BBG’s “Recent Threats to Media Freedom” statement remains open to charges of hypocrisy

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The latest BBG statement on threats to media freedom, while quite strong, ignores the detention of VOA correspondent in China earlier this year and is silent on violence against journalists in Russia and BBG’s own attempts to censor Voice of America programs to Ehtiopia. This ivites charges of hypocrisy.

— BBG Watch
We welcome the latest BBG statement on recent threats to media freedom. It is the strongest ever in years. Perhaps BBG members are finally rejecting the go-soft-on-dictators marketing strategy advocated by their executive and program development staff. That would be indeed a welcome change. The BBG’s actions over the last few years have caused great damage to media freedom and the reputation of U.S. international broadcasting.

We also note that the BBG has said nothing about its own negotiations with the repressive regime in Ethiopia to place soft programs about health on local networks, its own censorship of VOA programs to Ethiopia, and the dismissal of the Horn of Africa service chief for daring to disclose and oppose the BBG attempt to replace some of the political news reporting with non-political content inoffensive to the regime, which had earlier threatened VOA reporters with death sentences.

A demostration against censorship by the BBG of VOA programs to Ethiopia.BBG-imposed restrictions and censorship lead to the largest ever anti-censorship demostration in VOA’s history, organized in front of the BBG headquarters in Washington by Ethiopian Americans and media freedom activists.

We’re not surprised that the BBG statement did not mention Ethiopia.

Nor are we surprised that the Board statement does not mention China or the detention of a Voice of America correspondent in Beijing by the Chinese police. In February 2011, VOA reporter Stephanie Ho was secretly taped by CBS News in China’s capital screaming for police to stop beating her. She was pushed around, but eventually released.

Read Stephanie Ho’s account of the incident and see her videos in this VOA report:
US Ambassador Decries Chinese Abuse of Journalists

Perhaps this CBS video will remind BBG members of this incident.

Video link if you can’t see it here.

It is also not surprising that the statement says nothing about the BBG plan to end all VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China as of October 1, 2011 — the anniversary of the founding of the PRC — the plan which has been strongly condemned by Chinese human rights activists, members of Congress, human rights organizations in the U.S., pro-media freedom journalists, and Chinese Americans.

The BBG could regain some of its lost credibility if it would take the advice of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and continue VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China. In our opinion, the BBG’s plan to fire 45 VOA Chinese Branch journalists who specialize in human rights reporting and to end these broadcasts is just as great a threat to media freedom as some of the incidents described in the latest BBG statement. Also keep in mind that the BBG statement does not mention Russia, a country where journalists are being assassinated and to which the BBG terminated VOA radio and TV programs in 2008.

It’s much easier to pick on small dictatorships than on authoritarian regimes of major countries like China and Russia, but that is where the BBG has turned its back on human rights activists and other pro-democracy forces with its broadcasting cuts and its marketing approach pushing soft Internet content to placate the censors and achieve higher audience ratings. It is a marketing approach that goes against the BBG mission as envisioned by Congress and does a great disservice to the American people and the cause of freedom around the world.

Below you will find the full text of the BBG statement. Here we also include the first-person account of VOA Beijing Bureau Chief Stephanie Ho who was temporarily detained in the February 2011 crackdown, but managed to keep her video of the incident.

“I was out at Wangfujing Street across from the McDonald’s, which is where the online protest calls were supposed to be set. I was there probably with most of the foreign journalist corps in Beijing and as soon as I got my video camera out, there were guys blocking the lens.

They wouldn’t let me shoot and the street sweepers kept pushing me away. And then it was almost as if on cue, about four or five plainclothes police officers just sort of came out of the crowd, and all of a sudden I didn’t even know what was happening and they were pushing me. They were shoving me and they kind of knocked the camera down and they shoved me en masse inside a little shop.

Police removed five men gathering at a planned protest site in Shanghai.

Watch Stephanie Ho’s Report.

A uniformed guy actually came in with us, and he sort of wedged himself between me and the guy who I thought was maybe going to hit me. I just kept hearing him say, ‘Don’t hit women, don’t hit women.’ I just instinctively knew that I had to get out of there, and so I just pushed everybody and I forced my way outside back to the street. I was grabbed as soon as I got out to the street by three guys and they dragged me away down the alley to the police van.

They drove me to a police station and asked me to sit and wait in an anteroom. I think there was some confusion because I look Chinese, so they thought I was Chinese. Then they saw my I.D. and they said, ‘Oh, wait, you’re Voice of America, does that mean you’re American or Chinese?’ I think they realized they had brought me to the wrong station, so then after about 15 minutes, they brought me to another place, a sort of makeshift office called the Wangfujing Area Construction and Management Office, which nobody had heard of before.

They said, ‘If you’re going to be on Wangfujing Street, you need our permission.’ They said I needed permission to interview people, and I told them I wasn’t interviewing people, I just went to see what was going on.

Raw video of police action in China.

I don’t think there were any Chinese journalists there. If they went, they were well undercover. All the foreign journalists I know were called this past weekend and were warned not to go. I was called by someone who said she was a public security authoritiy, and we don’t know from which office. We tried to call the number back, and someone answered the phone and said somebody must have been using the phone to make phone calls. It’s all very vague and amorphous.

