FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog, May 02, 2010, San Francisco — Armenian genocide and Holocaust denials in radio and TV reports generated by private contractors working for the Broadcasting Board of Governors are linked to mismanagement and flawed programming policy at this US taxpayer-funded Federal agency, says FreeMediaOnline, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization which works to promote independent journalism and media freedom worldwide.
“Ahmadinejad denies Holocaust, madam from Istanbul denies Armenian Genocide. Congratulations to Radio Liberty – you are in a good company!”
Radio Liberty Radio Free Europe listeners have been reacting with dismay to RFE/RL Russian Service radio report from Turkey which repeatedly questioned the Armenian genocide as a historical fact. RFE/RL is funded by U.S. taxpayers and managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, BBG, an independent agency consistently rated by the US Office of Personnel Management, OPM, as the worst-managed in the Federal government.
In an effort to transfer the bulk of US government international broadcasting operations to private contractors, political appointees and their executive staff running the BBG have eliminated or severely reduced the Voice of America (VOA) programs in Arabic, Russian and other languages. VOA operates under a Congressional Charter which guarantees its journalistic independence and imposes strict standards of programming accuracy and balance.
BBG’s private broadcasting entities such as Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa lack the same degree of editorial and fiscal controls as VOA. This lack of oversight, however, has made them vastly preferable to VOA among most BBG members who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the US Senate. It allows them and their staff to more easily impose their personal programming ideas and to find jobs and contracting assignments for their former and current associates in the private and public sectors.
During the Bush Administration, Republicans and Democrats appointed to the BBG joined forces to support privately-run US broadcasting to the Muslim world and completely shut down Voice of America Arabic broadcasts.
The strongest supporters of outsourcing US international broadcasting to private contractors were Norman Pattiz and Edward “Ted” E. Kaufman, both Democrats. They no longer serve on the BBG. Kaufman, a close friend of Vice President Biden, now holds Biden’s former US Senate seat in Delaware. Pattiz, the founder and chairman of Westwood One, America’s largest radio network company, has been a major contributor to the Democratic Party, but both he and Kaufman had worked closely with the Bush White House in creating Alhurra and Radio Sawa.
The same BBG political appointees and executives have put in place a commercial, ratings-driven programming policy which resulted in pandering to popular but often extremist, anti-American and anti-democratic audience viewpoints in semi-authoritarian countries like Russia and in the Middle East. A Russian human rights organization has accused Radio Liberty of spreading racist views in Russia.
The BBG-managed and contractor-run Alhurra Arabic language television network aired a report denying the Jewish Holocaust. The airing of the Armenian genocide denials by the Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty Russian Service can also be explained by the desire to include the views of extremist nationalists in Russia who deny that Stalin was also guilty of genocide.
Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty Russian Service veteran editors who had defended the human rights programming focus at RFE/RL and tried to counter extremist views were accused by BBG-appointed managers and their consultants as being out of step with the nationalistically-minded radio listeners in Mr. Putin’s Russia.
The same executives who fired these journalists were responsible for terminating Voice of America Russian radio programs in July 2008, just 12 days before Russia’s military attack on Georgia. Only one BBG member, Blanquita Walsh Cullum, a Republican and the only working journalist among the Bush-era BBG political appointees, was said to have voted against terminating VOA radio programs to Russia and opposed plans of other BBG members to hire high-profile media personalities to help improve the agency’s public image. They are also responsible for personnel policies at RFE/RL which deny most foreign journalists the full protection of American and Czech labor laws. RFE/RL has its headquarters in the Czech Republic. A legal anti-discrimination case against RFE/RL and the BBG filed by former RFE/RL non-American employees is now pending before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Free Media Online president Ted Lipien, who had previously worked at the BBG and VOA, said that the airing of Holocaust and Armenian Genocide denials is an expected result of misguided policies governing US international broadcasting in recent years. These include the selection of most BBG members from among political party operatives and loyalists who lack experience in journalism, foreign affairs, and media freedom and human rights activism. One of the current candidates to the BBG nominated by President Obama is Michael P. Meehan, a Democratic Party operative who has been accused of physically attacking a journalist who tried to ask questions of the former Democratic candidate for the US Senate seat in Massachusetts.
According to Ted Lipien, the surrogate broadcasting model worked well during the Cold War when the goal was to undermine the local regimes by providing news not available from communist media sources. At that time, surrogate broadcasters such as RFE/RL were well managed, first by CIA personnel, and later by professional journalists dedicated to defending freedom of expression and other human rights and democratic values.
Lipien said that most of the recent BBG members could not grasp that their surrogate broadcasters, such as Alhurra, are still perceived by the audience as speaking on behalf of the United States when they air Holocaust and Armenian Genocide denials.
In the past, officials in charge of US international broadcasting were able to provide both leadership and effective management at these surrogate stations, but the BBG has failed to do that for more than a decade, Lipien said.
Members of the BBG have also not grasped that the surrogate broadcasting model is largely inappropriate for the Internet age and for audiences, which — unlike the Cold War audiences in Eastern Europe — are not supportive of American values and foreign policy objectives. According to the Free Media Online president, the Congress would do better by providing support for truly independent free media outlets abroad and the United States and by allowing the Voice of America to represent the full spectrum of responsible U.S. opinions. A station like Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty could still play a useful journalistic role in promoting free and democratic media in some countries if the BBG stops interfering with its programming policy and allows RFE/RL to put in place effective editorial controls, Lipien said, but he added that this seems unlikely unless the BBG itself undergoes major reforms.