USAGM Watch (usagmwatch.com), which continues the government watchdog work of BBG Watch, focuses on the $800 million United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) to inform the public about its operations and provide public oversight. The taxpayer-funded U.S. international media outreach agency oversees five networks: two federal organizations — the Voice of America (VOA) and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which manages Radio and TV Martí — and three non-profit organizations — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) — which receive grants from USAGM. The Open Technology Fund (OTF) also receives public funding through USAGM. Until 2018, the agency operated under the name of Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
BBG Watch website (bbgwatch.com), which was founded in 2008, ceased publication in December 2020 when its co-founder, Ted Lipien, was appointed President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the position he occupied until January 22, 2021 as a non-political and non-partisan executive. BBG Watch website remains accessible online and can be searched for archived articles. Ted Lipien no longer has any official links to either USAGM or RFE/RL. He has resumed sponsorship of USAGM Watch under the aegis of Free Media Online, a 501(c)3 NGO which he created to promote media freedom worldwide.
Who We Are
USAGM Watch website is edited and published by unpaid volunteers–citizen or civic but nearly all experienced professional journalists–including current and former employees of U.S. international broadcasting. They are working to restore good management and sharp news focus to taxpayer-funded American media outreach abroad. Our volunteers, with the exception of news sources who sometimes write for us under pen names for their own protection, are not currently affiliated with USAGM or its media entities. Almost all of our volunteers are journalists and/or media executives with many years of experience, in both public and private media sectors.
We at the USAGM Watch have been in the forefront of defending the VOA Charter. This 1976 U.S. law mandates that Voice of America news must be “accurate, objective, and comprehensive” and that “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.” The VOA Charter also requires VOA to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively” and to “present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.” We firmly believe that the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, must be strictly observed by VOA executives, editors and reporters. We also believe that non-federal USAGM entities should retain maximum independence to serve as surrogate media outlets in countries without free media. We are concerned by any attempts to use agency resources to partisan ends. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013 (Public Law 112-239), SEC. 1078. DISSEMINATION ABROAD OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE UNITED STATES, makes it clear that “No funds authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States.“
What We Do
For years, USAGM has been one of the most scandal-plagued entities of the federal government. BBG Watch and now USAGM Watch have been the only outlets providing watchdog journalistic monitoring of the agency operations, its senior management and its other federal managers, employees and contractors. We are one of the few groups in the country doing such citizen journalism with a focus on a single federal agency. We have reported extensively and commented on multiple violations of the VOA Charter, corporate business activities of BBG and USAGM officials in China and Russia, Russian and Chinese propaganda in agency programs, hiring of a former anti-U.S.propagandist and friends and associates of senior officials, censorship of Iranian and Chinese dissidents, illegal targeting of Americans by agency journalists with social media ads, partisan bias, poor employee morale and corruption.
We have tried to improve USAGM’s performance and value to U.S. taxpayers by providing independent and non-partisan reporting, feedback and commentary. We are independent.
While reporting on shortcomings and abuses, we recognize the importance of tax-funded U.S. international media outreach, especially in countries without free press, as well as the agency’s role in explaining America to the world. These taxpayer-funded, U.S. government-managed media activities abroad are essential at the time of increased threats to journalism and press freedom from propaganda and disinformation.
The management of the USAGM federal agency has been criticized in recent years in many media reports for the loss of focus, mission creep, employee morale problems and greatly diminished relevance of its programs, with increasing tendencies, especially among some Voice of America leaders and journalists, to engage in partisan domestic propaganda in the United States and sometimes repeating foreign propaganda without any questioning. BBG Watch and USAGM Watch have been quoted by New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Washington Examiner, CNN, NBCNews, NPR and other U.S. and international media. Our watchdog website has been mentioned in the Congressional Record.
Submit Story Ideas and Articles
We invite all USAGM and its entities’ employees and contractors to share with us their concerns and suggestions for new or improved reporting and commentary. We also invite article submissions. E-mails should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or by using the contact form on our website.
Ted Lipien is a co-founder and supporter of BBG Watch and USAGM Watch. He is a former RFE/RL President and CEO (Dec. 2020-Jan.2021), VOA acting associate director (2005-2006), VOA Eurasia Division director(2003-2005), BBG regional Eurasia marketing director (1995-2003) and VOA Polish Service chief (1982-1993) during the Solidarity trade union’s struggle for democracy in Poland.
Marie Ciliberti, a co-founder of BBG Watch who passed away in 2018, was a VOA writer, producer and broadcaster for programs directed to the former Soviet Union. Among her many achievements was her close collaboration with the legendary VOA music broadcaster Willis Conover that brought his enormously popular jazz programs to millions of radio listeners in Russia and in other former Soviet republics. Ms. Ciliberti was also a tireless campaigner for better working conditions for VOA employees.
Hijacking of “USAGMWatch.com” Domain By Federal Officials
In 2018, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)–the federal agency which oversees the Voice of America, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)–changed its name to the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM). Shortly before the name change became official on August 28, 2018, publishers of BBGWatch.com discovered that the agency’s management made it impossible for them to register the USAGMWatch.com domain name. In an act of interference with domestic press, USAGM took actions to keep domain names, USAGMWatch.com and USAGMWatch.org, unavailable for use by our journalists who have been reporting on the agency management’s failures for BBGWatch.com since 2008. Registering USAGM “Watch” domain names by the agency’s officials was an obvious attempt to stifle media inquires and public criticism.
When their interference with domestic media was exposed, USAGM’s management eventually promised in September 2018 to release the domain names it had misappropriated, but someone who apparently was connected with the agency immediately re-registered the “USAGMWatch.com” domain name, making it again unavailable for our use. The second registration lapsed in early 2020, and this time we were able to acquire it and launch USAGMWatch.com in early March 2020. Old articles can still be viewed on the BBGWatch.com archival website.
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