BBG Watch Commentary

It would have been inconceivable for the head of U.S. taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to tell Americans or RFE/RL audiences during the Cold War that Russians elected Stalin because he brought “strength” to Russia. It would have been even more inconceivable to take pride in the fact that Radio Liberty broadcasts at that time reflected “the strength” which Soviet propaganda credited Stalin with achieving for the Soviet Union.

But times are different under RFE/RL’s management by Tom Kent, his deputies and the Obama administration appointed Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency ($685,154 FY 2018 Budget Request) which oversees RFE/RL and the Voice of America (VOA).

President Tom Kent said that RFE/RL’s coverage “will also have reflected why people support him [Vladimir Putin] and the strength that he has brought to the campaign and to the country.”

Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the Broadcasting Board of Governors in 2013 as practically defunct.”

Nearly the same BBG board is still in place. The agency is headed by John F. Lansing whom the BBG board and its then Democratic chairman Jeff Shell, a Hollywood executive and contributor to Obama campaigns whose company does business in China, selected in 2015. Lansing hired Tom Kent with the board’s approval. The Trump administration has not replaced any of them or made an official nomination for the new BBG CEO to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate

The current emphasis at RFE/RL and VOA is on “balanced” rather than objective journalism. The BBG is not countering propaganda although the BBG claims that it counters Russian disinformation.

From what we have seen, both VOA and RFE/RL repeat a lot of Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean propaganda in the name of “balanced” journalism, which is not the same as objective journalism.

RFE/RL and VOA executives go to great lengths to give authoritarian leaders in Russia, China, Iran and even North Korea the opportunity to present their side of the story.

Some VOA News reports during the recent anti-regime protests in Iran were devoted nearly in full to statements from Iranian mullahs and regime officials attacking the Iranian demonstrators. Dissident VOA Persian Service journalists decry mismanagement and loss of objectivity.

Reza Pahlavi, the older son of the late Shah of Iran, warned in a recent video interview that U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlets broadcasting to Iran — Radio Farda operating within Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty with headquarters in Prague and the Voice of America in Washington, both managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors — have been infiltrated by individuals who believe in reforming the clerical regime in Iran and help the regime to stay in power.

SEE: ‘Deplorable’ VOA to Iran -The Hill op-ed, BBG Watch, January 19, 2018.

VOA’s senior managers are trying to fire three VOA Mandarin Service journalists for allegedly resisting orders to shorten an interview with a critic of the Chinese communist government, accusing VOA China broadcasters of not giving Chinese officials a sufficient opportunity to respond. VOA Mandarin Service employees, who are under fire from senior management headed by VOA director Amanda Bennett, are defended by some of the most prominent China scholars in the United States who have written a protest letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO John F. Lansing.

Several award-winning Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty journalists have been pushed out or resigned in frustration with the RFE/RL’s senior management headed by Tom Kent.

SEE: #ReformBBG — BBG, VOA, RFE/RL Employees Ask for Immediate Reforms, BBG Watch, March 12, 2018.

In what could appear as a commercial for Vladimir Putin and actually included a pro-Putin campaign commercial, former AP journalist Tom Kent told the Broadcasting Board of Governors on March 14, 2018 in Washington, DC that Putin will win the presidential election on Sunday because of “the strength that he has brought to the campaign and to the country.”

Tom Kent also said that Putin’s opponents did not appear as “head of state material.”

In his presentation to the BBG board and to American taxpayers who fund RFE/RL and BBG, Kent showed a Putin election poster and read its slogans: “Strong President” and “Strong Russia.”


RFE/RL President Thomas Kent at BBG Open Board Meeting, Washington, DC, March 14, 2018:
“To Russia. Presidential elections are Sunday. There is no doubt who will win. You see him there. [RFE/RL Video Clip of Putin’s Campaign Billboard] ‘Strong President.’ ‘Strong Russia.’
The other candidates have had trouble coming across as, well, head of state material. [RFE/RL Video Clip of Candidates Aggressively Debating; One Candidate Throwing a Glass of Water at Another]  
But the side stories to this election make for compelling journalism. ‘Current Time’ [BBG’s joint RFE/RL and VOA Russian TV/Web Program] and the RFE/RL Russian Service have extensively covered the anti-corruption protests in dozens of cities during the campaign—protests largely ignored by official media. That’s would be candidate Alexei Navalny during a Moscow protest where he is arrested in January. [RFE/RL Still Photo of Navalny with an Aggressive Expression]  
We also reported on a social media get-out-the-vote commercial that some found had racist and homophobic overtones. In it the man says there is no point in voting, then he has a terrifying dream that his failure to vote brought in a government that wants to draft him into the army and send gay people to live at his house. [RFE/RL Shows Pro-Putin Commercial]  
Who’s behind this commercial isn’t clear, but turnout is perhaps the biggest challenge for Putin in these elections and Sunday all eyes will be on the numbers that go to the polls as a sign of how enthusiastic Russians are in giving him another six-year term.
‘Current Time’ will be offering 15 hours of live TV coverage on Election Day and heavy coverage on the web and social networks.
RFE/RL radio service will have a 24 hour video and audio stream and additional web and social content.
We have been very careful to cover all sides of the election.
If Putin wins—and that seems likely—our coverage will also have reflected why people support him and the strength he has brought to the campaign and to the country.”