State of Russian media & coverage of Rohingya crisis among issues discussed at BBG Board meeting

Recent threats against U.S. international media in Russia, coverage of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, and the honoring of 2017 David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award winners were some of the key topics of discussion during yesterday’s meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.

“As you know, Russian media is easily found in the U.S., and there is a reason for that—we are a free and open society,” said CEO John F. Lansing. “The same is not true for U.S.-based media, including our own media, in Russia. We are blocked completely.”

Thomas Kent, President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, updated the Board on the latest ruling by the lower house of the Russian parliament stating that media from outside the country can be labeled and treated as foreign agents.

“It’s not clear at this point what the law will mean for us—at the very least, it will involve extensive and expensive registration requirements as well as ongoing monitoring of our activities,” spoke Kent.

The bill is set to go to the upper house next week and then to President Vladimir Putin.

Radio Free Asia’s Executive Editor Bay Fang presented a look at the network’s comprehensive coverage of the crisis in Myanmar, in which hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are fleeing persecution.

“We at RFA consider it our duty to give voice to their plight as well as context to the issue. RFA is one of the few news organizations that have been able to report on the crisis from both sides of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.”

The Board also received a report on the recent Cuba Internet Freedom conference hosted by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami, Florida. During the two-day event, journalists, entrepreneurs, and human rights activists from Cuba and around the world gathered to discuss the importance of Internet access in Cuba and efforts to circumvent government censorship.

Lansing also gave an overview of the previous day’s ceremony for David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award, in which journalists from each of the five networks were honored for their courage, integrity, and professionalism. He stated, “Our 2017 Burke Award winners exemplify these characteristics while tackling issues of global importance from some of the world’s most dangerous locations. They often put their own lives, and sometimes those of their family members at risk.”

“It is incredibly inspiring to see this work,” said Chairman Kenneth Weinstein. “Especially when you see the unbelievable challenges that our men and women in the field face every day.”

A moment of silence was held at the beginning of the meeting in honor of VOA journalists who were harmed in last month’s bomb attack in Mogadishu, Somalia. VOA journalist Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle was injured and cameraman Ali Nur Siad was killed in the attack. Also killed was Ahmed Abdikarin Eyow, a prominent Somali community leader in Minneapolis who was instrumental in the VOA Somali Town Hall held last year.

Weinstein also commented on the arrest of two former RFA journalists in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, “These arrests are further evidence of a regime hell-bent on crushing free press and free speech. The message from Hun Sen is clear: the mere suspicion of providing news can be construed as espionage.”

The Board also welcomed Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Susan Stevenson, as well as new BBG Chief of Staff Matthew Walsh and BBG Chief Strategy Officer Haroon Ullah.

After the meeting, the agency released its annual Performance and Accountability Report, which measures audience estimates as well as U.S. international media’s impact using quantitative, qualitative, digital, and anecdotal data on a wide range of factors, including program quality and credibility, engagement with the news process, and audience understanding of current events.

“This year’s report underscores the importance of balanced, impartial news in media markets that are increasingly dominated by disinformation,” said Ullah. “We are having tremendous impact around the world as people continue to turn to BBG networks for fair, accurate, fact-based reporting.”

To learn more about the BBG’s performance measures, the Fiscal Year 2017 Performance and Accountability Report is available online.