Of all the U.S. taxpayer supported Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) media outlets, only the Voice of America Zimbabwe Service is listed as a reporting partner of the the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in the Panama Papers investigation, leading one VOA reporter to observe: “How is it 100 news organizations participated in this project and VOA News [VOA English News] wasn’t one of them? Do we really mean so little?”
In addition to the Voice of America, BBG media outlets include Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN – Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV), and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB – Radio and TV Marti).
Australia’s ABC, BBC Panorama, CBS/Radio Canada, and Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta are listed as some of ICIJ’s reporting partners on the Panama Papers project.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was not a reporting partner despite a major focus of the ICIJ investigation project on Russia and several other countries to which RFE/RL directs its U.S. taxpayer-funded programs, while the Voice of America English newsroom was so disconnected from the story that it could not get the initial headline right about revelations of President Vladimir Putin’s hidden wealth.
During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were absolute leaders in such investigative reporting on Soviet block countries.
Last year, RFE/RL management dismissed one of its award-winning reporters, Amastasia Kirilenko, as she tried to document charges of corruption against President Putin. She ended up consulting for BBC Panorama on Putin’s corruption scandal and publishing her reports in Western media and in independent media outlets in Russia. RFE/RL also dismissed last year its award-winning human rights reporter in Russia Kristina Gorelik, which led to protests from Russian human rights activists.
“RFE/RL is in deep crisis,” a former BBG Governor who requested anonymity, recently told BBG Watch. “It can’t get powerful programming on the air in a timely fashion or of the quantity needed, due in no small part to having no senior leadership for more than a year in a half [now over two years],” this former presidential appointee to the BBG stated. “One hopes that new CEO John Lansing will come up to speed on international broadcasting,” the former BBG Governor added.
Both VOA and RFE/RL newsrooms appeared to have been caught by surprise by the Panama Papers story, offering only basic coverage on Sunday and Monday. Their reporting on the story increased on Tuesday.
The VOA Zimbabwe Service partnership with ICIJ is described in these reports:
VOA’s Zimbabwe Service Partners With ICIJ, VOA News, April 5, 2016
VOA’s Zimbabwe Service Partners With ICIJ on Panama Papers, VOA, Ray Choto, April 5, 2016