What's Wrong with Radio Free Europe and Voice of America?

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has a budget of more than 123 million dollars (2018), and its mission is to "report the news in 20 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established."  It should "provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate."  Is this taxpayer money well spent in the last decade?  Does this organization fulfill its mission?  Unfortunately, the answer to both these questions is negative.

As an Iran expert who reviews Persian-language media every day, I want to report my take from the organization's Persian section (Radio Farda).  VOA Persian (under the same mother institution, BBG) is as disastrous as Radio Farda.

To explain the waste and politicians' delusions regarding the efficiency of these two sections of the Congress-fnanced media system, I will focus on three criteria of free and professional media: 1) independence, 2) fact-based news broadcast and report, and 3) fair and balanced news and analysis.  Radio Farda and VOA Persian have failed in all three categories.

Manipulated by Obama Admin

VOA and Radio Farda were more open to reporting human rights violations and providing criticism of Islamist points of view before the negotiations for the 5+1 nuclear deal.  As Ben Rhodes has mentioned, the Obama team manipulated the media during the JCPOA negotiations.  They were desperate to have a foreign policy legacy, and the Iran deal was their only chance.  Similar to the administration, both VOA Persian and Radio Farda tried hard to appease the Islamist government and its loyalists abroad to make the deal happen.  Before and during the negotiations, tens of Iranian experts abroad were put on their blacklists, and several shows were canceled; in that period, Iran's lobbyists were regular guests on their programs.  VOA put me on that blacklist; before that, I was a regular guest on their news and analysis programs.  My fault was to compare ISIS and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Cut-and-Paste Habit

Instead of newsgathering and reporting, the dominant pattern in these two institutions is to cut and paste news from the IRI propaganda machine.  Their excuse is "not having a correspondent" in Iran.  All news agencies in Iran are controlled by the security and religious establishment.  They are very good at misinformation and disinformation campaigns.  To cut and paste pieces from IRI news agencies is in apparent conflict with the RFE/RL and VOA missions.  Radio Farda cut its only fact-checking program (two minutes per day) in March 2018 after just one year running.

Bias against Anti-Islamism Opposition

Most of the employees of these outlets are coming from the reformist newspapers inside the country.  They are mostly socialists or Islamists who had some differences with the official interpretation of Islamism.  This does not mean they were pro-Western civilization or pro-liberal democracy.  Their lingo and discourse have nothing to do with open societies.  The anti-Israel, anti-American, and anti-capitalist bias is clear in their programs.  Almost all of the guests in their programs are reformist Islamists and socialists.  Their staff is picked in a way that the overarching discourse is pro-socialism and pro-Islamism (the reformist version that supports a more moderate Islamic Republic that is still anti-Western and anti-Israel).

While anti-Islamism opposition is for toppling the Islamist state, these outlets give their minutes to the ones who want the Islamic Republic to survive.  I believe that media outlets should not have an agenda in toppling a regime; rather, they should not have an agenda to protect it.  There is no balance in analysis segments on any issue regarding the Islamist state's policies and decisions.  When I used to write for Radio Farda's website, censorship was the rule and not an exception.

Islamist Discourse of Radio Free Europe/VOA

What is dominant in these two outlets' discourse and actions can be summarized in these three elements:

  1. The West should support the reformist faction if it wants to strengthen moderates.  The problem is that the reformist faction's foreign and domestic policies are not significantly different from the fundamentalist faction.  What is introduced as moderate is as fundamentalist as the other faction.  The reformist faction is wrongfully introduced as liberal by left-leaning media.
  2. Pressure from the West makes fundamentalist factions more powerful and oppression rampant.  This is not true.  The Islamist police state under both reformist and fundamentalist factions has behaved in the same way.  The leader has the upper hand, and sharia law is enforced by both factions.
  3. The right strategy is to root for reformed Islam.  As leftists and Islamists have been in a coalition during the Obama and Trump administrations, high-ranking leftist management and low-ranking leftist and Islamist staff are working together to promote their agenda that is bringing Islamism to their diversity tent.  If you do not believe that this coalition exists, look at the Democratic Party nominees and political ads in the 2018 elections.

