Haroon K. Ullah, chief strategy officer for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), had his op-ed published in San Francisco Chronicle, in which he argues against YouTube’s recent decision to label content from Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and PBS as government-sponsored. Both VOA and RFE/RL are 100% funded by U.S. taxpayers through congressional appropriations and managed by the BBG. San Francisco Chronicle added its own disclosure to Mr. Ullah’s op-ed that “The Board of Governors is a U.S. government agency.” The newspaper found it necessary to note that Mr. Ullah is a U.S. government employee.
What this high-level U.S. government employee either does not know or chooses to ignore is that during the 2016 presidential election many of the Voice of America managers, editors and reporters engaged heavily in partisan politicking in support of Hillary Clinton, doing so at U.S. taxpayers’ expense and in violation of the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law.
While PBS receives only a small portion of its budget from the U.S. government, VOA is a U.S. government operation run by the U.S. government with public money. In light of some the recent and past abuses of which Voice of America officials and employees have been accused, Americans should certainly be advised when they read or view VOA content that it was created for the U.S. government. Technically, VOA reporters enjoy editorial independence, but in practice some managers and officials have abused it multiple times on multiple occasions. A proper disclosure could help prevent similar violations of U.S. laws in the future and spur management reforms at the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
While most of the one-sided and partisan attacks by the Voice of America during the 2016 presidential campaign were directed against Donald Trump, Senator Bernie Sanders was also attacked by VOA, again in violation of U.S. laws. This was not dissimilar to what government-paid Russian trolls did at about the same time. They supported Donald Trump, but they also supported Bernie Sanders and attacked Hillary Clinton, in all cases in violation of U.S. laws.
SEE: Facebook, Russia, Trump – Did Voice of America Violate U.S. Laws?, BBG Watch, September 7, 2017.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office announced on Friday that a federal grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities accused of interfering with U.S. elections and political processes. Part of the indictment says: “By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.”
In answer to Mr. Ullah’s op-ed, BBG Watch is reposting some of our previous reporting and commentary on how similar abuses by VOA, made worse by the fact that U.S. taxpayers paid for them, were criticized at the time by supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Mr. Ullah should have read up on this before coming to his conclusion that warning Americans about government-paid news content is not a good idea. In the case of the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors under their current management, such warnings to American news consumers are more than justified. Mr. Ullah’s argument that disclosing the source of government funding is somewhat inconsistent with free media and with supporting democracy is deeply flawed. Transparency and letting citizens make up their own minds on the basis of full information and full disclosure is very much consistent with media freedom and democracy. Such disclosures can also serve as an example to those who still lack these freedoms.
BBG Watch Commentary
During the 2016 presidential election campaign, some of the executives, managers, editors and reporters of the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), which is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), sided completely with Hillary Clinton. They tried to help her with biased reporting and one-sided attacks on Donald Trump, such as the VOA Ukrainian Service video posted below (with our captioned commentary) and a VOA Russian Clinton campaign video, even though such blatantly partisan reporting by U.S. federal government employees violated the VOA Charter and therefore U.S. law. Longtime observers of the Voice of America described one-sided partisanship as displayed by VOA in 2016 and even now as unprecedented in VOA’s history.
The VOA Charter requires VOA news to to accurate, balanced and comprehensive. Many of the VOA reports during the 2016 election campaign failed to meet these standards, and many still do not now.
U.S. law also forbids the Voice of America to try to influence public opinion in the United States. About 50% of VOA’s online traffic for English-language news content comes for the United States, although Congress wants VOA to be focused only on foreign audiences, mostly those who lack access to free media.
Section 208 “Clarification on domestic distribution of program material” of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, Public Law 112-239, clearly states:
“No funds authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States.”
ALSO SEE: Facebook, Russia, Trump – Did Voice of America violate U.S. laws?, BBG Watch, September 7, 2017.
