BBG Watch Commentary

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani as shown in a Voice of America VOA English News video report, “Rouhani Rejects Trump’s Support for Iranian Protesters” posted by VOA on January 1, 2018.

We repost two recent Voice of America news reports: a VOA News video report with a transcript, and an earlier online report, to stimulate a discussion among Iranians and Americans, including U.S. government executive branch officials and members of Congress, on the role of the U.S. taxpayer-funded VOA ($224 million in FY 2017) which is managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency. The BBG has a total budget, including VOA, of $740 million (FY 2017).

Two recent U.S. media opinion articles on how the United States should respond to the anti-regime demonstrations in Iran make no mention of the Voice of America, or the Broadcasting Board of Governors which is also responsible for Radio Farda broadcasts to Iran under Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

“Iran’s Theocracy Is on the Brink” | WSJ

“The protesters in Iran need real help from Washington” | WP

Voice of America director Amanda Bennett, an Obama administration holdover appointee, has expressed her satisfaction in a Facebook post in how VOA has been covering the anti-regime demonstrations in Iran even though for the first days of the protests VOA English News did not have the Iran story on its homepage (BBC and DW did), VOA Persian Service was late in starting to post videos from the protests, and both VOA English and VOA Persian were more than two hours late reporting on the White House statement on Iran Sunday night. Her boss, BBG CEO John Lansing, another Obama administration holdover appointee, has also expressed pride in how the agency is engaging in unbiased journalism and accused critics of not being good journalists.

“Considering that this all happened on a major holiday when we were working with a skeleton staff, I think we’re doing pretty good,” Amanda Bennett wrote in her Facebook post, but Twitter users left numerous highly critical comments under a Voice of America tweet for an earlier VOA English News report “Iranian Official Blames ‘Foreign Agents’ for Protester Deaths.”

“Replying to @VOANews: I remember when the voice of America opposed tyrannical regimes instead of spreading their talking points. You are a disgrace,” was a typical comment. Another comment was: “Change your name to ‘Voice of Rouhani’ and get your funding from the Ayatollahs!”

There was also this comment under the VOA tweet: “Replying to @VOANews: Well, at least you’re ensuring the murderous regime of killers get their side told #whatsideareyouon”

In an earlier incident last year, there have been also highly critical comments from Chinese social media users who have accused the Voice of America of caving in to pressure from the Chinese government after VOA’s senior leadership had ordered shortening of a live interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui. The agency leadership categorically denied that pressure from Beijing played any role in their earlier decision on the China corruption interview and is trying to fire three VOA Mandarin Service journalists who had objected to the shortening of the VOA broadcast. The management is accusing these VOA Mandarin broadcasters of not practicing good journalism. The affected employees are contesting these accusations.





Rouhani Rejects Trump’s Support for Iranian Protesters



January 01, 2018 5:05 AM

Zlatica Hoke

[VOA INTRO:] Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says U.S. President Donald Trump has no right to express sympathy for the Iranian people after referring to them as terrorists. Trump has praised protesters in Iran for rallying against the government’s economic policy. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.


Anti-government protests in Iran have continued for a fourth consecutive day Sunday in several parts of the country.

The protest began in the north-east as an outcry against economic hardship and rising prices, but as they spread some rallies also called for an end to the clerical regime.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday said that people had the right to protest and criticize the government, but the speech at a bait meeting he also said social unrest and destruction of public property will not be tolerated.


“The government will definitely not tolerate those groups who are after the destruction of public properties, or disrupting the public order, or sparking riots in the society. Our people will not tolerate it either.”

The protests have been the biggest show of discontent in Iran since the 2009 rallies following the disputed presidential election. The government has imposed what it calls temporary restrictions on the instant messaging applications Telegram and Instagram used by the protesters.

Iran’s Interior Minister said security forces have identified protesters with links to Iran’s enemies and that they will be prosecuted in due course.


“We also have misuse of cyberspace and promote violence [sic], train [sic] systematic riots [sic], taught weapons and explosives crafting [sic], stimulated [sic] protesters to fight the police, and encourage the burning of houses and stores. These individuals are surely not part of the Iranian people.”

Iranians living in exile also demonstrated in support of their compatriots. U.S. President Donald Trump has praised the protesters, saying in one tweet that people of Iran finally see that their money is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.

President Rouhani said that Trump had no right to express sympathy for the Iranians.


“This guy in America who wants to sympathize with our people today has forgotten he has called the Iranian people terrorists a few months ago.”

Trump has been a harsh critic of a deal Iran signed with six nations, including the United States, to halt its nuclear program.

Zlatica Hoke, VOA News, Washington.






[Text Only as captured at 10:48 AM ET, Sunday, December 31, 2017. Later, VOA News made changes in the report.]

Iranian Official Blames ‘Foreign Agents’ for Protester Deaths

December 31, 2017 7:53 AM

VOA News

An Iranian official is blaming “foreign agents” for the shooting deaths of two protesters during widespread anti-government demonstrations Saturday.

“No shots were fired by the police and security forces,” Habibollah Khojastehpour, a deputy governor of the province where the protesters were killed. “We have found evidence of enemies of the revolution, Takfiri groups and foreign agents in this clash,” he said in an interview on state television Sunday.

The shootings happened in the western town of Dorud on the third day of protests. VOA’s Persian service identified the victims as Hamzeh Lashni and Hossein Reshno after a reporter spoke to the victims’ families.

Video posted to social media purported to show the two victims following the shootings. Other online video showed thousands of people protesting in several cities throughout Iran — including some attacking government buildings and violently confronting police.

There were reports that mobile devices were unable to access the internet for a period of time Saturday, though coverage was restored later in the day. But Iranian media reported on Sunday that access to some photo and message sharing apps was again restricted.

Protesters will ‘pay the price’

Earlier Sunday, Iran’s interior minister warned that those who “disrupt the order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price.” Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli, in a statement on state television, said “fear and terror will definitely be confronted.”

The uprisings — the biggest and most sustained since the 2009 presidential election protests — were sparked by high food prices and the country’s high unemployment rate. As many as 72 people died in the 2009 unrest after the regime cracked down demonstrators challenging the reelection of then-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The latest demonstrations were seen as a cry against President Hassan Rouhani, who won re-election in May with promises to revive the economy.

Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal is seen as Rouhani’s major achievement. The deal, made with the United States and five other world powers, curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international sanctions. But economic growth has not followed, and people are struggling to cope with the high cost of living.

Iran’s unemployment rate is 12.4 percent, its economy stagnant and inflation rampant

Little information about the protests is available, however, because state-run and semi-official news media have not widely reported on the demonstrations.

As a counter to the violence, separate state-sponsored rallies took place around the country to mark the end of the unrest that shook the country in 2009. State television reported pro-government rallies were held in about 1,200 cities and towns.

Cautions on social media use

Iran’s telecommunications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi sent a public message to the CEO of the messaging service Telegram, telling him, “A Telegram channel is encouraging hateful conduct: use of Molotov cocktails, armed uprising, and social unrest.” Telegram responded saying it had suspended the account.

Telegram CEO Pavel Durov also tweeted a public message, explaining why the account was suspended.

“A Telegram channel [amadnews] started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktail against police and got suspended due to our ‘no calls for violence’ rule. Be careful,” Durov said. “There are lines one shouldn’t cross.”

A prominent cleric, Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, told thousands of pro-government demonstrators in Tehran that “the enemy” wanted to use social media and economic issues to “foment a new sedition.”

State television broadcast images of the protests Saturday, something it rarely does, including acknowledging that some of the demonstrators were chanting the name of Iran’s last shah, who fled the country during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.


U.S. President Donald Trump denounced the Iranian government Saturday, tweeting excerpts from his September 19 speech to the U.N. General Assembly. He charged Rouhani’s government, and those before it, have long oppressed the Iranian people.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. State Department said, “Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state, whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos.”

The State Department urged “all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”

RFE/RL contributed to this report.