Friday, July 15, 2016

On the detainment of BBG Chair Jeff Shell

by John F. Lansing July 15, 2016,

Lansing image from entry, with caption: Chief Executive Officer and Director. The CEO and Director oversees all aspects of U.S. international media. He provides day-to-day management of BBG’s operations, including oversight of the technical, professional, and administrative support as well as strategic guidance and management of other programs.

On Tuesday, BBG Board Chairman Jeff Shell was denied entry into Russia and detained at Moscow’s Sheremetevo Airport. Despite having a valid passport and Russian visa, he was detained in a locked room for several hours, before being accompanied by Russian security officials to board a flight to Amsterdam.

The Russian Foreign Ministry subsequently announced, falsely, that Chairman Shell was a key organizer of “anti-Russian propaganda” and was being sanctioned in retaliation to the United States’ visa sanctions against Russian citizens. They further clarified their position by emphasizing that anyone who sanctions Russia should expect “unavoidable retaliation.”

This blatant aggression is unfortunately not reserved for foreign officials and businessmen. Every day, the Russian government silences critics and tightly controls the flow of information in and around the country. Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty provide unbiased and uncensored news and information to audiences living in Russia and the Russian periphery. But they do so at great risk.

Over the last year, journalists at VOA and RFE/RL have been the subject of numerous smear campaigns orchestrated by Kremlin-supported media, and several of our reporters and contributors have been threatened and have had their homes searched.

And while Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik enjoy access to the airwaves in the United States, U.S. international broadcasters are denied licenses to broadcast in Russia.

The mission of the Broadcasting Board of Governors is clear. We have and will continue to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. I am proud of the innovative programs and services our dedicated journalists and staff have provided to the Russian public. We believe they have the right to unfettered access to information, and we will continue to report the facts and provide access to basic information.

While the incident with our Board Chair was unfortunate, it reminds us why the work we do is so important and why we will not be deterred.

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