BBG Watch Commentary

Isn’t is strange that Voice of America VOA English News is not reporting on the controversy surrounding the medical treatment in Germany for Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi who is accused by Iranian human rights activists and international human rights organizations of being responsible for numerous murders and abuses?

Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi, whom the Voice of America described in a news report in 2016 as a “moderate conservative,” [Emphasis added.] received no coverage this time in English from VOA as he was being freshly condemned by a coalition of Iranian human rights NGOs including Centre for Defenders of Human Rights, Centre for Human Rights in Iran, Impact Iran, Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, Justice for Iran, and the Siamak Pourzand Foundation for being responsible for “crimes against humanity.” These organizations have called for his arrest by the German authorities. The coalition includes Professor Payam Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor at The Hague who stated: “Germany has played a leading role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court. It would be wholly unacceptable if it allowed Mr. Shahroudi to escape accountability for diplomatic reasons. The prosecution of crimes against humanity is not optional; it is a fundamental international obligation.”

Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) reported that “Shahroudi was responsible for overseeing hundreds of death sentences as head of Iran’s justice ministry.” “Many in Germany were outraged by his stay in the country for medical treatment and filed complaints against him,” DW report said.

International media are reporting on the Shahroudi-Germany story, although with the exception of a few German media reports, not very extensively. RFE/RL English website and Radio Farda had reports on the controversy over Shahroudi’s stay in Germany. VOA Persian Service also did, as did VOA Indonesian Service, from what we could tell, but we could not find another VOA foreign language service report about it, which shows a major failure of VOA’s senior leadership and deep flaws in the agency’s management.

That’s what happens to VOA coverage in many foreign languages when VOA Central News ignores an important human rights news story. Unsurprisingly, Russia’s RT English website does not seems to have a report on Shahroudi in Germany, and surprisingly neither does BBC English website. Radio France Internationale (RFI) did, but English-language coverage of this human rights story was generally limited. VOA English could have done its part and report as well on protests from international human rights organizations. It did not. It seems that VOA reporters were preoccupied with something else, mostly partisan-drive domestic U.S. gossip journalism, albeit with international interest in President Trump’s reported remarks on immigrants, which are still being disputed. There is no reason VOA could not have done both stories with proper proportion to each.

ALSO SEE: VOA or RT, which is a stronger Voice of the Mullahs?, BBG Watch, January 9, 2018.

One would think that when fresh accusations of human rights abuses are being reported in connection with the current Iranian protests, VOA English News would pay attention to this latest human rights Iran news item in line with BBG’s stated mission of “supporting freedom and democracy.” This would no doubt require leadership on the part of senior management. But perhaps this is not so strange since in the past VOA had called Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi a “moderate conservative” (March 2016) and presented him as some kind of a digital reformer.

VOA NEWS, MARCH 2016: Grand Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the former head of the judiciary, Iraqi born, considered to be a moderate conservative that could appeal to both the left and right in Iran. However, because he was born in Iraq, analysts say he may not be eligible to lead.

VOA NEWS 2009: Iranian TV paid tribute to outgoing judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, showing him presiding over a judicial oversight committee as well as meeting with ordinary employees of the judiciary.
Ayatollah Shahrudi insisted that he had made many administrative improvements, both technically and administratively during his tenure as head of the judiciary.

He says that he has tried to adopt new computer systems and information technology to the work of the Iranian judiciary, in addition to streamlining the bureaucracy.

It’s this kind of VOA journalism and lack of reporting by VOA and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Radio Farda on other topics that has produced countless social media comments from the anti-regime Iranians in recent days and in recent years.

However, we have to give VOA partial credit. After BBG Board members, BBG CEO John F. Lansing and VOA director Amanda Bennett were alerted last night that no less than ten (10) VOA story headlines about alleged “vulgar” Trump comment and alleged “porn star” incident were shown on the VOA mobile site homepage while reporting on Iran protests is still far below what is needed, that number has been reduced this morning to just four (4) — perhaps a more appropriate number of headlines on U.S. domestic politics because we are not saying that the story of alleged use of offensive language by the U.S. President should not be reported. It should be reported, but perhaps one or more of those ten “vulgar language” and “porn star” headlines on the VOA homepage Friday night should have gone to reports on human rights issues in Iran, including the Shahroudi-Germany controversy story, which VOA English News did not bother to cover at all. (The “porn star” headlines were no longer on the VOA mobile site homepage Saturday morning.)

But judging from their multiple tweets yesterday on alleged “vulgar language” and “porn star” incidents, VOA English Newsroom managers, reporters and editors working under the watch of BBG CEO John Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett, both Obama administration holdovers, seem still far more interested in gossip journalism than in Iran protests and human rights journalism.

New leadership at BBG, VOA, and RFE/RL is called for.

Photo of Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi Par Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0, Lien