BBG Watch Commentary
Voice of America management ignores U.S. statements on Hitler – Stalin Pact 75th anniversary and seems to think that fighting Putin’s propaganda can best be accomplished with a panda bear video. International audiences had no way of learning from VOA about the Black Ribbon Day observances in the U.S. to honor victims of Nazi and Soviet crimes.
The Voice of America (VOA), a taxpayer-funded international media outlet, posted online on August 23 panda bear photos and video, “Washington Zoo’s Baby Panda, Bao Bao Celebrates Birthday” – VOA, but ignored U.S. commemorations on the same day of the 75th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, a White House statement on the aftermath of the Nazi-Soviet alliance, a Congressional resolution recognizing the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes, and U.S. media commentaries pointing out similarities between Stalin’s actions in 1939-1941 and Putin’s actions in Ukraine in 2014.
Also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the pact with its secret clauses was signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939. The agreement between two dictators to conquer and annex parts of Eastern Europe led to the outbreak of World War II with the Nazi attack on Poland on September 1, 1939 followed by the Soviet attack on September 17. The pact resulted in the eventual partition of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the Soviet attack on Finland and the Soviet occupation and annexation of the Baltic states and parts of Romania. Putin’s annexation of Crimea this year and his propaganda arguments for this move are similar in many respects to how Stalin justified his actions in 1939.
VOA English News and apparently all other Voice of America foreign language services, including VOA’s Russian Service, ignored the White House statement issued on August 22, 2014 which mentioned the occupation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union as one of the results of the Hitler-Stalin Pact.
Voice of America also failed to report on the Black Ribbon Day Resolution, introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) and passed by the House of Representatives in May 2014 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact (the resolution awaits action in the U.S. Senate).
VOA English News and VOA foreign language services also ignored the Black Ribbon Day ceremony Saturday, August 23, 2014, at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, DC. VOA English News also ignored a meeting on Capitol Hill to commemorate the anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet alliance and a statement by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to mark Black Ribbon Day.
I attended the Black Ribbon Day memorial in the Little Freedom Rotunda in the US Capitol. pic.twitter.com/j0dnTMj78Z
— John Shimkus (@RepShimkus) August 23, 2014
Celebrating the Baltic way and black ribbon day in Chicago. Great crowd bad weather pic.twitter.com/sniRmZ79PV
— John Shimkus (@RepShimkus) August 23, 2014
U.S. Media Coverage Also Ignored by VOA
While not front-page news in the United States (neither was the Washington Zoo panda featured in the Voice of America video), the 75th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact was nevertheless mentioned in a The New York Times article dealing with Ukraine, and analyzed in a USA TODAY “Remember the victims of Communism” op-ed by Žygimantas Pavilionis, ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania, and Marion Smith, executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, DC.
Also in the United States, Foreign Policy Blog also had a op-ed, “Molotov-Ribbentrop: The most important anniversary nobody’s celebrating this year” (true for Voice of America and most Americans, but not for all Americans).
Public Radio International (PRI) had a program, “The pact between Hitler and Stalin that paved the way for World War II was signed 75 years ago” – PRI, featuring an interview with British historian Roger Moorhouse, author of a new book “Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact With Stalin, 1939-1941.”
PRI interview with Roger Moorhouse
American expert Paul Goble posted an article online, “Window on Eurasia: Ukraine Allowed Russian Journalists to Ignore Their Complicity with Putin Regime, Sheremet Says” – Paul Goble, arguing that there is a direct link between the Kremlin’s denials of Stalin’s crimes and pro-Kremlin journalists engaging in propaganda and disinformation in support of Putin’s aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. “One example of the responsibility that Russian television journalists have failed in, [Russian journalist Pavel] Sheremet says, is in their representation of the Soviet past to young people.”
Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) posted online an in-depth analysis of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: A ‘honeymoon’ for two dictators” – DW.
The fact that many in the United States, including the White House and the U.S. Congress, also noticed the passing of the 75th anniversary of this historic event was not reported to the world by Voice of America.
Failure to Observe VOA Charter
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the parent agency of the Voice of America, says that its mission is “to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.” Part of the VOA Charter (U.S. Public Law 94-350) says that “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.”
America scholar Paul Goble posted another article about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Molotov-Ribbentrop and the Birth of the Lithuanian-American Alliance – Paul Goble, which discussed U.S. foreign policy and the non-recognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states and how this old policy has been reapplied to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Another part of the VOA Charter says that “VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.”
