Heritage Foundation, 5 Mar 2012
, Helle Dale: VOA Persian News Network "is extraordinarily important to, and receives a great deal of attention within, the U.S. international broadcasting complex. Yet, PNN’s mission has not necessarily been clear—even to the people who work there. Is it a news organization? An asset to U.S. foreign policy? The answer has to be that it is both, yet this hybrid status sits awkwardly with many PNN employees (as it does with many other VOA staffers). Until amended by a new management team in 2011, PNN’s mission statement asserted that the network’s only duty was to report the news. Today, the mission statement remains focused on reporting the news, but a reference to the VOA charter has been added, stating that PNN shares Voice of America’s mission, which includes explaining and reflecting American values and culture as well as U.S. policy. This is important: U.S. international broadcasting is a fundamental part of the U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy tool kit, and has to encompass information about American society, culture, values and, not least, policies and point of view. In the absence of this dimension, editorial direction and focus is only too easily lost."
US international broadcasting can be an asset to US foreign policy if it is allowed to exist as a news organization, and not as a mere "part of the U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy tool kit." It's interesting that the VOA Charter, traditionally used to defend VOA journalistic independence ("VOA News will be VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive"), is lately being used to bring VOA into line ("VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively"). US policies are presented most "effectively" through credible information, which is what international broadcast audiences are seeking, rather than through propaganda, which is what international broadcasting audiences are escaping when they tune to foreign stations. Helle Dale continues...
"[I]t is clear that there are well-informed pro-regime individuals currently working at PNN and providing sensitive internal information to Iranian authorities. This has compromised PNN’s ability to serve its mission. Furthermore, Iranian employees often cite a low level of job satisfaction due to hiring and retaining practices based on family or social affiliation rather than professional qualifications."
Mrs. Dale, offering no evidence, slips in a charge of treachery against some VOA PNN employees. In the next sentence she writes: "This has compromised PNN’s ability to serve its mission." Gosh, do you think? Then, next sentence, same paragraph, she gives "low level of job satisfaction" equal billing with treachery. This indicates that the accusation of treachery is frivolous.
Later, we read about the alleged pro-Iranian-regime bias of VOA PNN. Here, all the evidence comes from one Iranian "exiled student leader" and perennial squeaky wheel Amir Abbas Fakhravar. Mrs. Dale apparently made no attempt to verify Fakhravar's accusations. She continues....
"According to recent and reliable survey data, the most successful foreign news broadcaster to Iran is BBC Persian—not PNN. ... Unlike PNN, BBC Persian is not run as a government agency; it functions as an independent agency that is government funded. BBC Persian fields many more on-site journalists than does PNN, which gives it news coverage with more accuracy and vitality."
Nevertheless, she recommends...
"Demand that PNN editors and producers use the resources of U.S. taxpayers to provide more professional, diverse, and technologically proficient programming, anchored in American values and aligned with U.S. national interests."
Well, which is it going to be? An "independent agency" like the BBC, which has a larger audience than VOA PNN? Or something that is "aligned with U.S. national interests"? If VOA PNN were allowed to function as an independent news agency, alignment, or lack of alignment, with US interests would not be an issue. The fact that Iranian audiences are better informed by VOA PNN than they would be from their domestic media should obviously be in the US national interest.
Why does BBC have a larger audience in Iran than VOA PNN? The most important research project that BBG could commission in FY12 is to ask Iranians who watch BBC more than PNN, or to the exclusion of PNN, why. Does BBC provide better reception? Is the BBC on-air talent better? Does BBC do a more thorough job of covering Iranian affairs? Does BBC do a better job of avoiding bias?
And why is it so difficult for US international broadcasting to recruit Farsi speakers who also happen to be journalists? Perhaps part of the problem is that VOA PNN is over here, and Radio Farda is over there, splitting between them the scarce commodity of Farsi-speaking journalists, and chasing the same stories.
Mrs. Dale began her paper with this talking point: "Tragically, America’s principal instrument for communicating with Iranians, Voice of America’s Persian News Network (PNN), is not up to the task." She leveled some very serious charges against VOA PNN. These accusations require very thorough evidence, but that was not to be found in her analysis. For the evaluation of US International Broadcasting, it seems that the Heritage Foundation "is not up to the task."
See previous post about same subject.