BBG Watch Commentary

Article by former Voice of America (VOA) journalist Gary Thomas in Columbia Journalism Review on journalistic practices at VOA and management of U.S. international broadcasting within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).BBG Watch has learned that just as we are, BBG member Victor Ashe is also appalled by the response a former Voice of America (VOA) journalist Gary Thomas got from the VOA management for his article in Columbia Journalism Review.

According to sources, Victor Ashe told his associates that this is no way to treat a former Voice of America journalist or any journalist seeking answers to legitimate questions. “As a news organization that champions freedom of the press, VOA should have answered all of Gary Thomas’ and Columbia Journalism Review questions and should have shown him professional respect that any journalist deserves. The way he was dismissed was more typical of media in an undemocratic country and was unacceptable,” sources quoted Governor Ashe as saying. Ashe is a former mayor of Knoxville and former U.S. Ambassador to Poland.

Ashe told a reporter who called him that he was not consulted by the VOA management about Gary Thomas’ inquiry and doubts that any other BBG members were consulted.

We said earlier that true to their nature, IBB executives have shown their arrogance and contempt for distinguished former and current Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) journalists in their response to Gary Thomas’ article. We cite it here in full because their statement demonstrates better than anything else why Voice of America and the rest of U.S. international broadcasting are dysfunctional. VOA public relations staff works under management direction of IBB executives. IBB executives technically report to members of the bipartisan BBG Board, but in fact they manage the agency on their own, often in open defiance of BBG members with whom they disagree.

VOA was offered an opportunity to comment on the issues raised in this article, and questions were submitted to the agency for response. It declined to answer any of the questions. The VOA Public Affairs Office’s response was: ‘Frankly speaking, the questions submitted by Mr. Thomas, a former VOA employee, contain multiple errors and suggest a bias that concerns us greatly. We invite those who want to evaluate the quality of VOA journalism to look at our websites or our programs that reach over 135 million people each week in 45 separate languages.’

BBG Watch has learned subsequently that this response may have come from one or more Voice of America officials rather than directly from IBB or from the BBG Public Affairs Office under IBB. We could not confirm this information. The fact remains that IBB sets management practices and sets the tone of how all BBG employees and non-employees are treated.

The question is whether VOA Director David Ensor or VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch had anything to do with this dismissive response and whether either one of them or both of them approved it?

Steve Redisch had previously written a controversial email to a United Nations official requesting that UN press accreditation of an independent American journalist Matthew Russell Lee be withdrawn over a professional dispute with a VOA reporter and because Lee sent Redisch multiple emails with requests for help in resolving the dispute. Director Ensor reportedly agreed later that Redisch overreacted in his request to the UN, but he kept him in his high level position.

This pattern of behavior shows that top VOA executives have created an atmosphere unfriendly to journalists and news reporting, both within Voice of America and in dealing with outside journalists.

Ensor is often away from his VOA office and leaves day-to-day management to Redisch and a few other top VOA executives. Last weekend, Ensor was reportedly attending Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, CO and was not available to deal with a crisis in Cambodia over the Cambodian government’s ban on FM rebroadcasts of Voice of America news programs. The ban was subsequently withdrawn due to efforts by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia and BBG Governor Ashe.

Gary Thomas, whom VOA accused of inaccuracies and bias in his article for Columbia Journalism Review, spent 27 years at Voice of America before retiring in 2012. He was a senior correspondent and news analyst specializing in national security and intelligence issues. He served in Islamabad and Bangkok and covered stories throughout South and Southeast Asia. In Pakistan and in other dangerous locations, Thomas risked his life to bring news reports to VOA audiences around the world. He was one of the best reporters VOA had.

Shame on Voice of America leadership for allowing and perhaps instigating this outrageous attack on a former employee. The response he and Columbia Journalism Review got from VOA was a Soviet-style dismissal combined with a nasty attack on the journalist’s reputation. But as we know from similar attacks on BBG Watch and some of our contributors, this has become a normal pattern of behavior for some VOA and IBB executives.

Comments are closed.