One can make a very good argument that going all web and eliminating Voice of America (VOA) Russian radio and TV broadcasts by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) contributed to the fake interview with the Russian opposition figure by the VOA Russian Service. Whistleblower lawyer, blogger and opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he never granted an interview which the Voice of America posted on its Russian website.
One of the worst management teams in the federal government, which now runs VOA through the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) on behalf of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is primarily responsible for the policies that have resulted in this journalistic fiasco. The blame is shared by the BBG members, IBB director Richard Lobo, and the managers he kept and promoted. Lobo is viewed as an absent manager, as are the members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The organization is run by a group of permanent managers whom most employees view as lacking leadership and management knowledge. They have rated them as the worst managers in the federal government.
Of course, these managers will try to put the blame on some poor contract employee whom they have not checked out, whom they shamelessly exploit, and whom they have not trained. These government officials and executives should accept the full blame themselves. BBG Watch reported on the incident.
Broadcasting, especially radio, needs serious and experienced journalists. It is not easy to fake an audio interview for radio or a television interview. The BBG ended VOA Russian radio and TV in 2008. Experienced journalists either retired or were pushed out. Contractors without much experience and training were hired. They are paid peanuts and are shamelessly exploited. Some are not paid on time. No serious security clearances on them are performed. Many have just arrived from Russia and others live in Russia with their families. What a wonderful opportunity for Putin’s security services to cause mischief.
These former KGB (Putin was one of them) now FSB types have already released a fake photo of the Russian opposition figure with whom VOA published a fake interview. The VOA Russian website has been compromised before and will be compromised again if the BBG doesn’t get its house in order.
All VOA websites were completely hacked and went dark during President Obama’s official visit to Russia and pornographic photo was posted another time on the VOA Russian website. A bogus news item was also posted. Now we have a fake interview with a major Russian pro-democratic opposition figure. What kind of message does it send from the United States to those in Russia struggling for freedom and democracy? Are people in charge of U.S. international broadcasting serious or is this amateur hour?
BBG members should really read this Heritage Foundation blog post: “With VOA Left Voiceless, Obama Fails to Reach Russian Public.” It could tell them something what is wrong with their Internet-only program delivery strategy, their “platform agnostic” strategy. If you want to be agnostic, you better be damn sure there are no KGB gods lurking around the Internet.
The IBB/BBG executive staff and its policies of undermining broadcasting and serious journalism are responsible for all of this. They don’t understand who they are dealing with — former KGB now FSB thugs.
What do they think will happen to VOA websites if there is a real crisis in U.S-Russian relations or an anti-Putin revolution in Russia? Do they know how many readers’ comments on the VOA websites are posted by agents of the Russian security services engaged in psychological operations? Do they have any idea how many of their contractors in Russia have been contacted and intimidated by the secret police? They wanted to go all web with VOA to China but thankfully Democrats and Republicans in Congress stopped them.
What do these Broadcasting Board of Governors executives think the Voice of America Chinese website will look like once the Chinese regime hackers are finished with it if there is a crisis? Eliminate VOA broadcasts, fire 45 experienced VOA Chinese journalists — which is what these BBG managers wanted to do — and what you may get is a fake interview with a leading Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
The leaders of IBB/BBG, Director Lobo, VOA Director David Ensor and above all the presidentially-appointed members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors need to ask themselves this question: can we trust our management team who advised us to adopt the policies that led to the fake VOA interview with Russian whistleblower lawyer, blogger and opposition leader Alexei Navalny? The answer is “No.”