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Amid US BBG's Baku Beef, Has Contempt for Blogs and FOIA, on Sudan

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 27 -- As the US Broadcasting Board of Governors complains of censorship in Azerbaijan, the Free UN Coalition for Access agrees that media should not be raided.

   BBG is a US government agency, subject to the US Freedom of Information (that's how Inner City Press documented censorship attempts BY Steve Redisch and David Ensor behind him of BBG's Voice of America, see here and below). But BBG increasingly does not want to comply with FOIA.

  Inner City Press asked BBG for basic information about its programs in Afghanistan and in Sudan -- where who the Omar al Bashir government is throwing out yet another round of UN officials -- but had the request arbitrarily denied in full.

  The request by Inner City Press shows up in BBG's FOIA log as "Closed;" no document were ever provided, as is the case with another now-litigated FOIA request concerning BBG in Pakistan. A request concerning the travel costs of David Ensor was simply left open, after the due date. Shouldn't a US government broadcaster be transparent? Or at least comply with FOIA?

  In fact, before BBG started simply denying all Press FOIA requests, it released a document showing editor Steve Redisch telling a number of officials to not respond to any requests or appeals from Inner City Press, see here -- so much for petitioning the government for redress of grievances.

   There is much in the records BBG did release, before stonewalling, that refers dismissively to bloggers. And David Ensor has recently repeated just that, citing the "standard definition of a blog — boring, lousy, obscure, gibberish." Unlike VOA's derivative, often pilfered coverage?

  And, in terms of censorship, what about BBG's Voice of America having tried to get Inner City Press thrown out of covering the UN? Here is the letter VOA's Steve Redisch sent to the UN, asking for the "review" of Inner City Press' accreditation; this was supported by VOA's David Ensor.  Will this belatedly be addressed at BBG's next board meeting on February 18, particularly by new, not yet implicated Board members Karen Kornbluh, Michael Kempner and Leon Aron? Or holdovers Jeff Shell, Matt Armstrong, Ryan Crocker, Kenneth Weinstein and Michael Kempner?

  Reuters, which joined in VOA's campaign, here, and whose UN bureau chief then moved to censor his own "for the record" anti-Press complaint to the UN from Googe's Search by calling it copyrighted, click here for that, reports:

"Nenad Pejic, editor-in-chief and co-CEO of RFE/RL called the raid a 'flagrant violation of every international commitment and standard Azerbaijan has pledged to uphold. The order comes from the top as retaliation for our reporting and as a thuggish effort to silence RFE/RL."

  Thuggish? How about trying to get the Press thrown out of the UN, and doing nothing when its office was raided, and when UN official Herve Ladsous later physically blocked Inner City Press from filming, Vine here

  Inner City Press documented Voice of America's anti-Press campaign, and the involvement of the UN offices of Reuters and Agence France Presse, among others, by Freedom of Information Act requests to BBG. But after it began reporting on these documents, BBG began denying all appeals, and FOIA office Krag began automatically denying the Press' FOIA requests.

   Back on August 13, US Congress proposals to confirm Voice of America as propaganda were the elephant in the Broadcasting Board of Governors meeting, but barely mentioned.

   Instead, BBG board members were regaled with more than an hour of self-promotional videos, for example about how RFE/RL evades censorship.

 This ignored that Voice of America's David Ensor and Steve Redisch tried to censor the investigative Press at the UN (click here), and its Freedom of Information Act office now routinely denies all Press requests, about funding in Afghanistan and other topics. Learning from some countries they cover?

  RFE/RL's Nanad Pejic spoke of Ukraine as if all attacks on the media were under what he called the "former government." But what of current blocking of websites and attacks on journalists?

   A staffer calling in to the meeting bragged of partnering with the station owned by "the richest Ukrainian" and of embedding with Kyiv's army and its paramilitaries. She described the siege and lack of water in Lugansk as a humanitarian crisis. But is that how they report it?

  NSC's Ben Rhodes was to call into the board meeting, but couldn't until 12:15 pm. So the BBG public meeting was adjourned - meaning Rhodes' briefing would not be public?

