BBG Watch Commentary
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump was not the only presidential candidate vilified with hit pieces and biased, one-sided reporting at U.S. taxpayers' expense on U.S.-taxpayer-funded ($224M FY2017) Voice of America (VOA) in violation of VOA's own Charter. Under the leadership of Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO and director John F. Lansing, who lacks experience in U.S. international broadcasting, U.S. government operations, and U.S. public diplomacy, and Voice of America director Amanda Bennett, who in her post-election note to VOA staff would not even acknowledge Trump's victory or mention his name, the Voice of America also produced anti-Bernie Sanders programs during the primaries.
A few months ago, Ms. Bennett had posted a comment on our BBG Watch website, saying that “Like all American media, VOA is trying hard to cover the candidates and issues appropriately — neither pulling punches, nor exhibiting bias.” She said she would order anti-bias training for VOA journalists. She also said that “constructive criticism is always welcomed, as it helps us get better”, adding that she welcomes any input that helps VOA “do a much better job in following our Charter’s mandate to be impartial and fair.”
Assuming she meant what she said, Ms. Bennett has no experience in leading large organizations or in working for the U.S. government in an executive position. In a later press release, Bennett praised a VOA program--the VOA-hosted panel on young American Muslims--that was by design remarkably one-sided. The one-group panel was an open invitation to further unchallenged violations of the VOA Charter.
Contradicting her own earlier advice to VOA journalists when she urged them to avoid political bias in their reporting on the U.S. election campaign, Bennett, in an e-mail she sent to staff a few days later (July 8), hailed a Spanish Service video report, which in a clear violation of the VOA Charter, presented only one side of the highly controversial illegal immigration issue in the United States. According to VOA's description of the interview sent by Ms. Bennett, an illegal immigrant reportedly called Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s immigration plan one of “hate and prejudice.” It was obvious that no one from the Trump camp was asked by VOA to respond to the charge or to help explain his position on illegal immigration for the VOA report, as required by the VOA Charter. A few days later Bennett marked the 40th anniversary of the VOA Charter with the statement that “The VOA Charter has never been more important than it is today.”
VOA is now managed and overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a U.S. federal agency which then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described in 2013 as "practically defunct."
BBG's annual budget paid by U.S. taxpayers is $777 million (FY2017). It includes $224 million for the Voice of America.
VOICE OF AMERICA VIDEO WITH TRANSLATED ATTACK ON DONALD TRUMP
June 17, 2016
BBG Watch Commentary
Bernie Sanders' and Donald Trump's supporters are absolutely right: there is something rotten at the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) when it comes to how this federal government's overseas media outreach organization covers U.S. politics and may influence American election outcomes through reposting of its content on domestic U.S. media. Hillary Clinton is also right. The Voice of America's parent federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), is "practically defunct" when it comes to its work.
There is no doubt that some VOA reporters have a strong personal bias against Donald Trump when they identify themselves as "Voice of America journalists" on their personal Facebook pages and post on them anti-Trump memes, such as a GIF of Donald Trump with a Nazi swastika swinging over his head or a GIF of a penis that looks like the Republican Party's presumptive presidential candidate. These Facebook pages may be personal, but they are publicly accessible.
In addition, either as a result of political bias, stupidity, mismanagement, and lack of direction and leadership from senior VOA and Broadcasting Board of Governors officials -- most likely a combination of all of these factors -- some Voice of America journalists, who are either full-time federal government employees or contractors, post reports on U.S. elections and candidates that are highly partisan, lacking in balance, and not paired with any countervailing information or opinions within the same single report, single website segment, or single website page.
These individual, highly biased Voice of America reports in English are then shared and reposted by other U.S. media through the Internet without any indication that the original source -- VOA -- is 100% taxpayer-supported, that it is run by the U.S. government, that it is staffed by federal government employees, and that it has a Charter which requires its reporters to be accurate, balanced, objective, and comprehensive. There is nothing balanced, objective, and comprehensive about some of these VOA reports against one or another U.S. presidential candidate.
Below are summaries and links to a few recent U.S. media reports highlighting this tremendously disturbing and politically dangerous problem of bias and incompetence at the taxpayer-funded Voice of America:
DAN WRIGHT: "For reasons still unknown, a United States government owned and operated media outlet, Voice of America, published a hit piece on Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders.
"The story, titled 'Does Bernie Sanders Believe in Democracy?,' was written by Jamie Kirchick, who has elsewhere openly advocated for the election of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as president."
"Senator Sanders, according to this story in a US state media outlet, has been a 'shill' for undemocratic regimes," Dan Wright writes in ShadowProof.
