Op-Ed: Voice of America news report sides with Putin against Greenpeace | Digital Journal

By Ted Lipien

Published November 5, 2013 by Digital Journal

Washington – U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) repeats Putin regime’s propaganda against Greenpeace, ignores American activists jailed in Russia, and misleads world on how U.S. legal system deals with peaceful protesters who trespass.

BBG Watch volunteer-run watch dog website reported that U.S. taxpayers’ money was used by the Voice of America (VOA) to post online a slanderous attack on Greenpeace by a Russian politician. According to BBG Watch, VOA failed to seek and post a specific response from the international environmental NGO to a unsubstantiated charge from a pro-Putin Russian Duma deputy that Greenpeace staged its protest against a Russian oil rig because it is desperate for publicity-driven donations. 

At the same time, VOA published in its news report a statement which may misleadingly suggest to its international audiences that the U.S. legal system would deal just as harshly as Putin’s Russia with peaceful Greenpeace protesters or with Pussy Riot young women-prisoners who also had staged a peaceful protest and received multi-year prison terms from a Russian court. 

BBG Watch is also reporting that the Voice of America has ignored so far for over a month the story of two American Greenpeace prisoners, the ship’s captain Peter Willcoxand activist Dimitri (Dima) Litvinov. Their plight has been publicized by U.S. media in op-eds and news reports in The Washington PostThe New York TimesPublic Radio International (PRI), CNNFox and in other outlets. 

While BBC and other international media have also published numerous reports on individual citizens of Great Britain and of other countries who are in a Russian jail, the Voice of America, whose job it is to tell America’s story to the world, has been silent on the American Greenpeace prisoners in Russia.

A report on the VOA website had instead this quote from a Russian politician:

“Greenpeace’s actions were just to create a political scandal and draw more attention to Greenpeace,” said Mikhail Slipenchuk, a Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party. “They probably need more money and to get new sponsors because their money is running out.” 

VOA did not provide any specific response from Greenpeace to this allegation, as the VOA Charter requires it to do in cases of ad hominem attacks, slander or any claim that may be untrue or controversial.

VOA also quoted a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain as saying that “boarding an offshore oil rig would be prosecuted in the United States.” VOA did not explain that a peaceful protest of this kind in the U.S. would most likely only result in a misdemeanor trespassing charge and a civil fine. 

VOA quotes President Putin as saying that “It is obvious they’re not pirates. However, formally, they tried to seize our platform.” 

The VOA report does not explain that the hooliganism charge Greenpeace activists now face can still result in many years in prison. Russian authorities have used the charge of hooliganism against Pussy Riot women protesters and other political opponents.

While underfunded and poorly treated by their management, VOA journalists are still capable of producing excellent news coverage. But the Voice of America, funded by you and me, is failing to do its job as an accurate and objective source of news and explanation of American policies and institutions to foreign audiences. VOA has been engaged at our expense in flawed news reporting that lacks balance and is harmful to the United States and its public diplomacy abroad.

These failures are believed to be largely a result of poor management at the top level rather than isolated mistakes by individual journalists that happen in any news organization from time to time. VOA often fails to report on major domestic and international news developments, is late in posting its news stories, and offers superficial coverage. Its English news website can have five news reports in two days on the royal christening in Great Britain but nothing on Nobel Peace Prize laureates calling for freedom for imprisoned Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, also a Nobel laureate. Editorial leadership and editorial control system seem to have collapsed at the Voice of America.

The bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which has a new dynamic chairman, Jeff Shell, and three new members, should take immediate actions to address these management problems, which are aggravated by dysfunctional and constantly growing bureaucracy of BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). 

In exercising their oversight responsibilities, BBG board members must make sure that VOA no longer does harm to U.S. interests abroad but actually helps us communicate with foreign audiences in a truthful and balanced way that shows most Americans as being champions of freedom and makes our country stronger and more secure.

Disclosure: Ted Lipien is a journalist and author and former Voice of America acting associate director. He is also associated with two media freedom NGOs, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) and Free Media Online.

READ the Digital Journal op-ed in Internet Archive.