 A documentary about Armenians in Syria was shown -- with no mention of the armed opposition's or terrorist group's attacks on Armenians in Kessab. BBG is already propaganda.

   This was belatedly covered by the New York Times last month, but the Times ignored the role of VOA and its Broadcasting Board of Governors as censors, trying for example to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN.

  The Times covered the House of Representatives bill which Inner City Press panned in April, focusing on a split between the union and some who work at VOA. 

   Alongside the draft US law to further make "clear that the Voice of America mission is to support U.S. public diplomacy efforts," there are still claims that VOA currently is more independent than this.

   At the United Nations, this has hardly been the case. On April 15, 2014, France's now-gone Ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud told a reporter for what's called Shi'ite media, "You are not a journalist, you are an agent." But VOA's questions are no less directed.

 Significantly, Voice of America not only at the UN but from its Washington headquarters, in a formal complaint submitted to the current UN spokesman by editor Steve Redisch with the approval of supervisor David Ensor, asked the UN to "review the accreditation" of the investigative Press, click here for that.

  In e-mails subsequently obtained by Inner City Press under the Freedom of Information Act, the VOA bureau chief sought and said she had obtained support for censorship from the United Nations Correspondents Association and the bureau chiefs of Agence France Presse and Reuters, here, here and then here (censorship under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

  Back on January 8, with Voice of America's Broadcasting Board of Governors still not having addressed censorship bids by VOA which it oversees, President Obama nominated to the BBG Michael W. Kempner, a founder of New Jersey's ConnectOne Bancorp and a bundler of campaign contributions.

   We asked and ask again, why does the US government need a propaganda network, and why turn it loose inside the US? And why would its BBG, after first granting Freedom of Information Act access and fee waivers then try to reverse all this after the documents released proved embarrassing?

  After that, BBG's FOIA Officer Andrew Krog suspended processing in the October 2013 government "funding lapse;" then Appeals Access Committee chair Marie Lennon denied access to any documents about taxpayer funded BBG programming in Sudan and Afghanistan (see below.)

 Back on July 2, 2013, Inner City Press published a short critique of Voice of America and its Broadcasting Board of Governors, here.

  In the three days that followed, mail poured in providing yet more detailed accounts of BBG and Voice of America incompetence and assaults on the principles they supposedly uphold.

  The union that represents workers there, AFGE Local 1812, has written that

poor morale was made markedly worse by a decision in 2010 to re-appoint the present newsroom director [Sonja Pace]. A correspondent since the 1980’s, she had been reassigned from the position of news chief more than a decade earlier. Fast forward to 2010: An audio recording of an open meeting in VOA’s newsroom shows that strong protests against the reappointment of the former news director were dismissed by VOA's Executive Editor [Steve Redisch] a former CNN employee. In the recording, the Executive Editor rejected staff concerns, saying 'you’re responsible for your own morale.' Though he has known of the morale crisis in VOA’s Central News Division created by the 2010 decision, current VOA director David Ensor has allowed this situation to continue.”

  Inner City Press in 2012 had its own experience of these three individuals. VOA's Executive Editor Steve Redisch wrote to the UN asking that Inner City Press' accreditation be “reviewed.”

  The only communication Inner City Press had received from VOA or BBG in Washington prior to this was from Sonja Pace, that “regarding VOA’s Charter and Code, we absolutely stand by those mandates and guidelines, without exception.”

  Apparently Voice of America's principles don't include the First Amendment. Subsequent inquiring under the Freedom of Information Act found David Ensor involved in the decision to try to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. Ensor served the US State Department in Afghanistan and perhaps re-formed his view of press freedom there.

  In mid 2013, the Obama administration nominated former Afghanistan envoy Ryan Crocker to join the then half-empty Broadcasting Board of Governors, along with John Kerry, while claiming that the output under the BBG is entirely independent from the US government. This is not credible.

  The Colombia Journalism Review, with its own conflicts, has made this point, and BBG has belatedly responded. Will any of this finally bring accountability? Watch this site.

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