Most importantly in this respect, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact anniversary was mentioned in a White House statement, was noted in a special resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, and was commemorated at a Black Ribbon Day ceremony Saturday, “75 Years Ago, an Evil Alliance Was Formed. Why Do We Struggle to Remember It?” – Zach Noble, The Blaze, at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C.
If commercial domestic U.S. media paid attention to the 75th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, one would expect that U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America would pay even more attention to it in its news service for international audiences. A search of the VOA English News website showed that the last VOA English article with a reference to the Hitler-Stalin Pact was in 2009.
Probably the only VOA foreign language service that mentioned online the Hitler-Stalin Pact anniversary this year appears to be the VOA Russian Service, but its report was filed not from the U.S. but by a Russian stringer in Russia.
Instead of focusing on the U.S. angle — the White House, the Congress, U.S. media and U.S. commemorations — VOA Russian Service posted an otherwise good report focusing only on what Russian experts were saying in Russia about the pact’s anniversary.
That kind of local news coverage in countries with restricted local media is already extensively provided in foreign languages by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is also funded by U.S. taxpayers and also reports to the BBG. But unlike VOA, RFE/RL even posted online a multimedia presentation and English-language narration on the Nazi-Soviet alliance, “Seventy-Five Years Ago: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” – RFE/RL. As of 7:00PM, Sunday, August 24, RFE/RL article, posted on August 19, shows 174 Facebook “Shares” and 139 Tweets. VOA Washington Zoo panda report, posted on August 23, shows 65 Facebook “Shares” and 21 Tweets.
Voice of America’s job was to provide and cover U.S. perspectives on the Hitler-Stalin Pact and its impact and lessons for analyzing current events, particularly in Ukraine. VOA failed to do this, but on August 23, 2014, the 75th anniversary, VOA management found time and resources to post a news report, a video and photos on the first birthday of the Washington Zoo’s Baby Panda, Bao Bao.
Failure to Counter Kremlin Propaganda with Relevant News
Voice of America Director David Ensor said earlier this year at an international conference in Poland, the country which was the first victim of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, that the Voice of America is “among the most important tools the United States has in responding to untruths and propaganda from places like Moscow. And we’re doing a lot.” ” I’d love to do more. We would need more resources to be able to do more. But we’re doing a lot,” Ensor added.
But critics point to VOA’s many failures to report on other significant political news in Washington and elsewhere in the U.S. while posting panda photos and dozens of reports on the British royal family. Critics charge that these are examples of lack of leadership and management meltdown at the Voice of America. As Yazidis and other Kurdish speakers were being massacred by Islamic State militants and fleeing to save their lives, VOA management failed to provide the VOA Kurdish Service with resources, so that VOA Kurdish news website, Facebook and Twitter pages were not being updated sometimes up to 11 hours. VOA English Newsroom has likewise been decimated and mismanaged. VOA was many days late in sending a reporter to Ferguson, Missouri. Some of VOA reports on the protests lacked both depth and balance.
VOA director David Ensor responds that “Voice of America is not a propaganda organization and it is not a mouthpiece of the White House or of anybody else. It is a proud journalistic organization more than seventy years old,” Ensor said in an interview in September 2013.
Posting a panda bear news report, video and photo instead of reporting, even in passing, on the White House statement on the 25th anniversary of peaceful protests in the Baltic states or on references to the Hitler-Stalin Pact by the White House and the U.S. Congress, may show to some independence from the White House and the U.S. Congress. But to many, it shows that the senior management at the Voice of America does not know why U.S. taxpayers are funding VOA. Supporters of VOA in the United States want VOA to provide news that may be censored abroad and to inform the world about the United States. Failure to do so shows that the management ignores key provisions of the VOA Charter.
A search of the VOA English News website showed that there have been many quotes in VOA English News reports of Russian references to the Ukrainian government in Kyiv as “Nazis” and “Fascists.” One VOA report used twice the expression “brute force” with reference to the Ukrainian military. VOA reports from eastern Ukraine often quote supporters of Russia but much less frequently ethnic Ukrainians living in that region or ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars in Russia-annexed Crimea.
Some may see this as a show of VOA’s independence from the White House and the State Department, but to us the lack of historical and political context in VOA English News reports and the overuse of terms that Russia’s RT also uses to describe actions of the Ukrainian government in Kyiv in fighting militants supplied with weapons, training and personnel by Putin is an example of VOA’s poor reporting capabilities and poor editing standards which have declined in VOA Central News under the current senior management.
