USAGM Watch Commentary
The Voice of America VOA News English-language website has not reported the recent forming of the bipartisan Congressional Friends of Belarus Caucus and failed to report on its plea to President Biden to meet at the White House with Belorussian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
President Biden did not meet with Tsikhanouskaya, but she had a meeting with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, which she described as being friendly.
Last week, in one of its many recent and past journalistic failures under the watch of longtime managers of the $800-million dysfunctional U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), VOA News was a day late in reporting on the controversial deal the Biden Administration reached with Germany to allow the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. When VOA News English-language website posted a news report following outside criticism that it ignored a major news story, it did not originate its own report from Washington, where VOA is based, but reposted a report written by the Ukrainian Service of Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL), which is based in Prague in the Czech Republic. BBC, Germany’s Deutsche Welle, Russia’s RT, and RFE/RL reported immediately on the controversial deal.
The RFE/RL Ukrainian Service report was both comprehensive and balanced, but when VOA News posted it, the report was already a day old. VOA News later produced its own report on the German defense of the the Nord Stream 2 deal. The report included some on the U.S. congressional criticism, but it was summarized in only three sentences. The last word in the VOA News report went to the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Widespread U.S. and European criticism of the Nord Stream concessions by the Biden Administration to Germany and Russia’s President Putin was also ignored by most of VOA’s foreign language services which translate VOA News English-language output.
VOA News did not report except in one sentence that Ukraine and Poland, in a joint statement issued last week by the countries’ two foreign ministers, Dmytro Kuleba and Zbigniew Rau, called the U.S.-German deal “insufficient”. Almost 90 percent of VOA News reporting was focused on the German and Biden Administration’s defense of the Nord Stream 2 agreement.
“Unfortunately, the proposals to cover the resulting security deficit cannot be considered sufficient to limit the threats created by NS2,” Ukraine and Poland said in their joint statement. “We call on the United States and Germany to adequately address the security crisis in our region, that Russia is the only beneficiary to,” the two foreign ministers warned.
Earlier in the week, VOA’s Russian and Ukrainian services aired brief interviews with some of the members of the bipartisan Congressional Friends of Belarus Caucus, but they failed to do a follow-up reporting on the letter sent to President Biden by the caucus’ members and on the criticism of his refusal to meet with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Overall, VOA News English failed to meet the VOA Charter‘s news reporting obligations, especially with regard to members of both parties in the U.S. Congress.
The VOA Russian Service had a report on the formation of the Friends of Belarus group which mentioned the letter sent to President Biden. The service posted short standup interviews with some of the caucus’ congressional members, but later failed to focus on bipartisan criticism of the Biden Administration’s approach to human rights violations in Belarus and Biden’s refusal to meet with Tsikhanouskaya. There was only limited reporting by VOA, and almost none on the VOA News main English-language website, on the criticism of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal and the criticism in the United States and in East Central Europe of President Biden’s Russia policy.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) coverage of the various controversies has been much better. Both VOA and RFE/RL are managed by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which has been largely dysfunctional under its current longtime leaders. As a surrogate broadcaster, RFE/RL is more independently managed but many fear that USAGM may eventually make it more like the Voice of America.
Some of the current U.S. and European criticism of the Biden administration’s decisions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline deal with Germany and Russia was summarized in series of tweets from Anders Åslund, a Swedish economist and a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Similar criticism was voiced by former President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves who was also Estonia’s Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United States. From 1984 to 1993, Ilves worked in Munich, Germany as a journalist for Radio Free Europe and the head of its Estonian desk.
A plea to President Biden from members of the bipartisan Congressional Friends of Belarus Caucus to meet with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was ignored by the White House.