CUSIB’s Ted Lipien asks BBG to respect rights of independent journalist Matthew Russell Lee

Open Letter in Support of Media Freedom to Broadcasting Board of Governors members, International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo and Voice of America Director David Ensor

As co-founder and director of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) and Free Media Online, independent journalist and former Voice of America (VOA) acting associate director, I am deeply troubled by news reports — which VOA has not denied — that a Broadcasting Broad of Governors (BBG) official, Voice of America Executive Editor Steve Redisch, has written to the United Nations requesting that the U.N. press accreditation of independent journalist Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press be reviewed.

I take no position on any professional or private disputes between Mr. Matthew Russell Lee and a Voice of America correspondent and other reporters at the U.N. I am concerned, however, by Mr. Matthew Russell Lee’s complaint that a U.S. government official did not attempt to redress a grievance from this U.S. citizen-journalist but instead tried to influence the United Nations to withdraw his press access.

It is a rare occurrence these days for an official of the United States government to interfere with the independent media. It is unprecedented for an executive of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America — the U.S. federal agency set up to defend freedom of the press abroad and its premier news organization that speaks to the world on behalf of all Americans — to request that any journalist, American or foreign, be denied easy access to sources and information.

I am concerned that such actions harm Voice of America’s decades-strong reputation as a supporter of freedom of expression and undermine morale among VOA employees who are proud of their mission in defense of free media. If successful, these actions will hamper Mr. Matthew Russell Lee’s well-documented ability to report on government and private sector corruption and to advocate on behalf of the poor and the oppressed in the United States and abroad.

I respectfully urge the Board members, the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Director Richard Lobo and Voice of America Director David Ensor to look into this matter and take appropriate actions to reconfirm the Agency’s and VOA’s commitment to media freedom and transparency. I also urge that Mr. Matthew Russell Lee’s First Amendment rights be fully respected, including his right to petition the government without a fear of reprisals.

Ted Lipien
Co-Founder and Director
Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting