At a standing-room-only meeting Wednesday, the leadership of Voice of America (VOA) announced major changes in the way the Persian News Network of VOA goes about the business of reporting the news to Iranians. It’s about time.
Complaints about the network have been flooding Capitol Hill from the Iranian exile community for several years now. One such compliant was that the executive leadership of the service neither spoke nor understood Persian and did not have any understanding of Iranian politics. In March of last year, a letter from Representative Trent Franks (R–AZ) to President Obama (co-signed by 69 other Congressmen) complained about the network’s lack of oversight, staffing, mission, and content. It “may have harmed the plight of those seeking human rights, rather than helped it,” the Congressman wrote.
As a consequence, the network’s director, Alex Belida, was removed in May of last year, and since then a review has been in the works. (The wheels of government spin very slowly.)
According to sources, the structure will be changed from the current system of English-language executive producers paired with a Persian-language editor for each show. Instead the network will have just two executive editors, who will also double up as editors of the shows. Whether this streamlining makes sense will certainly depend on whether the individuals in charge have the right language skills and understanding of the needs of the audience they are serving.
The new leadership also needs to have respect for the mission of VOA, which includes not just broadcasting the news but also promoting democracy—a function derided and downplayed by the previous leadership.
Democratic change and liberty for the Iranian people is a high priority for the United States. Hopefully a step forward has been taken at VOA. Whether or not that has happened will depend on further details to emerge about the reorganization. Rest assured, though, that it will be followed with breathless interest by both Iranians here in the United States and in Tehran.