“I took part Monday afternoon in a meeting of foreign journalists at the U.S. ambassador’s office with the German ambassador and the European Union ambassador to discuss what happened yesterday. There were European journalists who had problems, and there were American journalists who had problems. This was definitely a stronger show of force than I’ve seen. There was a sense that it was concerted. There was a sense that it was organized.

And so the result is that 16 news agencies reported having problems, nine actually reported physical problems where they were either beaten or push or shoved. My colleague from Bloomberg was beaten quite badly. They dragged him around, they punched and kicked him. There were a lot of similarities with his experience and what I experienced.

Looking back on it, I’m thinking there might be some logic to the argument that the crackdown was to set an example for foreign journalists that this could happen to you if you come out again next time.”

Statement of the Broadcasting Board of Governors: Recent Threats to Media Freedom

September 15, 2011 | Washington, D.C.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors made the following statement at its meeting on September 15, 2011.

The BBG takes the opportunity of this open meeting to shine a spotlight
on efforts to thwart media freedom and intimidate our journalists in
countries where we work. We’ll provide updates on the status of our
reporters and operations as a standard part of subsequent Board meetings.

The Board expresses profound concern about Iran, where Internet access
to reporting by VOA’s Persian News Network and RFE’s Radio Farda is
blocked, websites are aggressively hacked, shortwave broadcasts are
jammed and persons associated in any way with our programs are arrested
or worse. We learned recently that the Iranian government is jamming
satellite transmissions of the BBC’s Persian service TV. Taken together,
these practices amount to the construction of an “electronic curtain”
isolating the Iranian people from the rest of the world.

We protest the August 31 abduction and expulsion to the Iranian border
of a correspondent with RFE’s Azerbaijani service who was reporting a
story. We have raised the case with the State Department and local
officials and have requested an explanation from the Azerbaijani
government.

We reject a legal warning issued in connection with VOA coverage of the
U.N.-backed tribunal in Cambodia that has been investigating atrocities
committed by the former Khmer Rouge regime. The Board insists on the
journalistic and legal responsibility of all our broadcast services to
provide balanced coverage of important issues, and objects to the
chilling effect the warning may have on independent media inside the
country.

We also object to a recent pattern of intimidation towards RFA and VOA
reporters in Nepal, who have been physically threatened because of their
reporting on Tibet.

Finally, the Board condemns the routine violence that our journalists in
many countries face simply for doing their jobs. On September 3,
Alexandre Neto, a VOA reporter, was assaulted by plain-clothed police
who also confiscated some of his equipment while he was covering a
pro-democracy rally in the Angolan capital of Luanda. A cameraman with
Alhurra TV was attacked on August 10 in Yemen by several unidentified
men who tried to stab him with daggers.

The Board welcomes the news that Abdumalik Boboyev, a correspondent for
VOA, has finally been permitted to travel to Germany to study. Boboyev
was arrested and charged with ‘libel’ last year for his broadcasts. He
managed to avoid prison but was fined $11,000 for ‘insulting the Uzbek
people.’

To learn more about the above incidents, go to:

*BBG Statement on Hacking and Signal Interference in Iran
*Reporters without Borders on Violence in Bahrain
*RFE Azerbaijani Correspondent Abducted, Expelled to Iran
*VOA Statement on Warning to Journalists in Cambodia
*VOA Statement on the Assault on its Reporter in Angola
*BBG Statement of Concern for VOA Reporter Bobayev

BBG Condemns Threats to Press Freedom and Furthers Reform Efforts

September 15, 2011 | Washington, D.C.

At today’s Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) meeting, the Board discussed and advanced plans to carry out a comprehensive reform for U.S. international broadcasting. The Board also called public attention to a string of disturbing incidents of repression and intimidation perpetrated against BBG journalists in recent months in Nepal, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Burma and elsewhere.

The Board decried the longstanding interference with media freedom in Iran and Board Chairman Walter Isaacson noted that, “Taken together, these practices amount to the construction of an ‘electronic curtain’ isolating the Iranian people from the rest of the world.” The Board’s full statement on recent threats to its journalists can be found online here.

The Board adopted revised grant agreements with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) for consistency across the networks, to better reflect operational realities and to foster increased cooperation among U.S. international broadcasting. In addition, the Board voted and passed the Agency’s FY 2013 proposed budget to OMB. The BBG also agreed to establish an Internet Freedom committee to advise the Board on global Internet freedom and censorship circumvention strategies.

Governor Dana Perino announced the launch of the Innovation Commission that will meet on September 22 in New York City to foster ongoing technical developments across U.S. international broadcasting. The Commission brings together leaders who have proven success in digital media.

At the meeting VOA’s new Director David Ensor highlighted the documentary “Hope Town” which was jointly produced with MBN and showcases religious tolerance in Teaneak, N.J., as well as an innovative and highly popular VOA Mandarin webcast “OMG! Meiyu” that engages a young Chinese audience eager to learn colloquial American English.

MBN President Brian Conniff shared noteworthy Alhurra TV coverage of events in Libya as well as the eyewitness reporting by a Radio Sawa correspondent of gunshots being fired at journalists outside of Bani Walid.

A webcast of the meeting is available at www.bbg.gov.

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