BBG Watch Commentary
Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Writer Sohrab Ahmari was interviewed for a WSJ Opinion Journal video on programming lapses combined with a management meltdown at the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) and its parent federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
The Wall Street Journal joins other mainstream U.S. media and international media reporting and commenting on VOA news and management failures, the BBG’s inability to prevent them, as well as mismanagement at the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). Many of the executives responsible for these failures are still in their management positions. Some were moved to other management positions and still collect their six-figure salaries and frequently travel abroad at taxpayers’ expense. Members of the bipartisan BBG board have been unable or unwilling to remove them.
Links to Washington Post, Washington Times, BBC, NPR and other media articles about mismanagement and dysfunction at Voice of America and BBG can be find at the end of our report on the Wall Street Journal editorial video. We also included links to various reports from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The Wall Street Journal interview (November 11, 2014) was prompted by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) 2014 independent audit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors financial statements.
As pointed out in a press release issued by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the OIG requested audit shows “continued lapses in financial oversight and non-compliance with federal regulations including the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Prompt Pay Act.”
REP. ED ROYCE: “In testimony before the Committee, former Secretary Clinton called the BBG ‘defunct’. We cannot allow the BBG to continue limping along. Russian propaganda is dominating the information space in Ukraine and across Eastern Europe; we need U.S. international broadcasters to be effective – more now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. The BBG must be restructured to meet the security challenges we face worldwide.”
Wall Street Journal has picked up on this assessment in its editorial opinion video. Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Writer Sohrab Ahmari made numerous references to the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General independent financial audit of the BBG as well as to the bipartisan reform bill, H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014, which passed the House in July 2014 but still requires passage by the Senate. The bipartisan bill was introduced in April 2014 by Rep. Ed Royce and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY).
But the main focus of the Wall Street Journal opinion video was the Voice of America. The December 11, 2014 WSJ video has an online title: “Opinion Journal: Voice of Anti-Americanism.”
The WSJ editorial video starts with the now famous Voice of America promotional video for Pakistan showing a blood-thirsty zombie dressed like an American Uncle Sam attacking an Asian man.
After much criticism from BBG Watch and others, the Voice of America zombie Uncle Sam video was removed from the VOA website, but this is hardly the only or the most recent example of editorial, programming, and managerial meltdown at the Voice of America, which continues to this day.
Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Writer Sohrab Ahmari is interviewed by Wall Street Journal Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Henninger.
Wall Street Journal Opinion VIDEO: Voice of America is a Voice of Anti-Americanism
Link to Wall Street Journal Video
Wall Street Journal Opinion VIDEO: Voice of America is a Voice of Anti-Americanism (TRANSCRIPT)
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “What you are looking at is not Onion Television; that is foreign propaganda, anti-American propaganda.
You know, throughout the tensions between the United States/Europe and Vladimir Putin, a little known fact has been that the Russians have been using every instrument of their media to run anti-Western propaganda.
The question is what does the United States do to get the truth out to international audiences?
I’m joined now from London bureau by Editorial Page Writer Sohrab Ahmari.
Sohrab, thanks for joining us.”
SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “Thanks for having me, Dan.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “Sohrab, you’ve been taking a look at the U.S. effort and the State Department’s recent audit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and I take it that it is not really, shall we say, a pretty picture.”
SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “Yea, Dan, you were speaking about the omnibus bill. Well, part of that omnibus bill is about $700 million a year that Congress gives to the Broadcasting Board of Governors which is a bipartisan board that oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the other freedom broadcasters. And the latest audit just shows systemic flaws in how the BBG oversees the grants that are sent to the various freedom broadcasters like Radio Free Europe, not taking care of equipment, not accounting for equipment, lack of funds control. It really seems that it’s a mess there. There and very little oversight, in part because the Broadcasting Board of Governors is an itinerant boarded. It only meets once a month. Clearly, there needs to be more direct management. And the best evidence is actually did the clip that you have just showed. That’s actually footage from Voice of America showing a zombie Uncle Sam attacking young South Asians. This was a promotional video for their Urdu Service aimed at Pakistanis. Although it was never aired, it was online as a promotional video, so … it’s shocking.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “It’s fantastic. I take it that the disarray among the Broadcasting Board of Governors has had a real a material effect on the quality of our information services. Most people know what Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty used to be, but take it that the product has kind of degraded as [due to] this lack of management structures … has fallen apart as well.”
SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “I think that the biggest problems have been at the Voice of America. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia — they’ve had their problems too, but on the whole their function is to serve as a surrogate. So. it’s surrogate press for closed societies that can’t have a free press around the world: Russia, Iran, China and so forth. And a lot of the work that they do is still that good surrogate work.
It’s Voice of America where you often have…We’ve documented cases where they’ll invite Iranian officials and give them uncritical platforms to share their views where the Iranians already get the Iranian regime points of view 24/7 from the regime’s own propaganda organs. Why should American taxpayers provide them with that … additional platforms. So that’s where … VOA is where the real quality lapses have [happended].”
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “Sohrab, give us a quick glance at the reform bill which Congress has put together on this because they’ve noticed there’s a problem.”
SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “I think that H.R. 4490, which has passed the House and I think the Senate will be taking it up once the Republicans take over the Senate next year, is a really good bill because it gives … instead of the Broadcasting Board Governors, there will be a full-time CEO, so there will be better financial management and better quality control. And it also makes it clear that the purpose of Voice of America is to support American public diplomacy efforts. It’s not to be just any other broadcaster. It’s to help advance American foreign policy goals abroad. And providing that kind of mission to VOA I think will [help to] really clean up its act then.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “Thanks much Sohrab. Absolutely fascinating.”
Agency few Americans use generates controversy, this time with contractors, Joe Davidson, The Washington Post, November 24.
Broadcasting Board Outsources Controversial Newsroom Contracting, By Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, October 8, 2014.
Calling VOA Volunteers: Receive Ebola Vaccine And Report on Experience, Nick Massella, FishBowlDC, October 17, 2014.
One Agency’s Short-Lived Idea to Have Its Employees Test a New Ebola Vaccine By Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, October 30, 2014.
READ: Voice of America removes anti-Azerbaijani program, By Seba Aghayeva, Trend, October 30, 2014.
Can America Still Win the Information War?, Michael Gonzalez, THE BUZZ, The National Interest, September 15, 2014.
Fixing U.S. International Broadcasting – At Last!,” Dennis Mulhaupt and S. Enders Wimbush, The Weekly Standard, July 3, 2014.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
Unmuffling the Voice of America: Congress has a chance to fix an error and give the U.S. a fighting chance in the international war of ideas, Robert R. Reilly, The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2014.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Op-Ed Back off, Congress, and keep Voice of America real,” Al Pessin, The Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2014.
COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW
End of an era? Congress tries to neuter Voice of America’s journalism, Gary Thomas, Columbia Journalism Review, July 1, 2014.
LIPIEN: A propaganda-free Voice of America – Congress must prevent U.S. tax dollars from helping America’s enemies, Ted Lipien, Washington Times, July 16, 2014.
What in the world: Voice of America’s Lithuanian stir and EU needs UK security, BBC, February 3, 2014.
Opinion: The impact of Russian propaganda on Lithuania is greater than we thought it was: Poor translation of Washington memoir causes controversy, thanks to Voice of America, Audrius Bačiulis, The Lithuanian Tribune, February 3, 2014.
DALE: Only way to save U.S. international broadcasting is complete reform, Helle Dale, The Washington Times, June 23, 2014.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Voice of America Shouldn’t Be A Whisper: Putin’s propaganda machine is in high gear, while the U.S. scales back the VOA. Why?, John Lenczowski, The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2014.
Russian Accuses Voice Of America Of Fake Interview, Michele Kelemen, NPR, February 20, 2012.
Waste and Abuse of Power at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, According to Audit, By Reid Standish, Foreign Policy Blog, June 17, 2014.
Voice of America wasted estimated millions on improper contract payments, Radio Free Asia gets clean bill of health, BBG Watch, May 3, 2014.
IBB – BBG Debacles – Legal by Jane Doe, BBG Watch, June 16, 2014.