BBG Watch Commentary
Matthew Baise, the Director of Digital Strategy for U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), gave a smug response to an Iranian American, a former VOA Persian Service employee, who spoke up to challenge his assertions at Monday’s Forum on Iran organized in Washington, D.C. as a joint project of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, Public Diplomacy Council, and PDAA – an association of public diplomacy professionals.
The Iranian-American who spoke at the event noted that VOA Director Amanda Bennett, who was a scheduled speaker, failed to appear for the panel. He read from a number of U.S. newspaper articles and editorials, including The Wall Street Journal and The Hill, which have been highly critical of the management of the Voice of America broadcasts to Iran and the direction taken by VOA’s managing agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). His reading of headlines about VOA’s failures in Iran was not very long as these things go, but the Iranian American speaker was interrupted a few times with prompts whether he had a question. The speaker in fact did ask a question at the end of his list of headlines, which the Director of Digital Strategy for Voice of America did not answer.
The question was why VOA director Amanda Bennett and BBG CEO John Lansing dismissed and ignored numerous complaints about VOA broadcasts to Iran reported by widely read U.S. media or submitted to them by Iranian Americans.
QUESTION FROM AN IRANIAN AMERICAN, FORMER VOA PERSIAN SERVICE EMPLOYEE: “I’m sorry that Amanda [VOA Director Amanda Bennett] is not here [audience laughs], but why ignoring all such reports that were submitted, and to other[s], John Lansing [Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO], and to others? And they all were ignored. Nothing has been done to the Persian Service and the Voice of America is the Voice of the Ayatollahs of Iran. Thank you.
There was indeed a question to which this Iranian American gentleman deserved an answer from the U.S. federal government employee holding a senior position at the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The question was why there have been no reforms at the VOA and the BBG and why public complaints have been ignored by the government officials in charge of these U.S. media outlets serving audiences abroad.
What the Iranian American gentleman received from the VOA manager was a smug, dismissive remark. It was a response unworthy of a public servant.
MATTHEW BAISE, DIRECTOR OF DIGITAL STRATEGY FOR VOICE OF AMERICA: “I think that was a statement. I think what I would say to that is if what I’ve just showed you constitutes failure, I can’t wait to see what success looks like.”
It was disrespectful for a highly paid U.S. government employee to dismiss legitimate concerns being expressed by an American taxpayer, to respond with a smug remark, and to ignore his question by pretending that none was asked. The Iranian American gentleman who showed great dignity despite being interrupted and poorly treated by a U.S. government employee deserves an apology.
No wonder that the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors under the current watch of Amanda Bennett and John Lansing, who allow such government managers to appear in public, are held now in such a low esteem by American media, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and, as they were, even by the Obama administration. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a 2013 congressional testimony described the BBG as being “practically defunct.” As the Iranian American speaker pointed out, the agency is still being managed by holdover officials from the previous administration.
The time for change at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America is long overdue. If nothing else, what needs to change is how BBG and VOA officials view and treat Americans who pay their salaries.