Congress: Support Higher Level of Press Freedoms, End Propaganda | Commentary

Posted December 9, 2014 at 6:25pm

It seems that recently, U.S. media took a turn for the worse. In 2013, Reporters Without Borders noted a profound erosion of press freedom, which included a year of attacks on whistleblowers and digital journalists, and revelations about mass surveillance. The U.S. plunged 13 spots on the group’s rankings to No. 46.

Simultaneously, reports continue to surface that administration officials have gone to great lengths to control media messages. Associated Press editors have decried the president’s refusal to grant free and easy access for photographers and reporters and equated his actions as tantamount to propaganda.

It’s striking that with what the Obama administration is doing — and is only getting away with it because the media use the handout copy and photographs — that America’s closest allies are regularly maligned. In the last month, for instance, it was reported with sensation and disdain that a top U.S. official referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “chicken—-” and that U.S. ally Azerbaijan, apparently, is trying to promote its relationship with the U.S., instead of supporting radicals around the world like some others.

All this, while arch enemies — or countries that pose a risk to national security, sponsors of the murderous ISIS to the Mullahs of Iran — are given a free ride  . . .  even by state-sponsored media. The Washington Free Beacon reported that Congress was calling for an investigation into Voice of America’s Persian language news service as a result of the station’s systemic pro-Iran bias and cozy ties to the anti-American ruling regime, according to a letter sent recently to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Free Beacon wrote, “Lawmakers and Iranian dissidents have long accused VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN) of producing sympathetic coverage of the Iranian regime and blacklisting prominent Iranian opposition voices . . .  The call from Congress for an investigation into these alleged practices comes just a month after the Washington Free Beacon revealed that PNN had banned a prominent Iranian opposition member and placed him on a so-called ‘black list’ after he attacked Iran’s ruling regime for sponsoring terrorism.”

Earlier this year, I penned a piece in Roll Call about the tragedy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s bias against Azerbaijan. I asked Congress why it allows $750 million of American taxpayers’ money to fund a media outlet that is attacking our allies. That report — which found that in a one-month period RFE/RL had managed to publish 30 articles and videos about Azerbaijan (not one celebrating Azerbaijan’s accomplishments), while it ran nothing of pressure against America’s adversary, Armenia — was met with an explosion of Twitter fury.

Americans don’t want to face up to what the media has become: a propaganda machine, pandering to the special interests, superficial stereotypes, personal agendas and money, and fear of reprisal by extremist regimes.

Azerbaijan and Israel are attacked not only because attacks sell, but because they are two of the few Middle Eastern/Muslim countries with pro-Western, anti-terrorist governments and societies and therefore journalists are less afraid to come out against them. Israel is accused of war crimes for protecting itself from a daily barrage of rocket attacks and trauma, while the world is silent to Egyptian action recently taken against Gaza, a country which clearly understands the difference between Palestinian civilians and the terrorists of Hamas.

Israel and Azerbaijan take this pressure because the alternative is siding with extremism and neither country is willing to compromise their democratic, open ideals. But Congress needs to pay attention to this growing trend because good friends can only take so much bullying.

Israel and Azerbaijan — or any U.S. ally — are not without challenges and growth opportunities. Iran is a rogue regime developing nuclear weapons that could shift the world’s balance, and we are supporting a media outlet that panders to that regime. The media, with the support of Congress, needs to be bold about what is really happening on the ground. A truthful report here and there is not enough. We need to regain a top level of freedom of the press and be confident that if we tell the full truth, then truth will prevail.

Congress has an obligation to retain American freedom of the press. I hope this new Congress will see access to information as a fundamental freedom and strength. If we lose that right, I don’t want to think about what will be next  . . . 

Maayan Jaffe is former editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times and former breaking news editor at the Jerusalem Post. Currently, she serves as senior editor at Netsmart.