During the past several months, I have criticized Voice of America’s Persian Service which, even at the best of times, has been aimless and ill managed. Rather than unite around a particular mission—for example, voicing the news which Iranian journalists are unable to because of censorship and oppression—VOA- Persian’s management has allowed its staff to become partisan in the American context. Its head, Ramin Asgard, appears to have adopted the State Department’s goal of promoting diplomacy with Tehran, without concern for its place in a broader, comprehensive strategy. In recent weeks, the service has been in free-fall with firings, lawsuits, and figurative knife fights among factions. It is never a good thing for American broadcast strategy when, having lost sight of the forest through the trees and having no sense of mission, employees leak the latest gossip to the Islamic Republic’s state press.
Alas, in speaking to others working for American broadcasting overseas, it appears others have taken notice of VOA-Persian’s weakness and may indeed be hastening its demise.
Unable to maintain ratings among Iranians inside Iran, a merger between VOA and the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) may be in the works, with VOA-Persian ultimately being closed down in Washington, and folding its operations completely into the RFE/RL. If that’s the case, fine: The duplication of efforts was a drain on limited budgets. A reorganized and rejuvenated Persian service might provide hope, wherever it is based, so long as it has a clear mission and operates as part of a coherent American strategy. Nevertheless, rather than setting VOA- Persian and Asgard up to fail in order to enable a back-door reorganization, the Obama administration and Broadcasting Board of Governors should be upfront and proactive: The damage VOA-Persian’s death throes can cause in the interim are simply too great.