BBG Watch Commentary

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) continues its excellent in depth coverage of events in Russia and Ukraine, often beating the Voice of America in online reporting in English of significant news dealing with U.S. foreign policy toward the region. While this is not the area of RFE/RL’s specialization, such reporting by RFE/RL is welcomed especially at this time by specialists and others interested in U.S. and international politics because of VOA’s numerous recent news reporting failures, which critics attribute to poor management by senior executives.

VOA English News, for example, failed to mention in its video report from Kyiv on the inauguration of Ukraine’s President Poroshenko that Vice President Biden and a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation were attending the ceremony. However, VOA Ukrainian Service, despite getting only limited help and resources from VOA management, did report at length on Biden in Kyiv and also interviewed Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

Mismanagement at the Voice of America prompted one congressman, Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), to propose defunding VOA. Meanwhile, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee have introduced a bipartisan bill, United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490), designed to reform the Voice of America and the rest of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

The bill, also known as the Royce – Engel U.S. International Broadcasting Reform Legislation, has been criticized by VOA Director David Ensor and a few VOA correspondents, some of whom hold Foreign Service limited appointments, as possibly interfering with VOA’s journalistic independence, but it has received strong support from the VOA employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812. The union has made suggestions about improving the bill’s wording and is working through their contacts on the Hill on getting them incorporated into the legislation.

RFE/RL posted online a video interview with Rep. Kaptur.


The following press release was posted on the BBG website.


Representative Kaptur Speaks With RFE/RL And VOA

JUNE 11, 2014

Marcy Kaptur on RFERL

Representative Marcy Kaptur, who chairs the U.S. Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, spoke with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service,Radio Svoboda in Kyiv this week during a trip with Vice President Biden in Kyiv to attend the June 7 inauguration of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. During the interview, which was widely cited in Ukrainian media, Kaptur voiced support for targeted Russian sanctions.

“By putting sanctions on Russia, the United States, over a period of time, is going to make it more difficult for the Russian economy to function. These sanctions will directly affect many of their most wealthy business leaders…  If sanctions are carefully targeted to certain groups, I think that the people of Russia will begin to understand that President Putin’s policies are very destructive, both to Russia and to places outside of Russia.”

Representative Kaptur noted the extreme concentration of wealth in Russia — “about 131 people in Russia control over a third of their wealth, that’s staggering” — in emphasizing the impact of targeting sanctions at these elites. She also said to RFE/RL, while some European countries have been reluctant to impose sanctions because of their reliance on Russia for energy resources, many countries are joining with the U.S. to make the sanctions more effective as a way to convince Moscow to change its Ukraine policy.

Kaptur also spoke with the Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service, and stressed the importance of establishing peace and stability in Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe. These elections, she said, mark the beginning of positive developments and the Ukrainian people deserve to have their lives changed for the better.  Kaptur praised Poroshenko as a leader who wants to lead his county forward and commended him for taking steps in the right direction.  But, she added, he must remain committed to establishing an economically and politically secure state.

The Service also provided live webcast and TV coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on challenges facing Ukraine’s new leadership.  The coverage featured statements by Senator Robert Menendez, President of Woodrow Wilson Center Jane Harman, and former Deputy National Security Advisor, James F. Jeffrey.