BBG Responds to Ted Lipien's Washington Times commentary

The following from Lynne Weil, Director of Communications and External Affairs at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, was sent to The Washington Times in response to Ted Lipien's opinion piece that appeared there February 8, 2012.

To the Editor:

The op-ed you published on the Broadcasting Board of Governors ("VOA harms Putin opposition in Russia,” Commentary, Ted Lipien, Feb. 8) cynically attempts to exploit a real, but quickly addressed, journalistic error by the Voice of America’s Russian Service in order to deliver an inaccurate, exaggerated and distorted attack on the BBG.

The Russian Service published an online interview with someone purported to be Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.  It then reported Mr. Navalny's message denying having done the interview, removed the interview, and issued a prompt apology.

VOA is taking steps to better vet its sources in today’s changing, fast-paced digital media environment.  Publication of the interview was regrettable, but hardly a reasonable basis for a broad challenge to the utility and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasting and the BBG’s oversight of it.

The commentary overlooks compelling data on our impact.  In 2011 the BBG reached record audiences: 187 million people worldwide weekly, 22 million more than the year before.  To continue to thrive within federal budgetary constraints, the agency has embarked on an ambitious, well-researched plan to make U.S. international broadcasting more effective and efficient.  Our broadcasts are and will continue to be one of the best values for the dollar in U.S. foreign policy.

The suggestion that the Board failed to recognize VOA’s 70th anniversary is false: The Board adopted and published a resolution noting the milestone at its January 13 meeting, and has been involved in plans for a major commemoration in the coming weeks.  News of the resignation of BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson was immediately shared with the staff and then posted on the agency’s website.  It is true that agency managers at VOA, IBB and BBG received bonuses, but the amounts were below government average.

The Feb. 8 commentary contained similar misstatements concerning the BBG’s restructuring plan, the leadership of its management team, a desire to emulate National Public Radio, the reasoning behind changes in the way the BBG engages with people in Russia and China, and the significance of a review of VOA Russian news.

We recommend that The Washington Times fact-check this commentary and consider issuing a correction.

Sincerely,

Lynne Weil Director of Communications and External Affairs Broadcasting Board of Governors