A State Department investigation has found serious flaws in Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts for Iran, including charges of political bias and cronyism and a management that doesn’t understand Farsi, the language of Iran.
In a report completed last month, a copy of which was shared with The Washington Times, the department’s office of the inspector general concluded that none of the executive producers at the Persian News Network (PNN) speaks Farsi, also known as Persian, which means content is aired without high-level approval.
The Washington Times
“In part because of the language issue, managing editors report not to the executive producer of their show, but to a Persian-speaking senior executive editor,” the report said.
“This arrangement is the source of confusion and sometimes of conflict. Lacking the language of the programs they oversee, as well as a background in Iranian affairs, executive producers must rely on their managing editor to approve the shows’ content and resolve differences of opinion among staff,” it said.
Those differences often result in deep mistrust and “a perception of cronyism” among the staff, “the operation of cliques, and the hiring and rewarding of unqualified people,” which “creates ill will and can hamper the employee’s effectiveness in the workplace,” the report said.
The U.S. government has increased spending over the years – to $17 million in this year’s budget request – on broadcasting to Iran and considers it an important tool to influence Iranian public opinion about a variety of issues, from Iran’s nuclear program to abuses of human rights.
Similar concerns about PNN have been expressed by PNN employees and members of Congress in the past, but this is the first time the issue has been officially addressed by the State Department. The department has a seat on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees VOA.
Last year, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, put a hold on the nomination of James Glassman, the BBG chairman who later became undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, over PNN’s mismanagement, which Mr. Coburn said allowed anti-American content to creep into broadcasts.
The State Department inspection of PNN’s radio and television programs, which took place between October and December, also found fundamental misunderstanding by employees of PNN’s mission.
“While everyone involved with the operation is cognizant of the importance of VOA broadcasting to Iran, some of those who work in PNN appear to lack a clear understanding of the mission of PNN and the centrality of the VOA charter to their work, underscoring the need for additional training,” the report said.