BBG Watch Commentary

In a new video from U.S. taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is managed by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), an Iranian journalist for RFE/RL’s Radio Farda declared with strong conviction that in Iran “clerical establishment remains firmly in place.” RFE/RL provided no evidence in the video to back up its claim and did not quote any experts who disagree with assertions of the Iran regime’s strength.

Such comments from RFE/RL and other USAGM U.S.-funded media have met in criticism in the U.S. Congress and have enraged many anti-regime Iranians in Iran and abroad.

In thousands of social media posts, Iranians have been criticizing RFE/RL and Voice of America (VOA), also managed by USAGM, for repeating Iran regime propaganda without sufficient balance and challenge and without regard for the feelings of ordinary Iranians suffering under a repressive regime.

In a viral Twitter poll, which concluded today with nearly 10,000 participants, 91 percent of Iranian respondents demanded a change of leadership at VOA Persian Service. The poll was launched by Amir Etemadi @amiretemadi (22.1K Followers) Chair of the Iranian Liberal Students & Graduates @Group_ILSG, and several other Iranian activists, journalists and scholars. Etemadi, a journalist and former political prisoner in Iran, testified in 2014 before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

The English-language RFE/RL video was not labeled as a Radio Farda journalist’s personal commentary. The video’s target appear to be Americans and other English speakers.

RFE/RL, its managing federal agency, and Voice of America broadcasts to Iran have been under criticism in Congress for illegal targeting Americans with paid Facebook ads—a forbidden practice under U.S. law which appears to have ended recently after being exposed first by BBG Watch, an independent watchdog website, and later by The New York Times. The scandal led to an investigation by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives under its previous chairman, former Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) who retired from Congress in January.

RFE/RL posted the video, “Remembering The 1979 Iranian Revolution” on February 1, 2019 to mark the 40th anniversary of the return to Iran from exile in France on February 1, 1979 of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

This appears to be the narrative from RFE/RL:

The Shah was corrupt, committed human rights abuses and was a U.S. puppet. There is a video clip of the Shah of him with Henry Kissinger.

Anti-Shah protests in the 1970s are given an extensive play.

Widespread protests against Iran’s current theocratic regime, and the regime’s human rights violations, are barely mentioned or shown in the RFE/RL video.

The RFE/RL video ends with a powerful message dismissing reports that the clerical regime in Iran has been weakened by its own failures and can collapse due to protests as “speculation.”



RFE/RL: “Despite such speculation, it is clear the clerical establishment [in Iran] remains firmly in place”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), “Remembering The 1979 Iranian Revolution,” February 1, 2019



In an development not directly related to RFE/RL but related to USAGM, a recent Twitter poll that went viral included numerous comments from Iranians highly critical of the management of Voice of America (VOA) Persian Service.

An independent study carried out under the auspices of the American Foreign Policy Council reached highly negative conclusions about the management of Voice of America and Radio Farda programs to Iran.

The study was commissioned by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which was the previous name of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. The same Obama administration era BBG CEO John F. Lansing is still in charge of the federal agency as his possible replacement, Michael Pack, has not yet been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. VOA is still run by another Obama administration holdover official, VOA Director Amanda Bennett. She has been a target of severe criticism on social media from Chinese speakers unhappy about her role in shortening a whistleblower VOA Mandarin Service interview with Chinese regime critic Guo Wengui.

SEE: China dissident Qiao Moo gets a brush-off from VOA, BBG Watch, May 12, 2018




“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.”

According to a recent USAGM press release, “Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe /Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) broadcasts attracted nearly a quarter of Iranian adults (23 percent) each week, despite the government bans on satellite dishes and online access to international media.” Critics, including BBG Watch’s anonymous commentator The Federalist, question credibility of such agency audience claims by pointing, among many other things, to USAGM’s recent illegal practice of using ads to target Americans.

AFPC Persian-language Broadcasting Study: synthesis report