op-ed

Voice Of America In Iran Propagandizes For The Ayatollahs

Iran supreme leaders Getty Images/Atta Kenare

Ziva Dahl Senior Fellow, Haym Salomon Center

Why do people in Iran call the U.S. Voice of America (VOA) the “Voice of Ayatollahs”?

Tragically, rather than promote our national interests, VOA regurgitates Iranian regime propaganda.

Millions of Iranians hunger for freedom from their repressive, theocratic regime —as evidenced by the 2009 Green Movement uprising and the recent protests in December and January.

As a totalitarian society, Tehran fears and restricts its citizens’ unfettered access to information, forcing upon them a diet of Iranian indoctrination.

VOA, through its digital, TV and radio content, is the only voice of the United States in Iran. Its stated mission is to promote freedom and democracy around the world, providing information about American society, culture, values, policies and points of view to anti-regime protestors in Iran and other totalitarian states.

President Donald Trump is requesting $661 million for FY2019 to finance our information war against America’s enemies. We’re not getting our money’s worth.

During the recent Iran protests, VOA initially failed to include the Iran story on its homepage. It delayed in transmitting videos from the protests and White House statements regarding the Iranian situation.

Shockingly, VOA’s Internet coverage headlined Iranian state media and their leaders while burying President Trump’s tweets supporting the protestors. Our “Voice” publicized Iranian government propaganda in a video slamming President Trump titled, “Rouhani Rejects Trump’s Support for Iranian Protesters.” Promoting Iranian talking points, VOA aired an Iranian report, “Iranian Official Blames ‘Foreign Agents’ for Protester Deaths,” which implied U.S. responsibility for at least 21 civilian deaths.

Using statements from Ayatollah Khamenei and Iranian President Rouhani without context or alternative views, VOA presented to Iranians their regime’s disinformation, giving their comments an American imprimatur.

Remarkably, VOA failed to publicize Ambassador Nikki Haley’s United Nations speech praising the bravery of Iranian dissidents and reciting the demands for freedom they chanted in the streets.

Former VOA broadcaster Ted Lipien commented online that, during the anti-regime uprising, the U.S. message was “Voice of America to Iranians: Government wants you to behave.”

Obama administration holdovers, VOA Director Amanda Bennett and Board CEO John Lansing both expressed pride in their organization’s performance during the upheaval.

This travesty is just the latest example of VOA bias. As if it were the truth, an April 2016 VOA headline quoted President Rouhani: “If It Weren’t for Iran’s Assistance, ISIS Would Have Captured Baghdad and Damascus.” U.S. taxpayers fund the dissemination of Iranian lies!

Freedom fighters have long complained about VOA. Asked what the U.S. could do to support political change in Iran, an exiled Iranian student leader urged VOA reform.

Congress, recognizing the dysfunction and incompetence of VOA, passed legislation in 2016 to restructure the organization. Supposedly the Trump administration has selected a replacement for the Lansing/Bennett duo — Michael Pack, former head of the Claremont Institute — but has yet to propose him for the position.

Why the delay?

We need a powerful and effective 21st-century international broadcasting organization promoting American interests and providing Iranians with both truthful information and the communications platforms and technical tools to evade censorship and surveillance.

Former VOA senior writer Dan Robinson observed:

“One thing is clear: The Donald Trump who came to power promising to drain the D.C. swamp has… not done much [regarding this] well-known quagmire.”

During the recent uprising, Trump tweeted: “…. [T]he good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, …Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most….”

Whether the Trump White House will move immediately to install new leadership to facilitate that change remains an open question. The situation demands action — action at a fraction of the cost of military intervention and action that involves no risk to American lives, no war, no advisors or troops on the ground and no killing of innocent civilians.

A Trumpian shakeup of Voice of America can happen quickly, if the president demands it.

Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.