He correctly points out that "Kirchick’s piece appears in the 'Opinion and Commentary' section of the VOA website, which shows a quote from VOA’s charter at the top of the page, stating, 'VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussion and opinion on these policies'.”
Dan Wright also correctly observes that:
"As broad as that mandate may seem, electioneering and hit pieces on US citizens obviously fall outside those parameters. VOA does not have the right to advocate for a particular candidate or even to attack one. That is not within its charter, nor should any US citizen have to subsidize their own defamation."
It is one thing for the Voice of America to present a roundup of differing U.S. media commentaries and other opinions as long as they are reflective of broader views within the American society and American media, or to have politicians or experts of different political persuasion participate in a single program; and quite another to commission or repost a single opinion article from any particular partisan individual or to translate into Russian and post online an anti-Donald Trump campaign video without any attempt to provide balance within the same web space. The current VOA practice is journalistically unethical, unfair, politically dangerous, highly deceptive and confusing for U.S. domestic and foreign audiences. If it continues, VOA risks defunding of the organization by the U.S. Congress.
There are two things at play here:
1. Ignorance on the part of some VOA and BBG senior officials, managers, editors and line reporters of VOA's special public role as a media organization created to serve underserved audiences abroad, not in the United States.
2. General dysfunction within the organization which Democrat Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State and ex officio member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) described in 2013 as "practically defunct" and incapable of responding to the information war being waged by Russia's Vladimir Putin and ISIS. Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce, said the same thing about the BBG earlier this year.
Even though the BBG and VOA have new top leaders, these problems appear to have become worse in recent months.
The new leadership and some of the newer reporters seem not to understand the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, and VOA's special and delicate position among American media outlets. VOA is unique on the U.S. media scene. It is a U.S. government-run entity, funded by taxpayers to distribute programs abroad. But VOA's program content has been now widely available through the Internet in the United States for many years. America is a country with the Bill of Rights to the Constitution which says that the government shall not interfere with or restrict free press. Free press means media not funded by or controlled by the government. The Voice of America, which is 100% funded by Congress and run by government officials, must be especially careful to remain non-partisan and unbiased, especially when it comes to U.S. politics, if it wants to survive and continue its noble mission abroad.
The U.S. Congress assigned to VOA an important role abroad, but the new BBG and VOA leadership needs to understand that while American taxpayers want VOA to be free of government censorship, they don't want to pay for one-sided commentaries on domestic politics in the United States.
Reporting all news -- yes. Presenting a variety of opinions reflective of the American society and doing this in a balanced and objective way -- yes. Posting campaign videos and commissioning hit pieces on American politicians -- no.
"Slanted [Voice of America] journalism" on Trump, a reader from Russia posted a comment under a report on the VOA English news website.
Another Russian posted this comment on Facebook:
"Голос Америки, насколько законно с точки зрения законодательства США, что правительственный медиаресур, финансируемый американскими налогоплательщиками, участвует в предвыборной агитации?"
"How legal is it for the Voice of America, in light of U.S. legislation, that the [U.S.] government’s media resource funded by U.S. taxpayers, is involved in the election campaign?"
The Russian Facebook user was reacting to the Voice of America Russian Service posting online, both Facebook and YouTube, of the recent Hillary Clinton's anti-Donald Trump campaign video with Russian subtitles. The VOA Russian video had no attached balancing material and was not paired with any other content. U.S. taxpayers paid for versioning the anti-Donald Trump Hillary Clinton campaign video into Russian and for posting it on the Voice of America social media pages which can be viewed in the United States.
One-sided coverage and politically biased coverage is found throughout the Voice of America. Commentator Sierra Rayne writing in American Thinker reported that "[o]ne of VOA's flagship programs is Issues in the News, where "[p]rominent Washington correspondents discuss topics making headlines around the world," has two American journalists who should be balancing one another but who are both strong critics of Donald Trump.
"During the GOP primaries, the [Voice of America English] program has repeatedly focused on the Republican nomination race, and in particular on Donald Trump," American Thinker commentator wrote. "To say the coverage and discussion of Trump has been less than flattering would be an understatement."
READ MORE: The Voice of America's anti-Trump show, Sierra Rayne, American Thinker, May 9, 2016
Also, Truth Revolt, a blog of the conservative David Horowitz Freedom Center founded by David Horowitz, has reported that the Voice of America, “a taxpayer funded news service” and part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a tax-funded “Government News Agency” is “Campaigning Against Trump.”
READ MORE: Tax-Funded Government News Agency Campaigning Against Trump, Truth Revolt, June 9, 2016