BBG Watch Commentary
In an unprecedented and stunning betrayal of public trust and its mission, the newly-renamed United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which manages such media entities as the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), registered domain names USAGMWatch.com and USAGMWatch.org in an obvious attempt to prevent BBG Watch from acquiring and using these domains prior to and following the agency’s official re-branding on August 22, 2018.
BBG Watch independently confirmed that a USAGM employee reserved .com and .org “Watch” domains, listing USAGM’s official Washington address. BBG Watch complained to the Federal agency’s management and presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed Board.
Only after a delay of several days and a second email, did the USAGM (on September 21st) contact BBG Watch to state that “a process for removing current ownership of the two domain names referenced in your emails has been fully initiated.” The agency said the process of de-registering the domain names might take approximately 30 days to complete.
The agency asserted that it was “standard practice during a new brand roll out. . .to consider multiple domain names for potential use.”
However, Federal government agencies use .gov for their domain names. USAGMWatch.com and USAGMWatch.org have no apparent application to the USAGM congressionally-mandated overseas mission. As of the date of this press release, USAGM has failed to respond to additional specific questions from BBG Watch as to who ordered and approved these registrations.
The agency’s registration of USAGMWatch.com and USAGMWatch.org appears to have been aimed at making domestic criticism of agency’s operations more difficult to find online. It constitutes a dangerous attempt by a Federal agency to interfere with American media and is a serious violation of the First Amendment protection of free press in the United States.
Just before the latest attempt at stifling the reach of an independent watch dog web site was uncovered, BBG Watch succeeded in forcing USAGM to reverse a decision to prevent a reporter from covering an event that agency’s head, USAGM CEO John Lansing, had declared “closed”.
BBG Watch, run by journalists who volunteer their time, has been cited by The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Examiner, CNN, Fox News, NBC News, NPR and other media outlets in the United States, as well as by The Congressional Record.
Recent reporting and commentary has highlighted potential conflicts of interest of some past and present BBG Board members and agency officials with corporate business interests in China and Russia, mistreatment of employees and contractors, pro-Iranian regime propaganda in Voice of America Persian broadcasts, actions taken against five Chinese journalists at VOA, and protests by award-winning women journalists and former Vaclav Havel Fellows against mismanagement at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, which is the USAGM’s media entity in charge of Radio Farda programs to Iran.