BBG Watch Commentary

On March 14, 2018, Tom Kent, President of U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), explained to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of RFE/RL, how Radio Liberty Russian Service in cooperation with the Voice of America (VOA) has covered the presidential election campaign in Russia. The Russian vote is set for Sunday, March 18.

RFE/RL chief executive also explained why President Vladimir Putin will win yet another presidential term.

Tom Kent said that “if Putin wins, and that seems likely, our coverage will also have reflected why people support him and the strength that he has brought to the campaign and to the country.”

The entire BBG board meeting and RFE/RL President Tom Kent’s remarks can be seen HERE.


Keeping in mind that kind of coverage from RFE/RL, Putin can now sleep easy.

Need we say more?

RFE/RL President Tom Kent, his deputy Nenad Pejic and their bosses in Washington, BBG CEO John Lansing and Lansing’s deputy Jeffrey Trimble, all seem absolutely convinced that they are doing a phenomenal job in Russia. They cite a highly deceptive figure of 400 million views for Current Time’s Russian-language social media videos over a one year period when in fact the website for the joint RFE/RL and VOA TV broadcast is far behind in web traffic compared to even some of the modestly-funded independent Russian news websites, such as MEDUZA, and individual Russian bloggers, such as Yury Aleksandrovich Dud.

But even some RFE/RL journalists, including award-winning television producers and reporters, strongly disagree and complain about lack of leadership, poor management, and minimal and possibly even negative impact in Russia.

SEE: Senior managers at RFE/RL failed to earn respect, alienated staff, journalists say, BBG Watch, February 12, 2018.

For a media organization costing U.S. taxpayers $748 million in FY 2017 (BBG’s budget, including $221 million for all VOA languages worldwide and $109 million for RFE/RL languages), these “views,” “impressions,” and “reactions” numbers are embarrassingly small to anyone who knows anything about how Facebook, YouTube and Twitter work. They would be an embarrassment even for a domestic U.S. media outlet in a medium size market.

As reported by Andrew Beaujon in Washingtonian, on the day he visited the Broadcasting Board of Governors at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. last year, the BBG’s much heralded “Current Time” Russian TV program, produced jointly by VOA and RFE/RL, had “about 165 people … watching on Facebook Live, just a few dozen more than work at the network.” He was most likely referring to the number of people working on the “Current Time” program, since the BBG has several thousand employees and contractors.

After seeing the dismal Facebook LIVE numbers for BBG’s “Current Time,” Andrew Beacon concluded in his Washingtonian article:

ANDREW BEACON IN WASHINGTONIAN: “…if you worked at a conventional network, numbers that small might make you leap off the nearest onion dome.”

That’s real journalism from a seasoned reporter, as opposed to bragging and meaningless statistics in BBG press releases.


RFE/RL President Thomas Kent at BBG Open Board Meeting, Washington, DC, March 14, 2018:
“To Russia. Presidential elections are Sunday. There is no doubt who will win. You see him there. [RFE/RL Video Clip of Putin’s Campaign Billboard] ‘Strong President.’ ‘Strong Russia.’
The other candidates have had trouble coming across as, well, head of state material. [RFE/RL Video Clip of Candidates Aggressively Debating; One Candidate Throwing a Glass of Water at Another]  
But the side stories to this election make for compelling journalism. ‘Current Time’ [BBG’s joint RFE/RL and VOA Russian TV/Web Program] and the RFE/RL Russian Service have extensively covered the anti-corruption protests in dozens of cities during the campaign—protests largely ignored by official media. That’s would be candidate Alexei Navalny during a Moscow protest where he is arrested in January. [RFE/RL Still Photo of Navalny with an Aggressive Expression]  
We also reported on a social media get-out-the-vote commercial that some found had racist and homophobic overtones. In it the man says there is no point in voting, then he has a terrifying dream that his failure to vote brought in a government that wants to draft him into the army and send gay people to live at his house. [RFE/RL Shows Pro-Putin Commercial]  
Who’s behind this commercial isn’t clear, but turnout is perhaps the biggest challenge for Putin in these elections and Sunday all eyes will be on the numbers that go to the polls as a sign of how enthusiastic Russians are in giving him another six-year term.
‘Current Time’ will be offering 15 hours of live TV coverage on Election Day and heavy coverage on the web and social networks.
RFE/RL radio service will have a 24 hour video and audio stream and additional web and social content.
We have been very careful to cover all sides of the election.
If Putin wins—and that seems likely—our coverage will also have reflected why people support him and the strength he has brought to the campaign and to the country.”