Many VOA executives, managers, editors and reporters assumed that Hillary Clinton would easily win in November 2016 and did not appear to worry that their one-sided and biased reporting and violations of U.S. law might come back to haunt them. These abuses have been exposed by BBG Watch and The Wall Street Journal, but most of the mainstream U.S. media has so far ignored them. They happened under Obama-era appointees to VOA and BBG who are still running both organizations months into the Trump presidency.
While Donald Trump was the primary target of one-sided attacks and biased reporting, Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders also found himself on the receiving end of a one-sided and biased commentary on the VOA website which also violated the VOA Charter.
In one of her attacks on Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton wrote in her book: “I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were too.” Interestingly, a one-sided Voice of America commentary posted in 2016 accused Sanders of being a supporter of anti-democratic regimes. A pro-Bernie Sanders journalist Dan Wright wrote in June 2016 that “Senator Sanders, according to this story in a US state media outlet [Voice of America], has been a ‘shill’ for undemocratic regimes,”
JUNE 17, 2016
BBG Watch Commentary
Bernie Sanders’ and Donald Trump’s supporters are absolutely right: there is something rotten at the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) when it comes to how this federal government’s overseas media outreach organization covers U.S. politics and may influence American election outcomes through reposting of its content on domestic U.S. media. Hillary Clinton is also right. The Voice of America’s parent federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), is “practically defunct“ when it comes to its work.
There is no doubt that some VOA reporters have a strong personal bias against Donald Trump when they identify themselves as “Voice of America journalists” on their personal Facebook pages and post on them anti-Trump memes, such as a GIF of Donald Trump with a Nazi swastika swinging over his head or a GIF of a penis that looks like the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential candidate. These Facebook pages may be personal, but they are publicly accessible.
In addition, either as a result of political bias, stupidity, mismanagement, and lack of direction and leadership from senior VOA and Broadcasting Board of Governors officials — most likely a combination of all of these factors — some Voice of America journalists, who are either full-time federal government employees or contractors, post reports on U.S. elections and candidates that are highly partisan, lacking in balance, and not paired with any countervailing information or opinions within the same single report, single website segment, or single website page.
These individual, highly biased Voice of America reports in English are then shared and reposted by other U.S. media through the Internet without any indication that the original source — VOA — is 100% taxpayer-supported, that it is run by the U.S. government, that it is staffed by federal government employees, and that it has a Charter which requires its reporters to be accurate, balanced, objective, and comprehensive. There is nothing balanced, objective, and comprehensive about some of these VOA reports against one or another U.S. presidential candidate.
Below are summaries and links to a few recent U.S. media reports highlighting this tremendously disturbing and politically dangerous problem of bias and incompetence at the taxpayer-funded Voice of America:
DAN WRIGHT: “For reasons still unknown, a United States government owned and operated media outlet, Voice of America, published a hit piece on Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders.
“The story, titled, “Does Bernie Sanders Believe in Democracy?,” was written by Jamie Kirchick, who has elsewhere openly advocated for the election of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as president.”
“Senator Sanders, according to this story in a US state media outlet, has been a ‘shill’ for undemocratic regimes,” Dan Wright writes in ShadowProof.
He correctly points out that “Kirchick’s piece appears in the ‘Opinion and Commentary’ section of the VOA website, which shows a quote from VOA’s charter at the top of the page, stating, ‘VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussion and opinion on these policies’.”
Dan Wright also correctly observes that:
“As broad as that mandate may seem, electioneering and hit pieces on US citizens obviously fall outside those parameters. VOA does not have the right to advocate for a particular candidate or even to attack one. That is not within its charter, nor should any US citizen have to subsidize their own defamation.”
