BBG Watch Commentary
In a Washington Times op-ed, a Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting member Ted Lipien warned about a pro-Putin bias in the Voice of America Russian programs. Lipien reported that a highly respected independent journalist in Russia hired by the Broadcasting Board of Governors to evaluate the VOA Russian website concluded last year that it has a pro-Kremlin bias and downplays human rights reporting. BBG executives apparently failed to share the results of this study with BBG members.
On January 31, the Voice of America posted on its Russian website an alleged interview with a prominent Russian anti-corruption lawyer, anti-Putin opposition leader and blogger Alexei Navalny but had to remove it and apologize after Navalny said that the interview was “100 percent fake.” Navalny, who is viewed as an enemy by the Kremlin and has been a target of disinformation campaigns by Prime Minister Putin’s supporters, accused the Voice of America of “going nuts” and suggested that all those working for the VOA Russian Service should be let go.
BBG Watch website reported that despite issuing an apology, some staffers who were responsible for posting the fake interview have been telling VOA and BBG management that Navalny did give them an interview through an exchange of emails and then lied about it. BBG Watch reported that these staffers are recent arrivals from Russia who were hired as poorly paid contractors to replace experienced journalists who had been retired or pushed out because they were critical of Putin and may have lacked new media skills.
Asked by BBG Watch for a comment, Lipien said that in his long career with the Voice of America he did not recall a single incident where VOA would air a fake interview with a major anti-communist figure like Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa, or Vaclav Havel. “Had we done so due to some kind of secret police provocation, of which there were many, we would certainly not accuse these brave men of lying,” Lipien said.
The fact that this incident happened and that some VOA Russian Service staffers are still engaged in a whispering campaign of accusing Andrei Navalny of lying, as reported by BBG Watch, is extremely disturbing, Lipien said. Voice of America director should have called Alexei Navalny and issued a personal apology, which should have been posted on VOA websites in Russian and English, Lipien suggested. The fact that the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on the fake interview incident in both Russian and English, but the VOA English news website completely ignored the story, points to serious problems with Voice of America journalism under the guidance of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In many ways, it is now much worse than it was when VOA was still part of the United States Information Agency but VOA journalists knew how to use the VOA Charter to demand that controversial stories be covered, Lipien said. Lipien together with former VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists is a co-founder of BBG Watch.
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Faked interviews, lax Web security are signs a shakeup is needed