BBG Watch Commentary

With increasing frequency and frustration, anti-regime Iran scholars based in the West, as well as anti-regime activists in Iran, are posting highly critical comments on social media about the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) management of U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Radio Farda Persian programs. Their latest criticism focuses on the announcement by Obama administration BBG CEO holdover official John Lansing on the expansion of BBG programming to Iran under the same agency and language service leadership as before.

At the same time, an independent study carried out under the auspices of the American Foreign Policy Council also reached highly negative conclusions about the management of Voice of America and Radio Farda programs to Iran:

“More broadly, however, coverage of the JCPOA on both the Voice of America and Radio Farda was found to consistently lack broader context. Little to no effort was made, either by hosts or journalists, to explain the limitations of the agreement itself, or the detrimental side effects generated by it, or the implications of the deal for U.S. policy in the broader region. Similarly, in the media reports reviewed, only minimal effort was made to explain the reasoning and rationale behind the Trump administration’s different, and far more negative, view of the agreement. Simply put, Iranians were told in detail that the Obama White House supported the agreement, and why. They have not been afforded the same explanations of current administration policy.”

Another conclusion of the AFPC study was similarly critical:

“The media clips examined as part of this study consistently suffered from a lack of substantive discussion regarding the institutions, procedures and workings of the U.S. government. Given the location of the Voice of America in Washington, DC, this represents an enormous missed opportunity to educate the Iranian public about the U.S. system of government—and about the workings of Congress and agencies within the Executive Branch. This failing is particularly striking because, as at least some of the panelists found, callers to various VOA programs expressed a clear desire to learn more about democratic processes (and to contrast them to Iran’s unrepresentative system of government). More often than not, however, these lines of inquiry were not pursued or were actively discouraged by the program’s hosts.”

VOA Persian Service and Radio Farda management also came under severe criticism for coverage of Iranian foreign policy:

“Coverage of Iranian foreign policy on both the VOA and Farda was found to be rather problematic, owing to a pervasive lack of context. In the media segments reviewed by the panelists, there were repeated instances of the use of official regime statements as the baseline for stories in a manner that left the Iranian assertions unchallenged. Moreover, instances of problematic Iranian regional behavior (e.g., Iran’s extensive—and deeply harmful—activities in the Syrian theater in support of the Assad regime) were addressed sparsely, if at all. By contrast, both hosts and guests on a number of programs reviewed sought to portray the Islamic Republic as a constructive actor in the region—and a stalwart opponent of the more insidious threat of Sunni extremism. This dynamic, on the whole, perpetuated to audiences the appearance of pro-regime propaganda, rather than objective reporting, on the part of both the VOA and Farda.”

Despite such devastating conclusions, a statement from the BBG management asserted that “the study did not find any systematic bias in VOA and RFE/RL content.” BBG only admitted that the study “did identify editorial issues that need to be corrected.”

A tweet from BBG Republican Chairman Kenneth Weinstein said: “I can proudly say that BBG broadcasting into Iran is evolving to meet the needs and enable the voices of citizens within Iran and Persian-speaking audiences around the world.”

AFPC Persian-language Broadcasting Study: synthesis report

AFPC Persian-language Broadcasting Study: procedural overview

For a full video of the Hudson Institute and the Broadcasting Board of Governors May 29 panel discussion “A Challenging Crossroad: Media and Politics in Iran” during which the American Foreign Policy Council study of BBG programming to Iran was discussed CLICK HERE.

Hardly anyone paid any attention to John Lansing’s tweet about plans for a new BBG program to Iran, but tweets from Kenneth Weinstein @KenWeinstein (3K Followers) have seen a number of skeptical comments from Amir Etemadi @amiretemadi (13K Followers) Chair of the Iranian Liberal Students & Graduates @Group_ILSG, and several other Iranian activists, journalists and scholars.

CEO & founder of NRG, advisor to ADL on Iran/Middle East and former RAND analyst Alireza Nader @AlirezaNader (10.5K Followers) also responded.

Mohsen Behzad Karimi @mohsen121 (1.3K Followers) Middle East and Iran Analyst, EU correspondent at, ex EU corespondent for Kayhan asked: “Is it going to broadcast same pro Iran regime propaganda as @VOAIran and @RadioFarda_ does?”

Saeed Ghasseminejad @SGhasseminejad (14.5K Followers) Research Fellow at @FDD & @FDD_CSIF, PhD candidate & adjunct professor of finance, posted: “23% listened to Farda or watched VOA at least once a week? Not very impressive, given that Farda broadcasts long hours of music. What is the number for BBC & Manoto? Much higher I guess! Another number: Between 2014 & 2016 PNN’s employee satisfaction rate dropped from 43% to 30%?”

He also wrote: “No significant reform is possible in Iran as long as the mullahs are in charge, no significant reform is possible in VOA as long as the current people are in charge.”

Some of the posts include hashtags #ReformBBG and #IranRegimeChange.

Alireza Nader tweeted: “From everything I’ve seen, heard, and read US broadcasting is in woeful shape. Manoto TV, for example, is far more effective & much more popular.”

Amir Etemadi tweeted: “Let me give you some real numbers from their telegram channels:

BBC Persian: 1.2M subscribers
Manoto: 329.8K
VOA Persian: 160.6K
RadioFarda: 137.8K”