BBG Watch Commentary

Washington Free BeaconAdam Kredo reported in the Washington Free Beacon that an Iranian expert and regime opponent was temporarily banned from appearing on Voice of America’s Persian language news station.

This happened after Majid Mohammadi, an Iranian-American academic, compared the regime to a terror group during a recent appearance on the taxpayer-funded network, according to multiple officials at VOA, the nation’s leading pro-democracy broadcaster, Kredo, senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon, reported.

But after Voice of America was accused of pro-Iran bias, VOA apologized and reversed the ban against Mohammadi, the article said.

Censorship in favor of the Iranian regime has been in place at the Voice of America Persian News Network (PNN) service to Iran for a long time, according to a former VOA executive, although he noted that he has no direct knowledge of it in recent years. Several years ago he had recorded a television interview with the Voice of America Persian Service about the lessons of the Polish Solidarity trade union and its leader Lech Walesa for the Iranian independent trade union movement whose members were being imprisoned and mistreated by the Iranian regime. Former VOA journalist and executive said that before the interview he was warned by a VOA PNN producer not to talk about “regime change” in Iran. He said that he dismissed the warning since Lech Walesa and Solidarity were ultimately responsible for regime change in Poland in the late 1980s, but pointed out during the interview that it was a non-violent regime change strongly supported by Poland’s Catholic religious leaders, Pope John Paul II and left-leaning intellectuals who all supported the workers.

Others reported similar experiences of pressure from some VOA Iranian Service staffers to tone down their comments about the regime in Tehran. There are also recent reports of Voice of America executives agreeing to self-censorship of VOA programs in violation of U.S. law to get them placed on local networks controlled by repressive regimes. BBG Watch reported on a controversy over a VOA program placement proposal and a deal with the communist government in Vietnam that critics charge violates the VOA Charter and U.S. law, but it does not appear likely at all that the Iranian regime would grant VOA the right to distribute its program in Iran, as the Russian government apparently did in Russia after VOA executives agreed to a deal with a local business television channel, which critics say is one-sided and helps Putin’s propaganda machine. While the Iranian regime would not be open to such a deal with VOA, experts point out that it might make jamming of VOA TV program in the country less severe if it is less threatened by VOA broadcasts.

VOA director David Ensor said recently that “when national security stakes are higher we are ready to accept calculated risks to get into markets and to reach people.” It is not clear, however, whether concerns over possible increase of Iranian jamming of VOA television programs dictate attempts by some VOA Iranian Service staffers to censor critics of the Iranian regime. VOA officials insist that the latest incident had nothing to do with it. Critics point out that taking risks with the VOA Charter risks violating U.S. law and that the management has set the example of adjusting VOA program content to accommodate repressive regimes in order to achieve local program placement.

Adam Kredo reported in the Washington Free Beacon that the new incident is merely “the latest in the long string of public controversies over the government-funded network’s pro-Iranian bent and is said to reflect a growing rift within the network between entrenched pro-Iran voices and those trying to repair this bias.”

“Congressional appropriators and former employees have long raised concerns about the network, which has been referred to by critics in the past as ‘the voice of the mullahs’, Kredo wrote.”

After he was banned, Majid Mohammadi, an Iranian-American academic and critic of Tehran’s hardline regime, wrote to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials “to explain why a pro-democracy station with a congressional mandate to spread America’s message would employ such heavy-handed tactics reminiscent of the Iranian regime’s despotic efforts to block negative publicity,” the article said.

VOA confirmed that Mohammadi was initially banned by the station when contacted Wednesday by the Washington Free Beacon. The ban was reversed as soon as network heads learned of it, according to a VOA spokesman. According to VOA, the ban was imposed by a staffer who did not have the authority to make such a decision.

Kredo reported that “VOA offered to have Mohammadi on the station again this Friday, but he declined the offer, saying that he would only appear if the network allows him to address what happened.”


Iranian Dissident Banned from VOA for Criticizing Tehran: Accused of pro-Iran bias, VOA apologizes, reverses ban

Adam Kredo, The Washington Free Beacon, September 11, 2014.