BBG Watch Commentary
Voice of America (VOA) Director David Ensor, who is a high-level U.S. federal government official with an annual salary of over $170,000, used a holiday employee party to participate in a skit in which he mocked an independent U.S. watch dog website, BBG Watch, by comparing its audience numbers to those of The Watchtower, an illustrated religious magazine published semimonthly in 228 languages by Jehovah’s Witnesses. In his skit, which was supposed to be funny, Ensor did not make fun of himself, his top deputies, VOA’s numerous news failures, President Putin, Iran’s ayatollahs or ISIS. His skit was focused entirely on our independent U.S. watch dog website which does not cost U.S. taxpayers a single penny. Part of VOA’s mission is to support freedom of expression and free media abroad by providing uncensored news and information.
Just in case Mr. Ensor does not know it, Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted in many countries.
This is, for example, what the U.S. State Department’s “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013” says about persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Turkmenistan and in Russia:
“In Turkmenistan, there were reports of beatings and torture of persons detained for religious reasons, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose beliefs prevented them from complying with compulsory military service. One report also indicated that government officials threatened a relative of a Jehovah’s Witness with rape during detention after a raid on her home. Changes to the administrative code in September introduced monetary penalties for disseminating religious literature and further codified a variety of restrictions faced by members of religious groups.”
Russia: “Police across the country participated in raids on private homes and places of worship of minority religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and followers of Sunni theologian Said Nursi.” – See more at: U.S. State Department’s “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013“
The U.S. State Department reported that “Embassies around the world advocate for and support freedom of religion. Active engagement by Embassy officials in Armenia encouraged the passage of a law to protect conscientious objectors. This led to the release of 28 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the fall of 2013.”
The U.S. State Department also mentioned Jehovah’s Witnesses in connection with religious persecution by violent extremist groups:
“Violent extremist groups continued to interfere with the enjoyment of religious freedom conditions particularly in Africa, Asia, Eurasia, and the Middle East and led some governments to invoke draconian anti-extremism laws and impose restrictions that increasingly infringed on the religious freedoms of members of minority religious groups. Such laws were used to target Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Scientologists, and Falun Gong practitioners.”
It is not wise for a senior U.S. government official to make any public or private comments that could in any way be seen as poking fun at Jehovah’s Witnesses, even indirectly, considering the persecution that this religious group suffers around the world.
BBG Watch does not care if Director Ensor pokes fun at us, but to some it may also not look good, considering his status as a government official in charge of supporting free expression and free media and our status of supporting free expression and free media.
VOA’s annual budget is about $200 million. Ensor is the first Voice of America director under whose leadership a member of the U.S. Congress, Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), introduced a bill to defund VOA as a federal government entity. The bill has not been put to a vote, but another bill, bipartisan H.R. 4490, designed to reform both VOA and its parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), passed the House of Representatives and awaits legislative action by the U.S. Senate.
“And No 10. According to the Pew Internet Research Report, the BBG Watch audience rivals that of two media powerhouses, the Watchtower magazine and the weekly circular for Shopper’s Food Warehouse,” Voice of America Director David Ensor said in a skit at a holiday party held in a federal building and attended by federal employees on official government time.
Voice of America’s news performance under Ensor’s management was the topic of a recent highly critical editorial by The Wall Street Journal, although his name was not mentioned in the editorial. VOA’s performance under David Ensor’s leadership has been criticized in numerous other U.S. media articles, including frequent criticism in BBG Watch commentaries.
But there seems to be no record of any previous VOA Director making fun of or mocking publicly an independent U.S. media watch dog outlet. There is no record of any VOA Director while in office making public fun of private U.S. citizens and taxpayers, including former VOA senior correspondents and a former U.S. Ambassador and former presidentially appointed and U.S. Senate confirmed Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member who used to be his boss.
There is also no record of any former VOA Director making comments in a public setting about a religious group that could be construed in any way as making fun of that religious denomination or its activities.
VOICE OF AMERICA DIRECTOR DAVID ENSOR, DEC. 16, 2014: ” . . . [in response to] parties urging that we all be accurate, objective and balanced, I have as promised, 10 fun facts about BBG Watch.
And the first one is, on BBG Watch, [name of former VOA Foreign and Intelligence Correspondent] … is writing far more than he ever did.
The second one is kind of a interrogatory Here’s my question — where the hell is Truckee, California [managing location of BBG Watch website] anyway?
