BBG Watch Commentary
You would think that Voice of America (VOA) would embrace maverick free media reporters like Matthew Russell Lee. He has exposed corruption in the U.S. banking industry, at the United Nations and in Uzbekistan and Georgia. But VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch has accused Matthew Russell Lee of sending him annoying emails and asked the UN to “review” his press accreditation.
Here are the facts, as we know them.
Matthew Russell Lee is an independent investigative reporter, a citizen journalist working for a nonprofit Inner City Press. He is an accredited correspondent at the United Nations, where he exposes waste, fraud and abuse to the annoyance of UN officials and apparently some of the other reporters.
Both Matthew Russell Lee and VOA UN correspondent Margaret Besheer were elected to the Executive Committee of the United Nations Correspondents Associations (UNCA).
Matthew Russell Lee used his position at UNCA to expose alleged conflicts of interests among UNCA members.
The VOA correspondent and some of her colleagues at the UNCA’s Executive Committee have accused Matthew Russell Lee of unethical behavior and tried to have him expelled from UNCA.
After the effort to expel him from UNCA was reported by Sri Lankan media, Matthew Russell Lee started to receive threats from Sri Lankan extremists whom he had annoyed earlier with his reporting about their war crimes and attempts of UN officials to downplay human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
Matthew Russell Lee wrote an email to the VOA correspondent’s bosses in Washington, VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch, asking them to persuade their UN correspondent to stop her effort to have him expelled from UNCA as it was fueling threats against him.
Matthew Russell Lee apparently received no reply from either Mr. Ensor or Mr. Redisch, both of them U.S. government officials. Matthew Russell Lee is a U.S. citizen and has the First Amendment right to petition to government for a redress of a grievance without a fear of retaliation. He did receive a short acknowledgement of his email from another VOA editor but it did not address his citizen complaint.
Matthew Russell Lee wrote another email to Mr. Redisch and then another, but still did not receive any response.
Then VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch wrote this email to the UN, requesting that Matthew Russell Lee’s UN press accreditation be reviewed.
Matthew Russell Lee accused Steve Redisch of violating his First Amendment rights.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has written a letter to the UN noting Steve Redisch’s request and urging that Matthew Russell Lee rights to a fair an open hearing be respected.
For the information of BBG Watch readers, we offer these bios of Matthew Russell Lee and Steve Redisch. Mr. Redisch’s bio was taken from the Inside VOA website. We will report later what VOA journalists have told us about Steve Redisch’s management style. One wrote about dismal employee morale and “Redisch’s temper tantrums which are the stuff of legend.”
VOA’s Executive Editor, Steve Redisch, functions as VOA’s chief operating officer. He supervises the daily operations and activities of VOA’s news, programs, language services, broadcast operations, and Internet departments.
Redisch joined VOA after a 20-year career with CNN, where he earned two Emmy Awards and a National Headliner Award. Prior to coming to VOA, he served as CNN’s Washington, D.C Deputy Bureau Chief and Executive Producer-White House, where he oversaw the bureau’s multi-million dollar budget while coordinating White House coverage with other networks and media outlets, and adapted the bureau’s reporting to meet the different demands and requirements of CNN’s many distinct shows, networks, and Internet platforms.
Some of the many highlights of his CNN career include launching the network’s flagship primetime news show, The World Today, as executive producer in 1998; serving as executive producer of such special events as political conventions, State of the Union addresses, and the 2001 Presidential Inauguration; and managing the news gathering staff and directing editorial content as Executive Editor in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
Redisch began his broadcasting career in 1979 at WTOP all-news radio in Washington, D.C. after attending American University.
Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press Reporter
Mr. Lee is not journalist who is afraid to battle for his rights and those of others. The Wikipedia entry describes him as an investigative journalist who fights corruption and the powerful interests behind it.
Matthew Lee is a public interest lawyer, author, and founder of two non-profit organizations, Inner City Press and Fair Finance Watch.
Both are known for their investigations of the banking industry’s treatment of low-income communities of color around the world. Lee produces weekly reports on, and advocates concerning, such global banks as HSBC, Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland, Mizuho, and others.(…)
Lee is the author of the non-fiction book Predatory Lending: Toxic Credit in the Global Inner City and the novel Predatory Bender. (…)
In mid-2006, Lee’s investigative journalism at the UN, published online in Inner City Press uncovered and led to the United Nations Development Programme halting its disarmament programs in the Karamoja region of Uganda in response to human rights abuses exposed in the parallel forcible disarmament programs carried out by the Uganda People’s Defense Force. (…)
In 2008, Lee appeared on the ninth episode of the sixth season of the show Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. The show discussed “World Peace” and went on a tour that Lee led most of in the UN building. Besides leading the tour, he also discussed some of the actions that the UN takes which are hypocritical, or make little sense.
In 2009, Lee reported extensively on the conflict in Sri Lanka, including critically covering UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the internally displaced persons’ camps in Vavuniya in May 2009. In early 2010, Lee was invited to speak on the topic of Sri Lanka at the Rebellious Lawyers’ conference at Yale Law School.
“…his challenge persuaded Citigroup’s CitiFinancial Credit Co. to pay a $70 million fine to settle Federal Reserve charges of impropriety in ladling out high-interest loans to the poor. That same year, J.P. Morgan planned to merge with Bank One. That stalled when Lee discovered Bank One financed usurious loans.
To clear up that mess, J.P. Morgan quickly announced it would pour tens of billions of dollars into mortgages for low-income Americans.
So it goes. Lee, 40, helps Dominican squatters fix a boiler, skewers corrupt dealings by Bronx councilmen and tracks dumpers of toxic pesticide in the South Bronx. Of late, he obtained a press desk at the United Nations, where he writes about atrocities in Uzbekistan and investigates strange doings at a multinational bank branch in a breakaway region of Georgia.”
It’s highly ironic that Mr. Lee’s reporting from the UN is very similar do reporting done by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Uzbek and Georgian reporters. If Mr. Redisch’s request to the UN is honored, Mr. Lee’s ability to report on such stories would be severely curtailed. And yet, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) claims as part of its mission to support exactly this kind of news reporting to nations with government media censorship.
In 2007, The New York Times published an article about Mr. Lee, As Blogs Proliferate, a Gadfly With Accreditation at the U.N. by Maria Aspan in The New York Times.
There was also a 2011 story about Matthew Russell Lee and Inner City Press, a Web site that covers the United Nations, by Eric Konigsberg in The New Yorker. The New Yorker article is by subscription only.
We also found this Christian Science Monitor report on Matthew Russell Lee’s ability to deliver journalistic scoops.
A reporter at Inner City Press got his hands on the United Nation’s blueprint for its post-conflict involvement in Libya. Read more.
And this commentary by Matthew Russell Lee in Foreign Policy exposes waste and corruption at the United Nations:
A bit of creative destruction might be just what the United Nations needs. BY MATTHEW RUSSELL LEE | APRIL 21, 2009