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With VOA Propaganda Free in US, BBG Tries to Cover Up Censorship Bid at UN under FOIA

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 2 -- With coverage of international affairs increasingly in the hands of interested governments who view news production as a tool of foreign policy and internal propaganda, now the US is shifting more in that direction.

  The US' Broadcasting Board of Governors, whose four listed members include US Secretary of State John Kerry just as it included his predecessor Hillary Clinton, announced today that the productions of Voice of America and its other Cold War era state media properties can now be shown inside the US.

  This had been banned under the theory that while perhaps the US should produce propaganda to fool people in other countries, it shouldn't direct these tools at its own citizen -- similar to restrictions on the CIA. But that's off.

  A sample recent headline: "John Kerry Tells VOA: Snowden Betrayed Country." And Kerry is one of only four current directors of the Board that controls VOA.

  When corporate US cable channels did not cut to Egypt and embattled president Mohamed Morsi's speech on Tuesday, the vacuum into which BBG's Voice of America propaganda might slip is clearly shown.

  But what is BBG's and VOA's commitment to freedom of the press? Inner City Press on personal experience can say: there is no real commitment, beyond when it serves BBG's mission.

  In 2012 Voice of America's Steve Redisch, who is supervised by David Ensor and Richard Lobo, wrote to the UN and asked that they “review the accreditation” of Inner City Press. Click here for that.

  When Inner City Press using the Freedom of Information Act exposed this and more, including VOA's statements that it had the support of the UN bureau chief of Reuters and AFP, and the UN Correspondents Association, the campaign at least on the surface stopped. (Reuters and AFP revived it in March 2013, but that's another story.)

  Back in BBG, Ensor, Lobo and Redisch blocked Governor Victor Ashe's request for an open meeting on their anti-press request, and BBG is still trying to deny access to documents responsive to Inner City Press' continuing FOIA requests. (We have obtained numerous additional documents on which we will report in due course. The new Free UN Coalition for Access, @FUNCA_info, continues to push for reforms and due process for journalists.)

  A sample recent (June 25, 2013) letter to Inner City Press from BBG denies that the Department of State "controls" VOA, claiming grandly that “the BBG is an independent, federal executive branch agency charged with providing 'reliable and authoritative, accurate, objective, and comprehensive' news and information. 22 U.S.C. §6202(b )(1). The Department of State has zero editorial control over the BBG... Your suggestion that VOA journalists do not function as independent journalists is unfortunate and simply untrue.”

  The tone, including the condescending use of the word “unfortunate,” is not one for a FOIA ruling. On the panel were Marie Lennon, International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Chief of Staff; Kelu Chao, Director of the Office of Performance Review, and the Director of the Office of Technology, Services, and Innovation Andre Mendes.

  On BBG's website, Mendes is lavishly praised by none other than IBB Director Richard Lobo, for whom another of the three panel members, Ms. Lennon, serves as chief of staff. Conflict of interest much? Watch this site.

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