No. 3. BBG Watch has its own version of the two source rule. Unfortunately, the two sources are [former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member, former multiple-term Mayor of Knoxville, TN] Victor Ashe, and [former VOA White House Correspondent] Dan Robinson.
Fun fact No. 4. Ted Lipien [Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) co-founder and co-director] is more in love with himself than with Kim Jong Un.
No 5. Even people who argue a lot, like say [names of current VOA journalists] …, even they can agree how bad it [BBG Watch] is.
This is one you may not know. [name of Head of Digital Strategy] … secretly hired BBG Watch to drive traffic to the VOANews.com website. And it’s working.
No 7. BBG Watch now has as many anonymous posters as HookUP.com
No 8. It’s in the running for a literary award for best work of fiction.
No 9. It meets the standard definition of a blog — boring, lousy, obscure, gibberish.
And No 10. According to the Pew Internet Research Report, the BBG Watch audience rivals that of two media powerhouses, the Watchtower magazine [illustrated religious magazine published semimonthly in 228 languages by Jehovah’s Witnesses] and the weekly circular for Shopper’s Food Warehouse.
Link to Wall Street Journal Video
Wall Street Journal Opinion VIDEO: Voice of America is a Voice of Anti-Americanism (TRANSCRIPT)
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “What you are looking at is not Onion Television; that is foreign propaganda, anti-American propaganda.
You know, throughout the tensions between the United States/Europe and Vladimir Putin, a little known fact has been that the Russians have been using every instrument of their media to run anti-Western propaganda.
The question is what does the United States do to get the truth out to international audiences?
I’m joined now from London bureau by Editorial Page Writer Sohrab Ahmari.
Sohrab, thanks for joining us.”
SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “Thanks for having me, Dan.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “Sohrab, you’ve been taking a look at the U.S. effort and the State Department’s recent audit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and I take it that it is not really, shall we say, a pretty picture.”
SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “Yea, Dan, you were speaking about the omnibus bill. Well, part of that omnibus bill is about $700 million a year that Congress gives to the Broadcasting Board of Governors which is a bipartisan board that oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the other freedom broadcasters. And the latest audit just shows systemic flaws in how the BBG oversees the grants that are sent to the various freedom broadcasters like Radio Free Europe, not taking care of equipment, not accounting for equipment, lack of funds control. It really seems that it’s a mess there. There and very little oversight, in part because the Broadcasting Board of Governors is an itinerant boarded. It only meets once a month. Clearly, there needs to be more direct management. And the best evidence is actually did the clip that you have just showed. That’s actually footage from Voice of America showing a zombie Uncle Sam attacking young South Asians. This was a promotional video for their Urdu Service aimed at Pakistanis. Although it was never aired, it was online as a promotional video, so … it’s shocking.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “It’s fantastic. I take it that the disarray among the Broadcasting Board of Governors has had a real a material effect on the quality of our information services. Most people know what Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty used to be, but take it that the product has kind of degraded as [due to] this lack of management structures … has fallen apart as well.”
SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “I think that the biggest problems have been at the Voice of America. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia — they’ve had their problems too, but on the whole their function is to serve as a surrogate. So. it’s surrogate press for closed societies that can’t have a free press around the world: Russia, Iran, China and so forth. And a lot of the work that they do is still that good surrogate work.
It’s Voice of America where you often have…We’ve documented cases where they’ll invite Iranian officials and give them uncritical platforms to share their views where the Iranians already get the Iranian regime points of view 24/7 from the regime’s own propaganda organs. Why should American taxpayers provide them with that … additional platforms. So that’s where … VOA is where the real quality lapses have [happended].”
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “Sohrab, give us a quick glance at the reform bill which Congress has put together on this because they’ve noticed there’s a problem.”
SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “I think that H.R. 4490, which has passed the House and I think the Senate will be taking it up once the Republicans take over the Senate next year, is a really good bill because it gives … instead of the Broadcasting Board Governors, there will be a full-time CEO, so there will be better financial management and better quality control. And it also makes it clear that the purpose of Voice of America is to support American public diplomacy efforts. It’s not to be just any other broadcaster. It’s to help advance American foreign policy goals abroad. And providing that kind of mission to VOA I think will [help to] really clean up its act then.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “Thanks much Sohrab. Absolutely fascinating.”