BBG Watch Commentary

Richard Stengel
Richard Stengel

Richard Stengel, who serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and represents Secretary of State John Kerry at meetings of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has posted an article on media freedom on the State Department’s official Blog, DIPNOTE. He commented on the conviction by an Egyptian court of three international journalists from Al Jazeera’s English-language network. “Strong professional journalism and the right for people to peaceably voice their opinions are essential ingredients of a democratic society, Stengel wrote.

While Voice of America English News reported on the Egyptian court verdict against the journalists, VOA did not mention the strong criticism from Under Secretary Stengel aimed at this “bizarre” action against media freedom in Egypt.

VOA did report in one short sentence only Secretary Kerry’s reaction that “conviction is obviously a chilling and draconian sentence.”

However, United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay’s statement criticizing the court sentence got not one, but three longer sentences from VOA English News. VOA also gave Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s reaction to the verdict against journalists two longer sentences. VOA did not show video or post audio of Secretary Kerry’s comment on the Egyptian sentence against journalists. His statement was three paragraphs long. VOA could have quoted more from it than just one short sentence. Most U.S. and international media outlets that did report on Kerry statement gave it more lines than VOA did.

Voice of America also could have quoted from Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel’s article on the lack of media freedom in Egypt or even ask him to say something on camera, but VOA did not. If Voice of America had an Arabic Service, it would be more likely that Richard Stengel’s comments about the assault on media freedom in Egypt would be noticed.


Egypt’s Chilling Detour on the Path to Democracy


JUNE 26, 2014

On Monday, an Egyptian court convicted three international journalists from Al Jazeera’s English-language network along with 15 others of conspiring with “terrorists” to harm national unity. Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Australian Peter Greste received seven-year sentences; Egyptian Baher Mohamed got an extra three years for possessing a single spent bullet, a souvenir from his reporting on the country’s street protests.

The journalists were arrested while covering a demonstration in Cairo and accused of aiding the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. They were imprisoned for six months, and during 13 trial sessions Egyptian authorities did not produce any evidence to support their allegations. None.

Imprisoning working journalists appears to be part of a broader effort by Egypt’s transitional government to repress freedom of expression and peaceful dissent. Along with the arrests of journalists, the government has imprisoned many nonviolent protestors, activists, and intellectuals. These actions call into question the stated intention of the Egyptian government to complete Egypt’s transition to democracy.

Egypt is an extraordinarily important nation — the most populous Arab country and a bellwether for the Middle East region. As a result, the bizarre outcome of this deeply-flawed trial has ignited a storm of international criticism for Egypt, just as newly-elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has assumed office.
The question brought into sharp focus by the harsh sentences given to journalists in Egypt now arises: As the newly-elected leader of a great nation, what kind of Egypt does President al-Sisi hope to build?

Strong professional journalism and the right for people to peaceably voice their opinions are essential ingredients of a democratic society. As President al-Sisi begins his tenure as Egypt’s leader, he has the opportunity to propel his country down a positive path towards an inclusive political process that fosters universal rights and freedoms for all Egyptians. His government has widespread support. For that reason, Egypt has no need to imprison journalists — or to take many of the other repressive measures we have seen during recent months. It should instead focus its attention on helping get Egypt back on its feet — revitalizing the national economy and helping its young people get new jobs and opportunities.

This week, Secretary Kerry visited Egypt and reaffirmed the importance of America’s partnership with the country and the Egyptian people. President al-Sisi assured Secretary Kerry that he desires to see the country advance. The United States shares that aspiration. President al-Sisi can take a decisive step in that direction by reviewing all of the political sentences and verdicts and using all of the remedies at his disposal, including pardons, to correct the injustices that transpired in recent months. Egypt needs a fresh start — and all of its people — to move the nation forward.

About the Author: Richard Stengel serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Follow the Under Secretary on Twitter at @Stengel.



Voice of America no longer has an Arabic Service, but BBG Watch strongly believes that it should have one. A VOA Arabic language service would be much more likely to report on such an article by the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs or even do an interview with him. VOA Ukrainian Service interviewed Stengel in May.

Otherwise, Stengel or even Kerry are not likely to get much news coverage from VOA English News under the current senior leadership.

SEE: Voice of America English news site ignores Kerry and Stengel, equates Obama with Putin, BBG Watch, April 17, 2014.


Conviction of Al Jazeera Journalists

Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
June 23, 2014

Today’s conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three Al Jazeera journalists and fifteen others in a trial that lacked many fundamental norms of due process, is a deeply disturbing set-back to Egypt’s transition. Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry told me just yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance.

As I shared with President al-Sisi during my visit to Cairo, the long term success of Egypt and its people depends on the protection of universal human rights, and a real commitment to embracing the aspirations of the Egyptians for a responsive government. Egyptian society is stronger and sustainable when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success. Today’s verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law. I spoke with Foreign Minister Shoukry again today to make very clear our deep concerns about these convictions and sentences.

Yesterday, President al-Sisi and I frankly discussed these issues and his objectives at the start of his term as President. I call on him to make clear, publicly, his government’s intention to observe Egypt’s commitment to the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the rule of law. The Egyptian government should review all of the political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years and consider all available remedies, including pardons.