BBG Watch Commentary and Appeal for Action
Whispering campaign against anti-Putin lawyer Alexei Navalny continues among some Voice of America Russian Service staffers
In their private conversations, some staffers in the Voice of America Russian Service are calling an anti-corruption Russian lawyer and opposition leader Alexei Navalny a liar and repeat these accusations, also in private, to top VOA managers who in turn report them to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, sources tell BBG Watch. They are commenting on an alleged interview with Navalny, posted and then removed from the VOA Russian Service website. Navalny said that he had never given this interview to VOA and called it a 100% fabrication.
Other VOA Russian Service staffers had doubts about the authenticity of the interview, but it is not known whether they voiced them to anyone. Morale among VOA employees is extremely low and many are afraid to voice their objections to management decisions. Many experienced VOA Russian Service editors were retired or pushed out and replaced by recent arrivals from Russia hired as contractors. Some experienced journalists quit in disgust when their warnings that the program content has a pro-Kremlin bias were ignored by the management.
On January 31, the VOA Russian Service posted a fake text interview with Navalny, apparently obtained in an exchange of emails with someone in Russia. They had to remove it the next day and apologize to Navalny, but some members of the Service responsible for putting the fake interview online are now engaged in a whispering campaign calling Navalny a liar. They accuse him in private conversations of giving the interview and then changing his mind. These claims are being repeated in private by top VOA managers to the Broadcasting Board of Governors members. This suggests that they have no intention of reforming the Russian Service and have not learned any lessons from their mistakes. Something needs to be done.
Alexei Navalny not only said that the alleged interview was “100% fake, he also said that the Voice of America “has gone nuts” and that everyone in the Russian Service should be let go. The person whom some members of the VOA Russian Service now accuse in private of lying has been risking his freedom and even life as every outspoken anti-Putin journalist and opposition leader in Russia does.
Alexei Navalny is not a coward or someone afraid of telling the truth, and accusing him of such is truly shameful. In April 2011, a VOA English Service correspondent in Moscow James Brooke reported Navalny as saying: “If everyone was scared, we would have a hard time living.” Some of the VOA Russian Service staffers are saying in effect that Navalny is too scared to admit that he had given them an interview. It is well known that after his recent detention, Navalny was avoiding media interviews and that he was a target of disinformation campaigns and postings of fake photos of him by Kremlin supporters.
Alexei Navalny, whom some of VOA Russian staffers who recently came from Russia and at least one of whom worked for the pro-Putin media before being hired by the BBG, now accuse in private of being dishonest, has given his wife a list of telephone numbers to call, just in case he disappears.
We think that these whispering accusations against Navalny are ludicrous and outrageous, especially since they come from some of the Voice of America Russian Service contract employees being paid by US taxpayers to transmit uncensored, accurate, balanced, and comprehensive news to Russia. According to Navalny, who is also a highly popular blogger in Russia, the Voice of America is harming him and the pro-democratic opposition. This view is also shared by another highly respected Russian journalist, also fighting Putin’s censorship in Russia.
We need to get this story out to media and members of Congress. US taxpayers are paying for Voice of America programs that harm the US and the anti-Putin opposition in Russia. An independent journalist in Russia concluded in early 2011 that VOA Russian news have a pro-Kremlin, pro-Putin bias and downplay human rights issues. This study was ordered, paid for by American taxpayers and ignored by the BBG. BBG executives may not have even shared the results of this study with BBG members and new Voice of America director David Ensor. See: http://www.usgbroadcasts.com/bbgwatch/2012/02/07/voice-of-america-undermines-anti-putin-opposition-at-us-taxpayers-expense/
We at BBG Watch urge everybody who cares about the Voice of America, about how US taxpayers money is spent, about the vast majority of capable VOA journalists who want to do their job right, and about Alexei Navalny and other leaders and members of the pro-democratic opposition in Russia and elsewhere to call members of Congress and media representatives and urge them to investigate and report on the mismanagement at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the upper management of the Voice of America.
We want to point out that the Voice of America English news website failed to report on the fake interview story.