It is one thing for the Voice of America to present a roundup of differing U.S. media commentaries and other opinions as long as they are reflective of broader views within the American society and American media, or to have politicians or experts of different political persuasion participate in a single program; and quite another to commission or repost a single opinion article from any particular partisan individual or to translate into Russian and post online an anti-Donald Trump campaign video without any attempt to provide balance within the same web space. The current VOA practice is journalistically unethical, unfair, politically dangerous, highly deceptive and confusing for U.S. domestic and foreign audiences. If it continues, VOA risks defunding of the organization by the U.S. Congress.
There are two things at play here:
1. Ignorance on the part of some VOA and BBG senior officials, managers, editors and line reporters of VOA’s special public role as a media organization created to serve underserved audiences abroad, not in the United States.
2. General dysfunction within the organization which Democrat Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State and ex officio member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) described in 2013 as “practically defunct” and incapable of responding to the information war being waged by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and ISIS. Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce, said the same thing about the BBG earlier this year.
Even though the BBG and VOA have new top leaders, these problems appear to have become worse in recent months.
The new leadership and some of the newer reporters seem not to understand the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, and VOA’s special and delicate position among American media outlets. VOA is unique on the U.S. media scene. It is a U.S. government-run entity, funded by taxpayers to distribute programs abroad. But VOA’s program content has been now widely available through the Internet in the United States for many years. America is a country with the Bill of Rights to the Constitution which says that the government shall not interfere with or restrict free press. Free press means media not funded by or controlled by the government. The Voice of America, which is 100% funded by Congress and run by government officials, must be especially careful to remain non-partisan and unbiased, especially when it comes to U.S. politics, if it wants to survive and continue its noble mission abroad.
The U.S. Congress assigned to VOA an important role abroad, but the new BBG and VOA leadership needs to understand that while American taxpayers want VOA to be free of government censorship, they don’t want to pay for one-sided commentaries on domestic politics in the United States.
Reporting all news — yes. Presenting a variety of opinions reflective of the American society and doing this in a balanced and objective way — yes. Posting campaign videos and commissioning hit pieces on American politicians — no.
“Slanted [Voice of America] journalism“ on Trump, a reader from Russia posted a comment under a report on the VOA English news website.
Another Russian posted this comment on Facebook:
“Голос Америки, насколько законно с точки зрения законодательства США, что правительственный медиаресур, финансируемый американскими налогоплательщиками, участвует в предвыборной агитации?”
“How legal is it for the Voice of America, in light of U.S. legislation, that the [U.S.] government’s media resource funded by U.S. taxpayers, is involved in the election campaign?”
The Russian Facebook user was reacting to the Voice of America Russian Service posting online, both Facebook and YouTube, of the recent Hillary Clinton’s anti-Donald Trump campaign video with Russian subtitles. The VOA Russian video had no attached balancing material and was not paired with any other content. U.S. taxpayers paid for versioning the anti-Donald Trump Hillary Clinton campaign video into Russian and for posting it on the Voice of America social media pages which can be viewed in the United States. [NOTE: VOA eventually removed the video after the 2016 election.]
One-sided coverage and politically biased coverage is found throughout the Voice of America. Commentator Sierra Rayne writing in American Thinker reported that “[o]ne of VOA’s flagship programs is Issues in the News, where “[p]rominent Washington correspondents discuss topics making headlines around the world,” has two American journalists who should be balancing one another but who are both strong critics of Donald Trump.
“During the GOP primaries, the [Voice of America English] program has repeatedly focused on the Republican nomination race, and in particular on Donald Trump,” American Thinker commentator wrote. “To say the coverage and discussion of Trump has been less than flattering would be an understatement.”
READ MORE: The Voice of America’s anti-Trump show, Sierra Rayne, American Thinker, May 9, 2016
Also, Truth Revolt, a blog of the conservative David Horowitz Freedom Center founded by David Horowitz, has reported that the Voice of America, “a taxpayer funded news service” and part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a tax-funded “Government News Agency” is “Campaigning Against Trump.”
READ MORE: Tax-Funded Government News Agency Campaigning Against Trump, Truth Revolt, June 9, 2016