Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty accused of broadcasts favoring Tajikistan regime.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media—ever-sensitive to charges that its news outlets publish propaganda—has rebutted a recent Wall Street Journal story reporting complaints by the State Department about broadcasts that appear to favor an authoritarian leader in Central Asia.
An April 25 story by reporter Jessica Donati described new scrutiny of the agency’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news service following complaints by State Department officials, network employees and academics that some coverage was slanted toward Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon; his government; and his family.
State’s inspector general has been asked by both agencies to examine the issue, the State Department officials having sent the media agency a six-page complaint.
The news story focused on several “contracts between the Tajikistan network, called Radio Ozodi, and a broadcast company controlled by a relative of Mr. Rahmon” which may be linked to “corruption and fraud,” the Journal reported. “The contracts were intended to deliver U.S.-backed programming to a wider audience.”
An example of the questionable coverage was an article from December in the Tajik language about youth in the capital city of Dushanbe “asking their barbers to style their hair like that of Mr. Rahmon’s oldest son, Rustam Emomali, his political heir, who is the city’s mayor. It quoted a student explaining that many consider the son 'a model of a young and successful leader and they are trying to imitate him in everything,' ” the Journal said.
In another broadcast, from January, the Tajik service reported a survey by the police force concluding that 81% of the population approved of the force, whose officers have been criticized for their handling of dissidents and detainees.
Asked by Government Executive for a response, an Agency for Global Media spokesman referred to a letter submitted to the Journal from Daisy Sindelar, acting president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. It said the Journal story “repeats unverified allegations and makes several errors. Most egregiously, to support its allegations, the article cites 'The State Department memo on the Tajikistan Service'—but the document in question is no such thing. It is an unsigned, undated collection of rumors and allegations that, when asked by RFE/RL, State Department officials themselves conceded they could not stand behind.”
Sindelar also challenged the State document’s references to “an affiliation” with the U.S. government and the government’s “regional messaging,” arguing that “RFE/RL is a nongovernmental organization whose editorial independence is protected by U.S. law.”
The Agency for Global Media's own review, she added, “verified that all contracts were awarded through rigorous, competitive processes. There is no direct contact between RFE/RL and its broadcast affiliates,” she said.
Sindelar acknowledged that internal and external content evaluations produced for the company over the past several weeks “did find evidence of bias in the Tajik Service’s reporting, but new leadership and renewed oversight have brought demonstrable changes,” she said, citing several recent stories on opposition groups and the government’s controversial move to raise Internet fees. “RFE/RL works in some of the world's most restrictive societies, providing news and information to audiences that need it most,” she added. “We are proud of our journalists, who work under enormous pressure, and are committed to ensuring the integrity of our journalism.”