US adviser accuses VOA of being ‘voice of Iran’

Published May 29, 2020
“VOA Persian needs to do a better job of countering Iranian disinformation and propaganda," says Brian Hook. —US Department of State website/File
“VOA Persian needs to do a better job of countering Iranian disinformation and propaganda," says Brian Hook. —US Department of State website/File

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration on Thursday accused a Congress-funded US broadcaster, Voice of America (VOA), of being the voice of Iran.

A press note circulated by the White House referred to an article US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook wrote for The New York Post on Wednesday, raising serious doubts about VOA’s performance. “Why are US taxpayers funding a ‘Voice of the Mullahs’ in Iran?” asked the White House note.

Hook, also senior adviser to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, wrote that he was receiving regular complaints about VOA’s Persian service. “Iranian viewers say its American taxpayer funded programming often sounds more like the ‘Voice of the mullahs’ than the ‘Voice of America’,” he added.

Hook said that addressing such complaints was a priority for the Trump administration and urged VOA to give access to independent and truthful reporting.

VOA Persian needs to do a better job of countering Iranian disinformation and propaganda. This is a priority for the Trump administration, because supporting the Iranian people includes giving them access to independent and truthful reporting,” he wrote.

Voice of America was founded in 1942 to communicate US policies to a global audience. VOA’s congressionally funded Persian News Network received more than $17 million in taxpayer funds last year.

“But VOA is failing to represent America to Iran with fact-based content that is reliable and authoritative,” Hook wrote.

Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump said he was not satisfied with VOA’s coverage of Covid-19, because it became an echo chamber for Chinese propaganda and disinformation. “The president is only the latest person to voice frustrations with VOA programming,” Hook wrote.

He also referred to a 2017 report by a US think-tank, the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), which claimed that VOA’s Persian “perpetuated … pro-regime propaganda, rather than objective reporting.”

A follow-up analysis by the AFPC in 2019 demanded “truly sweeping change” to “transform American broadcasting into an agile, streamlined, digital-first media platform.”

In 2014, a group of congressional representatives called for an investigation into VOA Persian after allegations that it deliberately papered over the regime’s brutal human rights record, Hook recalled.

He noted that one VOA employee of VOA Persian told The Wall Street Journal that the network often refuses to air criticism of Iranian regime terror unless it’s “balanced with the [Iranian] perspective.”

Hook claimed that there was also widespread mismanagement at the organisation as “VOA Persian has failed to create an open and transparent workplace.”

Urging VOA Persian to highlight human rights violations in Iran, corruption within the Iranian government and to counter Tehran’s propaganda, Hook warned: “If it can’t meet these standards — and soon — Congress should consider ending its funding and shutting down VOA Persian as a fiduciary duty to American taxpayers.”

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2020

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