BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
What Went Wrong with USAGM • VOA • RFE/RL?
• In recent reporting from Venezuela, the Voice of America highlighted the propaganda language of the Maduro regime and Russia’s state media that tried to present a popular uprising and a limited defection of troops from the Maduro regime as a coup against a legitimate government.
• The American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) found in an independent study conducted in 2017 that the Voice of America Persian Service and Radio Farda managed by another BBG/USAGM media entity, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), “on the whole, perpetuated to audiences the appearance of pro-regime propaganda, rather than objective reporting, on the part of both the VOA and Farda.”
• A follow-up AFPC study in 2019 concluded that “Even with the reforms carried out to date, the USAGM’s Persian-language outreach remains far too opaque and unaccountable.”
• A respected former USAGM analyst, Kim Elliott, Ph.D., claims that the agency manipulated audience research to produce false audience data.
• Former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce revealed in December 2018 that both the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty targeted Americans with illegal Facebook ads.
• The Wall Street Journal reported that RFE/RL has been accused by the U.S. State Department of disseminating autocratic propaganda in broadcasts to Central Asia.
• Award-winning Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova resigned from both VOA and RFE/RL in protest against censorship and poor management at both of these media organizations managed by USAGM with U.S. taxpayers’ dollars. Ismayilova, a former political prisoner in Azerbaijan because of her reporting, published on Facebook a blistering criticism of RFE/RL management, accusing them of lack of courage, “crisis of career stagnation“ and inability to communicate with their own journalists.
• Chinese Americans have been giving money to defend the suspended VOA Mandarin Service journalists who protested against the senior management’s decision to cut short already announced live three-hour interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui who promised to reveal corruption within the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese spying activities in the United States. At least one VOA journalist who protested against the shortening of the interview has been fired. In 2017 Chinese Americans staged protests in front of the Voice of America building in Washington, DC during which they performed a mock funeral to show that VOA has lost respect and credibility among the Chinese who defend human rights. VOA director denies that pressure from China influenced her decisions which she claims were driven by her desire to maintain high journalistic standards.
• Human rights activists have asked for a U.S. government investigation of any potential personal conflicts of interests of VOA and BBG and USAGM officials who may have significant business interests in China.
• During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, the some VOA foreign language services translated and posted campaign videos with slurs against Donald Trump. In one complete election campaign video in English and one foreign language produced and posted on an official VOA Facebook page with a VOA logo and without any rebuttal, Donald Trump was called by a Hollywood actor “punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid.” The VOA video was later removed. VOA ignores conservative Americans such as Candace Owens or James Woods while giving a platform for monologues by American Communist Angela Davis and Hollywood actor Robert De Niro. The VOA Charter, U.S. law which requires balance in VOA programs, is being ignored.
• USAGM CEO John F. Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett had been warned about some these problems but ignored most of the outside critics until mainstream U.S. media started to report on the scandals. John Lansing reportedly told one critic offering private warnings a year ago about mismanagement within the agency to stop contacting him.
• Following the public disclosure of some of the scandals, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for a leadership change at the USAGM. He made his remarks about U.S. international media outreach in his congressional testimony on March 27, 2019
“And I would urge to get a CEO of that organization in place so that the BBG will have the right leadership so they can do the traditional mission – perhaps in a different information environment than we did back in the Cold War, but can perform its function in a way that is important and noble, and reflects the enormous resources that are – that American taxpayers have put towards that,”Secretary Pompeo told members of Congress.
“I’m very concerned about it,” Secretary Pompeo added.
• Film documentarian and former U.S. Information Agency (USIA) official Michael Pack who is President Trump’s nominee to be the next USAGM CEO is still awaiting his confirmation by the U.S. Senate.