BBG Watch Media
A journalist working as a U.S. government employee for the taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) has been posting anti-Donald Trump memes on her personal but publicly accessible Facebook page. One was a GIF with a Nazi swastika swinging over Mr. Trump’s face. The journalist, who collects a government salary, self-identifies on her Facebook page as a Voice of America employee.
The Voice of America Russian Service posted online, both Facebook and YouTube, the recent Hillary Clinton’s anti-Donald Trump campaign video with Russian subtitles and no attached balancing material whatsoever. 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 and abroad.
The anti-Donald Trump video on the Voice of America sites puzzled even some of VOA’s foreign viewers. One of them posted a comment in Russian 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?”
Under the Hatch Act of 1939, employees in the executive branch of the federal government generally may not use official authority or influence to interfere with an election or engage in political activity while on duty or in a government office.
Foreign viewers are shocked by biased Voice of America reporting but so should be Americans. One-sided, anti-Donald Trump online postings on the Voice of America are not limited to VOA’s Russian Service. They were also observed in VOA English language programs and posts.
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.
Thanks to a recent lifting by Congress of some of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act restrictions on distributing Voice of America content to U.S. commercial media, more and more of it is being viewed by Americans, some of whom may not know that it is paid for by taxpayers and in many cases produced by U.S. government employees. Of course, almost all of it is already available anyway in English and in other languages on the Internet. Some U.S. media outlets pick up and repost VOA articles. Sometimes their origin and links to the U.S. government and U.S. government employees is not clearly stated in these repostings. Americans may not know that their tax money was used to pay for producing partisan news reports they see online or in their newspaper.
“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
Sierra Rayne reposted in full the VOA Charter which, in addition to stating that “VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive,” also says that “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.”
The VOA Charter was passed by the U.S. Congress signed into law on July 12, 1976, by President Gerald Ford. It is U.S. law – (Public Law 94-350) – and Voice of America management and journalists are obliged to follow it. VOA’s oversight agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), is obliged to make sure that this law is strictly observed.
One may or may not like Donald Trump or agree with American Thinker‘s editorial or political line, but its commentator rightly pointed out that the Voice of America has certain obligations under the law to remain impartial and objective, especially when it comes to American politics.
U.S. taxpayers should not be funding translations and re-posting online of highly partisan electioneering videos. While VOA is by law supposed to target foreign audiences, its online content is widely viewed in the United States, including Russian-speaking U.S. citizens and voters. According to Alexa, Amazon-owned commercial web traffic data and analytics company, 4.4% of the VOA Russian Service web traffic, not counting Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, comes from the United States.
The U.S. government and its employees now have the ability to influence American electorate through mass media at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. It’s a dangerous precedent for the Voice of America to show such blatant partisanship. It raises the question why Republicans or Democrats in Congress should continue to fund VOA with U.S. taxpayers’ dollars, as the American Thinker commentator observed.
SIERRA RAYNE: “Were this a private broadcaster, there would be no issues. But as a public broadcaster, VOA is legally obligated to avoid any perceptions of bias. Consequently, not only does Trump need to look at either shutting down VOA or substantially reforming it if he becomes president, but formal complaints should be lodged in the interim to ensure that all VOA coverage of his campaign is conducted by truly fair and balanced individuals.”
Should the Voice of America be privatized but still remain 100% funded by U.S. taxpayers, as some in Congress have proposed, it would be even more risky. De-federalization and privatization, with U.S. taxpayers still picking up the full tab, would give individual VOA managers and reporters much more extra leeway and less oversight to express their own personal political preferences and biases. Unfortunately, far too many journalists can’t leave their personal biases behind when reporting news.
The current Broadcasting Board of Governors, even though it is bipartisan, has not been providing effective oversight. Judging by continued news reporting failures, neither is new BBG CEO John Lansing nor new VOA director and deputy director, Amanda Bennett and Sandy Sugawara. One of the better VOA reporters told us, “I’m giving up.” The U.S. Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, need to step in and pass structural reforms that would preserve the VOA Charter and the official status of the Voice of America. It should remain a completely non-partisan public media outlet of the United States focused exclusively on foreign audiences.
As observed recently by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), “This Broken Agency is Losing the Info War to ISIS & Putin.”
BBG’s Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has not had permanent leadership for over two years under the current BBG board chaired by Jeff Shell, a Democrat, nominated by President Obama. Another Democrat, Secretary of State John Kerry is an ex officio member of the bipartisan BBG board. In 2013, former BBG member and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, yet another Democrat, called the Broadcasting Board of Governors “practically defunct.” Judging by the current Voice of America and Broadcasting Board of Governors performance, nothing much has changed. It remains a bipartisan problem which needs a bipartisan solution.
Donald Trump is not the only victim of VOA’s and BBG’s dysfunction. Recent Voice of America coverage of Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy, while not biased against her, has been less than spectacular, in fact, truly substandard.
VOA was beaten by Russia’s RT and SPUTNIK, Germany’s Deutsche Welle, BBC and practically every other international and U.S. media outlet in reporting that Hillary Clinton has secured enough delegates to become the first female candidate of a major party for U.S. presidency. To add insult to injury, the Voice of America quickly displaced the Hillary Clinton story, which was not even its own but a news wire report by AP, with a ten-hour late story of non-filing of criminal child endangerment charges against the mother of the child in a gorilla shooting zoo incident which happened several days earlier.
We are all for maximum freedom of expression in public and in private, but when it comes to a publicly-funded broadcaster like the Voice of America, or for that matter any American journalist who claims to be an objective reporter, showing publicly a strong personal bias against a U.S. politician of any party reflects poorly on any journalistic organization that employs him or her. If that journalistic organization is 100% funded by U.S. taxpayers and has a congressionally-mandated Charter, a large measure of care is required when journalists express their personal political opinions in public or post news reports on behalf of their employer. Otherwise, why should U.S. taxpayers keep giving $777 million annually (FY 2017 Federal Budget Request) to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, about $225 million of which goes to the Voice of America?