We found an editorial on Russia’s RT, posted on May 4, 2014, which accused the “Kyiv regime” of putting down “genuine popular opposition with brute military force [emphasis added] while neo-Nazi [emphasis added] militias unleash pogroms [emphasis added] against ethnic Russians across the east.” The RT editorial used all the key words of the Kremlin’s propaganda and media machine that VOA could counter with better news reporting and by noticing such things as U.S. reactions to the 75th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Kremlin trolls use the same expressions in comments under VOA news reports.
Posting cute panda videos while ignoring this important anniversary and the statements from the White House and the U.S. Congress, does not appear to be an effective way for the Voice of America of countering Moscow’s “brute military force,” “neo-Nazi” and “pogroms” propaganda against Ukraine and against the United States.
A bipartisan reform bill, H.R. 4490, unanimously passed this summer by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the whole House of Representatives, seems to recognize this problem by stating that “The lack of a coherent and well defined mission of the Voice of America has led to programming that duplicates the efforts of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, RFE/RL, Incorporated, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Incorporated that results in inefficient use of tax-payer funding.” The bill, introduced by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), also documents mismanagement and poor employee morale at the Voice of America and the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release August 22, 2014
Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden On the Occasion of the 25th Anniversary of The Baltic Way
On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, we congratulate the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on the 25th anniversary of The Baltic Way. Today, we remember that as many as two million people joined hands on August 23, 1989 to form a human chain spanning nearly 400 miles from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius. This impressive, peaceful demonstration of courageous people—men and women, young and old—was organized as a rebuke to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which led to the occupation of the region by the Soviet Union. The United States never recognized the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which lasted from World War II until restoration of independence in 1991.
The Baltic Way was a remarkable moment in history that illustrated the desire for freedom and democracy and set the stage for the fall of the Berlin Wall just two months later. The Berlin Wall divided people, but the Baltic Way united them and inspired hope for a new era.
In the years that followed the Baltic Way and the end of the Cold War, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania demonstrated an impressive and successful transition to democracy that serves as a model for all states in transition today. The Baltic States are valuable members of key international organizations, including the European Union, NATO, and the OSCE. They are sharing their expertise in democracy and development with other states in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and elsewhere.
The United States values our partnership and the deep bonds of friendship with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. We further reaffirm our enduring commitment to their security.
On this special day, the United States sends heartfelt wishes to the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as we continue to work together to create a better future for all people, in the spirit of the peaceful and innovative Baltic Way.
113TH CONGRESS 1ST SESSION
H. RES. 302
Expressing support for designation of August 23 as ‘‘Black Ribbon Day’’ to recognize the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
JULY 16, 2013
￼Mr. SHIMKUS submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Expressing support for designation of August 23 as ‘‘Black Ribbon Day’’ to recognize the victims of Soviet Com- munist and Nazi regimes.
Whereas, on August 13, 1941, President Franklin D. Roo- sevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued a joint declation ‘‘of certain common principles in the na- tional policies of their respective countries on which they based their hopes for a better future for the world’’ and ‘‘the right of all peoples to choose the form of govern- ment under which they will live and self government re- stored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them’’ and that the people of countries may live in freedom;
Whereas the United States Government has actively advo- cated for and continues to support the principles by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations General Assembly resolution 260 (III) of December 9, 1948;
Whereas Captive Nations Week, signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959, raised public awareness of the oppression of nations under the control of Com- munist and other nondemocratic governments;
Whereas the European Parliament resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism of April 2, 2009, and the ‘‘Black Ribbon Day’’ resolution adopted by the Par- liament of Canada on November 30, 2009, establish a day of remembrance for victims of Communist and Nazi regimes to remember and commemorate their victims;
Whereas the extreme forms of totalitarian rule practiced by the Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes led to premedi- tated and vast crimes committed against millions of human beings and their basic and inalienable rights on a scale unseen before in history;
Whereas fleeing the Nazi and Soviet Communist crimes, hun- dreds of thousands of people sought and found refuge in the United States;
Whereas August 23 would be an appropriate date to des- ignate as ‘‘Black Ribbon Day’’ to remember and never forget the terror millions of citizens in Central and East- ern Europe experienced for more than 40 years by ruth- less military, economic, and political repression of the people through arbitrary executions, mass arrests, depor- tations, the suppression of free speech, confiscation of private property, and the destruction of cultural and moral identity and civil society, all of which deprived the vast majority of the peoples of Central and Eastern Eu- rope of their basic human rights and dignity, separating them from the democratic world by means of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall; and
Whereas the memories of Europe’s tragic past cannot be for- gotten in order to honor the victims, condemn the per- petrators, and lay the foundation for reconciliation based on truth and remembrance: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives supports the designation of ‘‘Black Ribbon Day’’ to recognize the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes.