USAGM Watch Commentary

Ilan Berman, Senior Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill that according to a “recent survey of Iranian attitudes toward broadcast media by GAMAAN, a Netherlands-based polling institute, the principal organ of U.S. outreach to Iran, the Voice of America’s Persian service, ranked dead last in popularity, garnering just 11 percent of all total daily viewers.” Berman also reported that “private sector alternatives like Iran International and Manoto together claimed nearly two-thirds (63 percent), while outlets like the UK’s official BBC Persian and the private Gem TV channel came in at around 17 percent audience share apiece.”

For years, the VOA Persian, as it is colloquially known, has ranked as one of the U.S. government’s most flawed, inefficient and scandal-ridden broadcast arms, plagued by everything from controversial management to lackluster content. Over time, these problems have led the service to lose its luster among Iran’s young and media-savvy population.

 We might add that what Ilan Berman describes in his op-ed happened under the watch of the majority of the current leaders of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), led by Acting USAGM CEO Kelu Chao, who previously held the position of the VOA Program Director for many years.

Ilan Berman pointed out that “the service has had some bright spots of late — thanks largely to the leadership of its new director, Leili Soltani.”

We might add that Chao and others among the current USAGM executives protected and defended the old VOA Persian Service management for many years. Some of them strongly opposed attempts to change the leadership of the Persian Service made by former VOA Director Robert Reilly who had served briefly under former USAGM CEO Michael Pack.

Some of the current USAGM senior executives were suspended by Pack who accused them of mismanagement. They denied his charges and were reinstated by Chao soon after Pack was ordered by the Biden White House to resign in January and Chao was made Acting USAGM CEO.

Although Berman’s op-ed deals exclusively with Iran, there is new evidence emerging that under the current USAGM and VOA leadership, the Voice of America has lost much of its popularity not only in Iran but also in China.

Audience research also shows that USAGM programs have a much smaller reach in Russia than some of the independent Russian media outlets which operate at a fraction of the cost of USAGM Russian programs.

READ MORE: Iranians aren’t listening to America. By Ilan Berman. The Hill, May 20, 2021.