More than anyone else, the oppressed around the world need a window into what a free world looks like.  By bowing to the tyrannical regime in Iran, these radio organizations do a grave disservice to those who need them most.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has a budget of more than 123 million dollars (2018), and its mission is to "report the news in 20 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established."  It should "provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate."  Is this taxpayer money well spent in the last decade?  Does this organization fulfill its mission?  Unfortunately, the answer to both these questions is negative.

As an Iran expert who reviews Persian-language media every day, I want to report my take from the organization's Persian section (Radio Farda).  VOA Persian (under the same mother institution, BBG) is as disastrous as Radio Farda.

To explain the waste and politicians' delusions regarding the efficiency of these two sections of the Congress-fnanced media system, I will focus on three criteria of free and professional media: 1) independence, 2) fact-based news broadcast and report, and 3) fair and balanced news and analysis.  Radio Farda and VOA Persian have failed in all three categories.

Manipulated by Obama Admin

VOA and Radio Farda were more open to reporting human rights violations and providing criticism of Islamist points of view before the negotiations for the 5+1 nuclear deal.  As Ben Rhodes has mentioned, the Obama team manipulated the media during the JCPOA negotiations.  They were desperate to have a foreign policy legacy, and the Iran deal was their only chance.  Similar to the administration, both VOA Persian and Radio Farda tried hard to appease the Islamist government and its loyalists abroad to make the deal happen.  Before and during the negotiations, tens of Iranian experts abroad were put on their blacklists, and several shows were canceled; in that period, Iran's lobbyists were regular guests on their programs.  VOA put me on that blacklist; before that, I was a regular guest on their news and analysis programs.  My fault was to compare ISIS and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Cut-and-Paste Habit

Instead of newsgathering and reporting, the dominant pattern in these two institutions is to cut and paste news from the IRI propaganda machine.  Their excuse is "not having a correspondent" in Iran.  All news agencies in Iran are controlled by the security and religious establishment.  They are very good at misinformation and disinformation campaigns.  To cut and paste pieces from IRI news agencies is in apparent conflict with the RFE/RL and VOA missions.  Radio Farda cut its only fact-checking program (two minutes per day) in March 2018 after just one year running.

Bias against Anti-Islamism Opposition

Most of the employees of these outlets are coming from the reformist newspapers inside the country.  They are mostly socialists or Islamists who had some differences with the official interpretation of Islamism.  This does not mean they were pro-Western civilization or pro-liberal democracy.  Their lingo and discourse have nothing to do with open societies.  The anti-Israel, anti-American, and anti-capitalist bias is clear in their programs.  Almost all of the guests in their programs are reformist Islamists and socialists.  Their staff is picked in a way that the overarching discourse is pro-socialism and pro-Islamism (the reformist version that supports a more moderate Islamic Republic that is still anti-Western and anti-Israel).

While anti-Islamism opposition is for toppling the Islamist state, these outlets give their minutes to the ones who want the Islamic Republic to survive.  I believe that media outlets should not have an agenda in toppling a regime; rather, they should not have an agenda to protect it.  There is no balance in analysis segments on any issue regarding the Islamist state's policies and decisions.  When I used to write for Radio Farda's website, censorship was the rule and not an exception.

Islamist Discourse of Radio Free Europe/VOA

What is dominant in these two outlets' discourse and actions can be summarized in these three elements:

  1. The West should support the reformist faction if it wants to strengthen moderates.  The problem is that the reformist faction's foreign and domestic policies are not significantly different from the fundamentalist faction.  What is introduced as moderate is as fundamentalist as the other faction.  The reformist faction is wrongfully introduced as liberal by left-leaning media.
  2. Pressure from the West makes fundamentalist factions more powerful and oppression rampant.  This is not true.  The Islamist police state under both reformist and fundamentalist factions has behaved in the same way.  The leader has the upper hand, and sharia law is enforced by both factions.
  3. The right strategy is to root for reformed Islam.  As leftists and Islamists have been in a coalition during the Obama and Trump administrations, high-ranking leftist management and low-ranking leftist and Islamist staff are working together to promote their agenda that is bringing Islamism to their diversity tent.  If you do not believe that this coalition exists, look at the Democratic Party nominees and political ads in the 2018 elections.

More than anyone else, the oppressed around the world need a window into what a free world looks like.  By bowing to the tyrannical regime in Iran, these radio organizations do a grave disservice to those who need them most.