BBG Watch Commentary

Dimitri Litvinov
Dimitri Litvinov

Despite numerous appeals for more reporting and warnings from BBG Watch that American Greenpeace activists who were jailed in Russia are not getting much attention from Voice of America (VOA) English News, VOA Director David Ensor and his deputy, Executive Editor Steve Redisch, have done nothing so far to tell the world through the VOA English website the story of the two detained Americans.

VOA English News failed to report that Massachusetts Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren called Monday on the Russian government to release American citizen Peter Willcox. He has been held in Russia for more than 60 days for engaging in a peaceful protest at an oil platform in the Pechora Sea. VOA English News also failed to report on other appeals for freedom for the two American citizens in Russian custody after the Greenpeace arrests.

In addition the Greenpeace ship’s captain Peter Willcox, another American citizen jailed as part of the Greenpeace protest is Dimitri Litvinov. Litvinov is the great-grandson of the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov who 80 years ago helped to establish diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the United States before being sacked by Stalin. Dimitri Litvinov is also the son of a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner Pavel Litvinov. The Soviets forced Dimitri Litvinov’s father and his family into exile in the United States in the 1970s.

The VOA English news website has not done any in depth reporting on Peter Willcox and Dimitri Litvinov. It did report through Reuters that Peter Willcox was ordered by a Russian court to be released on bail but cannot leave Russia. That has been more or less the extent on VOA English News reporting on the two American Greenpeace detainees.

Most of the news reports on the Greenpeace prisoners posted on the VOA English website have been from Reuters. This UK-based news agency does not pay any particular attention to the two Americans, focusing instead much more on Greenpeace activists from Great Britain and Australia who were also arrested during the protest.

The Voice of America Russian Service had also initially ignored the two Americans for nearly two months since their arrest in September. The Russian Service, however, has substantially improved its online coverage recently after criticism by BBG Watch.

But the VOA English news website has done nothing to increase its reporting on the Americans and continues to rely on Reuters instead of offering original coverage of this story. BBC, on the other hand, has originated numerous reports on the British detainees in Russia and their families in the UK.

November 16 was the 80th anniversary of U.S.-Soviet diplomatic relations which Dimitri Litvinov’s great-grandfather Maxim Litvinov helped to establish before falling victim of an anti-Semitic purge initiated by Stalin. While ignoring Dimitri Litvinov’s plight and the anniversary of U.S.-Soviet diplomatic relations, the VOA English news website managed to post five reports on the royal christening in Great Britain, a report on finishing schools in Switzerland and a report on a beauty pageant in Moscow.

It’s time for David Ensor and Steve Redisch to pay attention to Americans unjustly detained in Russia. Relying on Reuters to tell their story is not going to cut it. The sooner Mr. Ensor and Mr. Redisch realize this, the better it will be for the Voice of America, for Americans detained in Russia, for VOA audiences abroad and for American taxpayers. It’s time for those in charge of VOA to start meeting the VOA Charter obligations on reporting American news and American society. The VOA Charter is public law in the United States.

We suggest that VOA executives read a Los Angeles Times report on Dimitri Litvinov and other U.S. media coverage of the two Americans who were jailed in Russia. There is plenty of information about them to be found. They could also view the Greenpeace video in which Lara Litvinov, who lives in the United States, talks about her jailed brother.

Activist sits in Russian jail; family waits, worries, The Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2013.

UPDATED: Markey, Warren Call on Russia to Release American Boat Captain with Framingham Ties, Framingham Patch, November 20, 2013.

Lara Litvinov talks about her brother. (Credit: Greenpeace)

The Voice of America is 100% supported by American taxpayers and its mission is to share America’s story with the world. Mr. Ensor and Mr. Redisch should start doing their job.