BBG Watch Media

When the Voice of America (VOA) reported Tuesday online on the launching of the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power’s campaign to free 20 women unjustly imprisoned for their political or journalistic activities around the world, the U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlet serving overseas audiences failed to mention one of the most famous women political prisoners, Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova who before being jailed in Azerbaijan had worked for VOA’s sister station Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Unlike VOA, RFE/RL did report Wednesday on U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power’s statement on Khadija Ismayilova. RFE/RL’s report on Tuesday about the #FreeThe20 campaign also mentioned Ismayilova, while the VOA English News report did not. VOA English News had no Tweets or Facebook posts on Wednesday or Thursday as of 4:00 AM EDT on Ambassador Power’s Wednesday statement regarding the imprisonment and sentencing of Khadija Ismayilova.

What is even more incredible is that as of 4:00 AM EDT Thursday, September 3, the Voice of America Azerbaijani Service also appears to have nothing online on Ambassador Power’s Wednesday statement on Khadija Ismayilova.

The excerpt below is from an RFE/RL news report.

RFE/RL: In remarks introducing the campaign, Power identified Khadija Ismayilova, an Azeri investigative reporter and RFE/RL contributor, as one of the 20 political prisoners the campaign will showcase. Ismayilova was sentenced yesterday to seven and a half years in prison on charges widely believed to be connected with her journalism.
In a powerful appeal, Power said, “To the media we urge: write about these cases. To members of these women’s communities and to our own communities, we urge: take up their cases as your own, and demand their release. And to the governments imprisoning these twenty individuals we urge: if you want to empower women, start by releasing these women. Don’t deprive your societies and the world of these women’s voices.”

VOA’s failure to even mention briefly Khadija Ismayilova in its Tuesday’s online news report in English is even more astounding since both VOA and RFE/RL are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which on Tuesday issued a statement expressing “outrage and dismay at the sentencing of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative reporter and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Azerbaijani Service,” and called for her immediate release. The Voice of America report was posted at 9:24 PM September 1, hours after the BBG issued its statement on the sentencing of Khadija Ismailova.

Ms. Ismayilova is in fact the second woman featured on the #FreeThe20 poster.

“We are appalled by today’s verdict,” said BBG Chairman Jeff Shell. “This sentence is clearly retribution for Khadija exposing government corruption and sends a warning shot to other journalists in the country. By passing down this verdict, the Azeri government has demonstrated to the international community that it disdains press freedom, supports its own impunity and has little regard for human rights.”

VOA News did post a separate short news item on Khadija Ismayilova’s sentencing and Chairman Shell’s statement.

This is what Ambassador Power said in a special statement and video released Wednesday which was not covered by VOA:


AMBASSADOR SAMANTHA POWER: “Today, we recognize Khadija Ismayilova, an internationally renowned, award-winning investigative journalist and human rights activist. She was arrested in December 2014 in the context of a broad crackdown on civil society activists and journalists, and was sentenced yesterday to 7.5 years in prison. In her final statement to the court that sentenced her, Khadija said “Yes, I might be in prison, but the work will continue.”

This statement and video recorded by Ambassador Power have not been posted online by the Voice of America on its English-language website and its foreign language websites and social media pages, including the VOA Azerbaijani Service website, as of 4:00 AM EDT Thursday, September 3.

VOA reported on Tuesday that “the cases of 20 prisoners from around the world are being profiled throughout the month to call attention to critical voices that Power said would be missing from discussion surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration — a road map for the promotion of women’s rights, signed by 189 nations — on September 27.” The VOA News report did not include the #FreeThe20 hashtag.

As of 4:00 AM EDT Thursday, September 3, the VOA report posted at 9:24 AM EDT Tuesday, September 1 is showing only 13 Facebook “Shares” on the VOA website. Ambassador Power’s video on Khadija Ismayilova has gathered within six hours 1,300 views and 120 “Likes” on her Facebook page. VOA News is not only incapable of quickly posting U.S. government news, even those relating to the mission of its own agency, but it is also badly outdistanced on social media by the State Department.

After VOA posted its initial report on September 1 without mentioning that Khadija Ismayilova is the second political prisoner on #FreeThe20 list, Ambassador Power profiled Khadija Ismayilova on September 2, but the Voice of America failed to report on it even though Ms.Ismayilova works for VOA’s sister media outlet RFE/RL and is linked to VOA through the BBG which is showing concern about Ms. Ismayilova’s imprisonment. The BBG has not been able to obtain her release.

The lack of BBG’s success in getting Ms. Ismayilova’s released and the Voice of America’s inexplicable failure to report that she is on the #FreeThe20 list, as well as VOA’s failure to report on Ambassador Power’s special statement and video calling for her release, prove once again that both BBG and VOA lack effective leadership. There seems to be no news sense, no mission-awarness, no coordination on the part of VOA English News executives and editors. There is still no permanent BBG CEO, although U.S. media executive John Lansing has been selected for the position and is expected to start working later this month. The Voice of America has no permanent director.

Not Reported by VOA English News as of 2:20 AM September 3, 2015


Azerbaijani Khadija Ismayilova is an internationally renowned, award-winning investigative journalist and human rights…

Posted by Ambassador Samantha Power on Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Women are being silenced all around the world for their views for trying to make a difference in their society. I took a…

Posted by Ambassador Samantha Power on Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Absent from discussions around September’s #Beijing20 conference on progress towards women’s rights over the next 20…

Posted by Ambassador Samantha Power on Wednesday, September 2, 2015



Voice of America

No mention of RFE/RL journalist Khadija Ismayilova who is the second prisoner on #FreeThe20 list.

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

Mariama Diallo

September 01, 2015 9:24 PM

Highlighting “the plight of women political prisoners and other prisoners of concern” is the focus of the “Free the 20” campaign launched Tuesday in Washington by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The cases of 20 prisoners from around the world will be profiled throughout the month to call attention to critical voices that Power said would be missing from discussion surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration — a road map for the promotion of women’s rights, signed by 189 nations — on September 27.

Power said that on each day leading up to the anniversary, “we are going to share their names, who they are, where they are from, why they’ve been unjustly locked up and the governments that are depriving them of their freedom — governments that will be sending delegations to New York” for a conference aimed at setting a women’s rights agenda for the next 20 years.

“The first one is Wang Yu, a 44-year-old prisoner in the country where the historic 1995 Beijing conference was held: China,” Power said at the State Department. “A commercial lawyer by training, Wang’s activism was sparked in 2008 when employees at a train station refused to let her board a train with her ticket. After demanding the right to board, Wang was assaulted by several men, and then even though she was the one who was beaten, she was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for what was called ‘intentional assault.’ ”

Wang told a reporter after the incident that she wanted to improve China’s human rights system, Power said. “Wang did that by taking on the cases of clients whom other lawyers feared to represent, such as Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur scholar eventually sentenced to life in prison.”

“For her work, Wang has been harassed, threatened and smeared in the state-run media,” the ambassador said. “On July 9th, Wang was detained; so was her husband and their 16 year-old son. Wang and her husband remain in prison, where they’ve been denied access to a lawyer in custody and have not yet been charged. Their son was released but is in constant surveillance and has been barred from leaving the country.”

China and Ethiopia have the greatest number of names on Power’s list, with three for each country.

The ambassador did not say whether national security adviser Susan Rice, on her recent visit to China, raised the case of Wang Yu or of any other political prisoners in China.

Asked about President Barack Obama’s praise for Ethiopia’s democracy during a recent visit, Power said the United States does have shared interests with Ethiopia, but human rights issues need to be raised at all times, regardless of the relationship.

Some of the prisoners, like those in North Korea, were neither named nor unidentified in the group of 20 pictures. Power pointed out that given that there are more than 100,000 political prisoners in North Korea, singling any one woman out would not reflect the scale of the challenge, and could be a substantial risk to that individual as well.

In showing and naming the other women, Power insisted she was “sending a message to their governments and others like them: If you want to empower women, don’t imprison them on the basis of their views or the rights they are fighting for.”

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