting Bureau, but at not yet at the Voice of America. Previous IBB managers ended local rebroadcasts of Radio Liberty Russian programs on radio stations in eastern Ukraine in the early 2000s and in 2008 terminated all direct Voice of America Russian radio and television broadcasts just a few days before the Russian military incursion into Georgia. In 2012, former top IBB executives did nothing while the previous RFE/RL management fired dozens of talented and highly respected Radio Liberty journalists in Russia, including Mikhail Sokolov and Kristina Gorelik. She was fired while interviewing famous Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeeva. Some of them were eventually rehired after the BBG board replaced the American management at RFE/RL and brought in a new CEO, Kevin Klose, who carried out further reforms.

See: RT and Voice of Russia have much more on U.S. troops going to Poland, Baltics, and Black Sea than Voice of America, BBG Watch, April 22, 2014.

See: Is VOA hobbling?, BBG Watch, April 22, 2014.

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Press Release from House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chairman Ed Royce

Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel Statements at Conclusion of Three-day Visit to Ukraine

Media Contact: (202) 225-5021

APR 23, 2014

Delegation meets with VP Biden, Travels to Eastern Ukraine

Kyiv, Ukraine – Today, following three days of meetings and travel within Ukraine, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, issued the following statements.

Royce and Engel led a bipartisan delegation to the country, meeting with Vice President Biden, other U.S. officials and senior Ukrainian officials to assess the effect of ongoing U.S. efforts to support Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and following the illegal annexation of Crimea.   The delegation met with acting President Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Chairman Royce said:  “Our bipartisan delegation came to crisis-stricken Ukraine to assess first-hand the facts as they exist here on the ground.  During three days of talks with a broad range of Ukrainians — senior government officials, representatives of civil society, Jewish and other minority groups, and others in Kyiv and eastern Ukraine, including the Russian-speaking community – the consistent message I heard is that they are strongly committed to creating a democratic, united, and tolerant Ukraine and proudly anticipating the upcoming Ukrainian elections. I leave Ukraine determined to work so Russia’s efforts to destabilize the country and derail the May 25 presidential election will not succeed.  Likewise, I leave Ukraine even more convinced that it is vital for the United States and our allies in Europe and elsewhere to make clear to Vladimir Putin that further aggression against Ukraine will result in hard-hitting sanctions that will undermine the Russian economy and cause Putin to rethink his actions.  A key part of our strategy must be to use the sale of U.S. natural gas to Ukraine to break Russia’s chokehold.”

Ranking Member Engel said: “Ukraine is facing an unprecedented challenge from Russia as it continues to occupy Crimea and threaten much of the east and south of the country with political chaos or even invasion. Our bipartisan congressional delegation sent a strong message of support to the Ukrainian people and their government that the United States stands with them at this critical time.”

The delegation met on Monday with Vice President Joe Biden, with whom the delegation discussed the broad range of Ukraine policy issues, the challenge posed by Russia, and how U.S. energy policy could reduce Putin’s energy grip on Ukraine and the rest of Europe.   Also on Monday, Royce, Engel, and other members of the delegation visited and placed flowers at the Shrine to the Fallen, which honors the memories of the more than 100 Ukrainians shot and killed during pro-democracy protests earlier this year.

On Tuesday, the delegation traveled to eastern Ukraine, where they met with many members of the Russian-speaking community in and around the city of Dnipropetrovsk.   While in the East, the delegation met with Dnipropetrovsk Governor Igor Kolomoysky, Jewish community leaders, and a range of civil society leaders and volunteers combating human trafficking.  The delegation was welcomed to the Golden Rose Synagogue and the world’s largest Jewish Center by Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki.

In addition to the meetings with acting President Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the delegation met with Russian-speaking and ethnically-Russian national legislators, other Ukrainian officials, and a broad range of major presidential candidates from across the political spectrum.

While examining Ukraine’s efforts to diversify its energy supply and improve efficiency, the delegation assessed efforts to expand the hours and quality of U.S. international broadcasting (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) into eastern Ukraine to counter Russian propaganda.  Congress recently passed, and the President signed, legislation originally authored by Chairman Royce and co-sponsored by Ranking Member Engel to expand these broadcasts.

On Tuesday evening, the delegation participated in a press conference at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center in Kyiv.  The video of the press conference is available HERE.

Other Members of the delegation include Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL).

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