The Voice of America English website has not reported yet on the controversy involving the posting of an interview with a Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which he called “100% fake.” The alleged interview was posted on the VOA Russian website, but the controversy has been widely reported in Russian and in English, including a report in both languages by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Sources told us that the alleged interview was conducted by email by a recently hired VOA Russian Service contract employee who came to the U.S. a few months ago. After Navalny called the alleged interview a fake and wrote in his Twitter account that the Voice of America “went nuts” and people there should be “let go,” the VOA Russian Service took the alleged interview off the web and posted online an apology to Navalny and the visitors to the VOA Russian website.
It is not clear who may have sent the email with the alleged interview to the VOA Russian Service contractor or how the apparent exchange of emails happened and with whom. Sources told us that some of the more experienced journalists in the VOA Russian Service had doubts that the interview was authentic because it included statements that would have been unlikely to come form a highly respected lawyer and Russian opposition figure. It is not known whether they have shared these concerns with the Russian Service editors and the VOA management before the interview was approved for posting on the web. It appears that no one at VOA telephoned Navalny to confirm that the answers sent by email were his.
The alleged interview was posted on January 31 and the VOA Russian Service apology was posted on February 1.
Navalny has been a target of various disinformation campaigns in the Russian media believed to be originated by supporters of the Kremlin. They have been known to hack into email addresses and media accounts of anti-Kremlin opposition leaders and to distribute fake documents and photos.
A lawyer, opposition figure, anti-corruption activist and blogger, Navalny is viewed by Prime Minister Putin’s supporters as a major threat.
VOA English Service correspondent in Moscow James Brooke reported recently that “Internet blogger Alexey Navalny ruined the party brand (Putin’s party, United Russia) by saddling it online with an unshakeable label, ‘the party of swindlers and thieves.‘”
Last night, BBG Watch sent an email to the VOA Central Newsroom asking whether the VOA English news website plans to cover the VOA Navalny interview controversy. BBG Watch had reported earlier that some members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), who have the ultimate responsibility over Voice of America, learned about the Navalny alleged interview incident by reading about it a few days later on the BBG Watch website.
We have received no response to our email, but several sources have sent us the text of an email that apparently went out to some editors in the VOA Newsroom in Washington, DC.
Here it is:
“To newsroom editors:
Please do not respond to this request for comment from BBG watch without coordinating with the VOA Public Relations office and your newsroom management.”