BBG Watch Commentary

Vandalized TV van on Taksim Square with an anti-NTV sign

The public relations staff at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and the Voice of America (VOA) has failed to make any mention of how the VOA Turkish Service has been covering anti-government protests in Turkey and the latest violent police action against demonstrators at the Taksim Square in Istanbul. “Inside VOA” public relations website and Facebook Page brag about many things, but there has been nothing about coverage of recent dramatic events in Turkey.

The reason for this remarkable lack of pride in VOA Turkish coverage may be the fact that top bureacrats at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) who work for the IBB Director Richard Lobo have been trying for years to close down the Voice of America Turkish Service or, failing that, to reduce its staffing.

IBB bureacrats put the following proposal in the FY 2013 BBG Budget Request sent to Congress.

“Reconfigure the Turkish Service [–$.543 M]

VOA’s Turkish Service will continue to redefine its media strategy, focusing TV and Internet content on subjects relevant to the interests of young people in Turkey. Turkey’s media market, though crowded and competitive, shows increasing anti-American bias and a growing appeal for Islamic audiences. VOA will focus on engagement with youth via social media – a rapidly increasing segment of the media market – and on Washington Bureau TV reports reflecting U.S. strategic interests in the region.

A reduction of four positions in the VOA Turkish Service is proposed. Emphasis added.”

The Congress did not pass the FY 2013 budget, but this was not the first attempt by IBB bureaucrats to cripple or kill the VOA Turkish Service which has outstanding journalists trying to overcome self-censorship within mainstream media in Turkey. The IBB bureacracy has been killing VOA language services for years, as well as restricting VOA English-language coverage, while expanding its bureacratic, non-programming jobs and activities.

Coward Media
Coward Media sign on Taksim Square in Istanbul

Another serious problem for U.S. international broadcasting is that some former and possibly even future Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members are executives of media conglomerates that have substantional business and financial interests in countries like Turkey, Russia and China. IBB bureaucrats know who butters their bread. Some recent former BBG members who were doing business in countries run by authoritarian governments may have been reluctant to take actions in support of media freedom that may not be in the best interest of their shareholders.

Perhaps it is no surprise that IBB executives have repeatedly proposed to eliminate or reduce programs to China, Tibet, and Russia. This may also help to explain the firing (now partially reversed) of dozens of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia and the unsuccessful attempt to eliminate Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) broadcasts to Chechnya, the ancestral homeland of the Boston bombings suspects. Russia’s President Putin strongly objects to these broadcasts.

IBB bureacrats may have learned their lesson on Turkey after being chastised by some members of Congress, but they do not give up easily. While the VOA Turkish Service is not included in the list of services to be eliminated or even reduced in the current FY 2014 BBG budget proposal, the trend of eliminating and reducing VOA language services continues despite growing restrictions on free media abroad.

When IBB bureacrats prepared their FY 2013 budget proposal, they knew very well that free media in Turkey was under severe threat from the government and private business interests.

The Turkish media muzzle

As Turkey has jailed more journalists than any other country, we investigate the red lines that restrict journalism.

This Aljazeera report was aired back in April 2013. During the initial phase of the anti-government protests, Turkish mainstream media ignored them. Protesters wrote “Coward Media” signs on Taksim Square and in other areas of Istanbul.

We received this report from one of our sources:

“The local mainstream media in Turkey, including NTV, CNN Turk and all other so called all news private TV channels, of course not to mention the state owned TRT, have failed miserably.

This is no surprise as it is a well-known fact that these networks are owned by businesses that have other, more important interests in areas such as banking and construction.  The government exerts enormous influence over their journalistic endeavors.  And, Turkey is a record holder in the number of jailed journalists. The Freedom House, CPJ, RSF, HRW as well as the State Deptment have talked about this in their reports and statements in recent years.

Just today, RTUK, he government’s regulatory body sentenced several smaller TV stations such as  Halk TV, Ulusal TV and EM TV, which had become main sources of unfiltered information in he last couple of weeks, to pay monetary fines for ‘inciting viewers against government’.

Needless to say, in the current environment, VOA Turkish needs to be strong. With 5 full-timers, including the service chief, 4 POVs (contract employees) and 3 stringers, they produce a 5 days a week 15 minute live TV news show on TGRT TV, a 30-min. weekly magazine show on the same network and maintain a website as well as social media presence. Website is rich with updated news, video and audio.

It would be prudent if BBG/IBB/VOA helps the service by authorizing hiring of a a couple of multi-media savvy journalists and aggressively pursuing new, expanded affiliation opportunities.”