BBG Watch Commentary
“Led by a stable of Obama appointees, the Voice of America and the Persian language service at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Radio Farda) are being used to support the Iranian regime and denigrate the leadership of President Trump,” political writer, investigative journalist, Iran expert and Republican Party political activist Kenneth R. Timmerman, who had been mentioned as one of several possible candidates for leading the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) agency, wrote in an article in FrontPage Magazine published by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Michael Pack, documentary filmmaker, former Worldnet director and former senior vice president for television programming at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has been reported as a replacement for current BBG CEO John F. Lansing, an Obama administration holdover in the dysfunctional federal agency ($740 million FY 2017), but the official announcement of Pack’s nomination by President Trump with a request for Senate confirmation has not been made in several months since the initial report. Other international media experts had also expressed interest in reforming U.S. media outreach, which even Hillary Clinton described in 2013 as “practically defunct.”
Timmerman’s call has been echoed by Iranians and Iranian Americans, who for years have complained about bias in the Voice of America and Radio Farda, as in this tweet from a former political prisoner in Iran:
Dear Americans, The U.S. taxpayer-founded @VOANews & @RFERL never took the right stance on #IranProtests as well as they have done in favor of Mullahs. It’s shameful. #ReformBBG @BBGWatch @BBGgov @realDonaldTrump @VP @StateDept @statedeptspox @SenTomCotton @KenTimmerman
— KavehTaheri (@TaheriKaveh) January 6, 2018
BBG Watch has learned that at a recent meeting at the National Security Council, a senior NSC official took issue with a read statement from one of John Lansing’s deputies who insisted that the Voice of America must remain unbiased in its news coverage, presumably even toward dictatorial regimes such as the one in Iran. According to several VOA and BBG employees who participated in the meeting, the senior NSC official told the BBG executive that VOA should be definitely biased in favor of freedom and democracy in accordance with American values while being truthful and honest in applying those same values. Currently, there is a legislative firewall which prevents administration officials from making programming recommendations to BBG’s journalists and media entities, but they are free to make their opinions known to BBG executives. The firewall does not protect VOA from any bias which may be introduced by its own officials or individual journalists.
According to several participants in the meeting, the senior NSC official was also keenly interested in hearing about the senior VOA management’s highly controversial order to shorten a live interview last April with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui and later attempts by the management to fire and discipline Mandarin Service journalists who disagreed with VOA director Amanda Bennett’s decision. Bennett, another Obama administration holdover, insists that her decision to shorten the interview had nothing to do with pressure from the Chinese government and was only dictated by her desire to uphold high journalistic standards. She reportedly wanted to give Chinese communist officials an opportunity to respond in advance to any allegations made by Guo Wengui. The interview was still cut short even after the Chinese government made public new accusations against Guo Wengui and issued a warrant for his arrest. Bennett’s husband has substantial corporate business interests in China, as does former Democratic BBG Chair and current BBG Board member Jeff Shell, a Hollywood film executive who in 2015 helped to bring in to the agency John Lansing, a former entertainment TV and cable channel manager. They hired Amanda Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, in early 2016. These officials strongly deny that private corporate or family business activities by high-level agency officials in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes and having no free media can have any influence on their BBG and VOA decisions for the U.S. government and reiterate their absolute commitment as American patriots to promoting media freedom abroad. Neither Lansing nor Bennett are known to have any direct personal business links to China, but some of the former BBG officials had conducted corporate business activities in Russia and China while serving on the BBG Board as presidential appointees. Some had sought help from senior BBG staffers in arranging meetings with Russian officials and businessmen.
Last week, Kenneth Timmerman sent a memo to key members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as well as the NSC, in which he argued that “VOA and Radio Farda should be treated as federal disaster zones, and emergency management teams parachuted in immediately.” He called for sending “the administration’s pick to lead the Broadcasting Board of Governors to the Senate for confirmation, and to replace the whole failed leadership team at the BBG.” Current BBG CEO John Lansing was not subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate, and neither have been recent VOA directors, including Amanda Bennett.
KENNETH R. TIMMERMAN: While the Persian language services, after much public criticism, are now posting cellphone videos of the protests on their social media accounts, their on-air coverage has been tepid, with regular hosts “balancing” coverage of the protestors with coverage of the regime’s lies.
The VOA Central news bureau has been even worse. In a lead on-air “package” on the fourth day of protests, it regurgitated Iranian state media and statements from Iranian regime leaders, putting President Trump’s tweet of support for protestors in the 16th graph.
This was not an isolated example. The next day, VOA central news again parroted the Iranian government line and slammed President Trump:
Rouhani Rejects Trump’s Support for Iranian Protesters
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says U.S. President Donald Trump has no right to express sympathy for the Iranian people after referring to them as terrorists. Trump has praised protesters in Iran for rallying against the government’s economic policy…
As noted by former VOA broadcaster Ted Lipien, who runs the independent BBGWatch, the [VOA] message was devastating: “Voice of America to Iranians: Government wants you to behave’,” Timmerman wrote.
READ MORE: The U.S. Doesn’t Have to Lose the Information War in Iran. By Kenneth R. Timmerman, FrontPage Mag, January 3, 2018.