BBG WATCH COMMENTARY
NPR’s Michele Kelemen, a former employee of Voice of America, reported on the recent VOA Russian Service interview with a leading Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny which he later described as “100 percent fake” and complained that VOA “went nuts.” The fake interview may have been created by Kremlin supporters who have been known to hijack email accounts of anti-Putin opposition leaders.
Kelemen interviewed the new VOA director David Ensor and former VOA journalist and director of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) Ted Lipien who helped to launch independent watch dog media website BBG Watch – www.bbgwatch.com. Lipien also served as acting associate VOA director and placed VOA and Radio Liberty programs on stations in Russia before the Russian government of Vladimir Putin forced these stations to drop these programs. CUSIB opposes plans by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to cut VOA programs to Russia, China and other countries that restrict free media.
Ensor told Kelemen “So we may have been scammed, but we may never know for sure.” Ensor apologized for the incident and said the Russian service has tightened its procedures.
But NPR reported that others don’t see this as an isolated incident. Lipien said that the Russian service now relies on contractors, who aren’t familiar with American journalistic values.
“And I’m not saying that one should not hire people with fresh knowledge of countries like Russia,” Lipien says. “But if you are the Voice of America, you also need seasoned editors with other experience — American experience.”
An independent Russian journalist and new media scholar Dr. Nikolay Rudenskiy, who evaluated the VOA Russian website for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which manages the Voice of America, concluded that it has a “pro-Putin bias” and downplays human rights reporting and American viewpoints. See: “New media scholar Nikolay Rudenskiy is author of ‘pro-Putin Bias in VOA’study.” But a Senate staffer familiar with the evaluation said there is “no smoking gun” to indicate a deliberate pro-Putin bias.
NPR’s Michele Kelemen reported, however, that in one Voice of America Russian Service webcast, the VOA host hardly pushes back in a lengthy interview with a pro-Putin youth leader, who complains that the U.S. is trying to foment revolution in his country.