WSJ Commentary: A Partisan Voice of America

BBG Watch Media

Sohrab Ahmari, an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe, based in London, has a commentary on how U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), in violation of its VOA Charter generates some news and information which lack balance and mislead foreign audiences. Unfortunately, he is absolutely right. His observations match closely those of current and former VOA reporters who have been complaining about it for years.

“Iranian dissidents watching the taxpayer-funded broadcaster miss much of the debate in the U.S. about the nuclear deal,” Sohrab Ahmari wrote in “A Partisan Voice of America” Wall Street Journal commentary.

 

“As the Obama administration ratchets up its effort to spin the Iran nuclear deal at home, the U.S. also is trying to sell the pact to some of its biggest losers: Iranian dissidents inside the country and in the diaspora. That’s the impression conveyed by recent coverage of the deal by Voice of America, the U.S. taxpayer-funded broadcaster that is supposed to shed light on closed societies.”

 

In his Wall Street Journal commentary, Sohrab Ahmari focuses on programming of the Voice of America Persian Service, also known as the Persian News Network (PNN), but VOA English language news coverage has been equally lacking in balance on a number of international and U.S. news stories, including VOA English reporting on the Iran nuclear deal.

READ MORE (may require subscription): “A Partisan Voice of America,” Sohrab Ahmari, The Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2015

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BBG Watch is reposting our December 2014 report on an earlier Wall Street Journal editorial about the Voice of America. The report includes links to numerous other U.S. media articles about VOA and its parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). We thought it would be useful to repost this material in light of reports that BBG is considering U.S. domestic media manager John Lansing for the position BBG CEO.

A Broken Voice of America – Wall Street Journal Editorial

December 17, 2014

BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Watch is posting a short excerpt and a link to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial article, “A Broken Voice of America,” about mismanagement at the Voice of America (VOA) and at the federal bureaucracy of VOA’s parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). We apologize for not being able to provide a link to the article earlier.

A Broken Voice of America – Portraying a zombie Uncle Sam won’t win hearts and minds

Wall Street Journal Editorial

Broken Voice of America

WALL STREET JOURNAL: “As questions about the BBG’s stewardship of its finances grow, so do concerns about the quality and professionalism of its broadcasters’ content. In an internal 2012 email obtained by the Journal, a Voice of America Persian editor warned his colleagues that “despite several reminders, we still see texts that are directly copied and pasted from Persian news sources.” Earlier this year, the flagship broadcaster drew heat from the press for an online video intended to solicit affiliates for its Urdu service that showed two young South Asians attacked by a zombie Uncle Sam.”

READ MORE: A Broken Voice of America – Portraying a zombie Uncle Sam won’t win hearts and minds, The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2014

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.”

 
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WASHINGTON POST

Agency few Americans use generates controversy, this time with contractors, Joe Davidson, The Washington Post, November 24.

GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE

Broadcasting Board Outsources Controversial Newsroom Contracting, By Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, October 8, 2014.

FISHBOWLDC

Calling VOA Volunteers: Receive Ebola Vaccine And Report on Experience, Nick Massella, FishBowlDC, October 17, 2014.

GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE

One Agency’s Short-Lived Idea to Have Its Employees Test a New Ebola Vaccine By Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, October 30, 2014.

TREND

READ: Voice of America removes anti-Azerbaijani program, By Seba Aghayeva, Trend, October 30, 2014.

NATIONAL INTEREST

Can America Still Win the Information War?, Michael Gonzalez, THE BUZZ, The National Interest, September 15, 2014.

WEEKLY STANDARD

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.

WASHINGTON TIMES

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.

BBC

What in the world: Voice of America’s Lithuanian stir and EU needs UK security, BBC, February 3, 2014.

LITHUANIAN TRIBUNE

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.

WASHINGTON TIMES

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.

NPR

Russian Accuses Voice Of America Of Fake Interview, Michele Kelemen, NPR, February 20, 2012.

FOREIGN POLICY

Waste and Abuse of Power at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, According to Audit, By Reid Standish, Foreign Policy Blog, June 17, 2014.

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BBG WATCH

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.

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NDEPENDENT AUDITOR’S REPORT ON INTERNAL CONTROL OVER FINANCIAL REPORTING

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Audit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Administration and Oversight of Acquisition Functions

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OIG BBG Audit April 2014

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Inspection of U.S. International Broadcasting to Russia

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