When Voice of America appointed career foreign service officer Ramin Asgard to be the director of its Persian service, some officials raised concerns about the direction in which he would take this important institution. At the Enterprise blog, Trey Hicks raised three concerns: First, emails released as part of a court process initiated by Trita Parsi show that, as a diplomat stationed at the Iran Regional Presence Office, Asgard proposed a scheme to support the anti-sanctions lobby group National Iranian American Council in which NIAC would handpick interns for the State Department office. Second, Asgard wrote an essay professing moral equivalence between the United States and the Islamic Republic for the lack of sustained dialogue. Finally, while conversant, Asgard lacked the Persian fluency for which the job description calls.
Speaking privately, several officials said that the blog entry gave Asgard too little credit, because his Persian was superior and that he was a consummate professional.
How disappointing it was, then, to read this entry on Voice of America Persian’s website (a very rough Google translation is here). The entry—about the Obama decision to grant Iranians multiple entry visas, is something I wrote about here at Contentions. The VOA report, however, reads like a press release for NIAC and ignores many other Iranian American groups involved in this initiative. The author Masud Alami quotes me as if he talked to me. Sadly, I never spoke with him. He simply quoted portion of a blog entry many months old.
Alami castigates “neocons” (the same neoconservatives who stood up for human rights in Iran before 2009, at a time when NIAC officers were still dining with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) without understanding that, outside conspiracy theories, neoconservatism prioritizes robust defense with promotion of democracy and human rights. Alami then argues that those who stand up for parity and two-way dialogue are motivated by a desire to make life tough for Iranians, an uncharitable fiction and editorial comment that does not belong in a news article.
As the Iranian government continues to crack down on the media in Iran, it’s essential that Voice of America step up to the plate to broadcast the sort of news which Iranian journalists would not be free to broadcast. Alas, it seems either that Asgard is asleep at the switch or hopelessly political. Either way, he does the entire Voice of America franchise a disservice which, hopefully, if he truly is a consummate professional, he will rectify soon.