The choice, which got here coincidentally on the primary anniversary of the Russian invasion, follows the disclosure of an uncommon letter signed by 15 VOA employees members and addressed to managers of the group’s Russian service. The journalists sought the dismissal of Knyagnitskiy and Davydova, writing that their earlier work “contributed to the unfold of Russian propaganda narratives and disinformation,” vilified the USA and “laid the groundwork for the Kremlin to justify their full-scale invasion” of Ukraine final 12 months.
The allegation is a very explosive one at Voice of America, which was based in 1942 by the U.S. authorities to supply information and knowledge to counter propaganda from Nazi Germany. The group has advanced right into a supply of broadcast and digital information and cultural programming aimed toward folks residing in international locations whose authoritarian governments censor and management the information media.
The group has periodically defended itself in opposition to recommendations of infiltration and corruption of its reporting, together with in 2020 when its former authorities overseer, Michael Pack, stated VOA was “an important place to place a international spy.”
VOA has previously employed reporters who’ve labored for state-controlled media organizations, valuing them for his or her language abilities, cultural and historic data and journalistic expertise regardless of the censorship typically imposed on them of their former international locations. The group says it topics new workers to background investigations to vet any ties to international governments and supervises their work to make sure it meets American requirements of neutrality and objectivity.
Whereas VOA is funded by the U.S. authorities, its journalists are impartial of direct authorities management. A statutory “firewall” shields it from outdoors political affect.
Among the many 4 dozen languages by which VOA studies, the Russian service is one in every of its oldest, courting again to the earliest days of the Chilly Battle. The division has 22 full-time workers and roughly 60 contract employees and stringers.
The worker letter was written in November, however wasn’t publicly disclosed till this week when it was leaked to a Ukrainian publication, the Kyiv Post.
VOA officers haven’t defined why they took motion now, a number of months after workers raised considerations.
The principle physique of the letter doesn’t determine the 2 journalists, however an attachment cites Knyagnitskiy and Davydova by title.
In response to the letter, Knyagnitskiy, a TV host, beforehand labored for NTV and RTVI, two Russian-language information organizations. NTV is owned by the Russian state-owned gasoline company, Gazprom, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. authorities. RTVI, which has operations in New York and Moscow, is privately owned, however reportedly has been funded by Sergey Chemezov, a rich Russian industrialist who has been related to Putin for the reason that Nineteen Eighties.
“NTV is properly generally known as part of the Kremlin propaganda machine, spreading anti-American disinformation and hatred towards Ukrainians and anti-Putin Russians,” the letter says. Knyagnitskiy “repeatedly introduced a one-sided, pro-Russian narrative and, most significantly, promoted the Kremlin’s disinformation.”
The letter states that Davydova labored for Public Tv of Russia, owned by the Russian authorities, and a media firm managed by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who was indicted in absentia within the U.S. final 12 months for allegedly evading sanctions.
“I’m not a [propagandist]. And my coronary heart belongs to Ukraine,” Knyagnitskiy wrote to The Washington Put up on Friday. “That’s why I left RTVI channel a 12 months in the past. Its administration banned me from going reside with Ukrainian individuals who talked about Russian shellings and killings in my information present.”
At one level final March, he stated, his broadcast on RTVI was lower brief after he started reporting on Russian navy atrocities in Ukraine. “I thought of that administration resolution as a struggle censorship. I left the channel subsequent day,” he stated. “VOA gave me a chance to inform the reality about struggle.”
Davydova didn’t return emails searching for remark.
Talking on background Thursday, managers at VOA stood by their resolution to rent the 2 journalists. They stated they discovered no disqualifying reporting of their earlier work, or points since they started working for VOA. “The query is, are these people able to doing the job we employed them for and residing as much as our requirements for equity and objectivity of their protection? We imagine they’re,” stated one supervisor, talking on the situation of anonymity to debate inside issues.
However a VOA journalist who signed the letter to administration referred to as the hirings “a time bomb for our fame.” This worker, who spoke on the situation of anonymity to keep away from repercussions, stated the 2 journalists had been a supply of inside friction, provided that Knyagnitskiy and Davydova are working with Ukrainian workers whose households proceed to endure throughout a struggle the pair allegedly “helped promote.”
In a press release, VOA spokesman Nigel Gibbs wrote that “administration is endeavor an intensive evaluate of this problem … VOA management has hosted a number of discussions on the matter to reply [employees’] questions and considerations immediately. In the meantime, VOA Russian will proceed to make sure that the best journalistic requirements stay in place.”