This author sent a 13-page complaint to the Canadian public broadcaster’s ombudsman.
On September 18, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC)’s popular morning radio program, The Current, aired an interview with Iranian activist Masih Alinejad to mark the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of the Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, allegedly in police custody in Tehran. The Current’s host Matt Galloway described Alinejad as “an activist and journalist in exile in the United States since 2009” and discussed with her the protests that were sparked by Amini’s death in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yet not once in the 12-minute interview, did Galloway mention that Alinejad is on the payroll of the U.S. government and has a position with Voice of America (VOA).
Since 2013, Alinejad has received almost $1 million from the U.S. government, according to USA Spending, an official open data source of information about federal contracts, grants, and loans. Last year, she was paid $106,080 by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), an institution funded by the U.S. Congress. USAGM projects American interests through digital, television, and radio platforms around the world.
The USAGM is governed by the U.S. International Broadcasting Advisory Board. The board is comprised of the U.S. Secretary of State, current members of Congress on the two Committees on Foreign Affairs and former government officials. The Secretary of State is tasked with providing guidance on foreign policy to the USAGM news network that includes VOA, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and Middle East Broadcasting among other outlets. Alinejad works as a journalist, host and producer for VOA Persia.
As the Congressional Research Service explained in its 2016 report U.S. International Broadcasting, VOA was created in 1942 by the U.S. Office of War Information to disseminate American propaganda during World War II and expanded to counter communism generally and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. VOA continues to function today as a powerful tool of U.S. government influence. As it states on its web site, “VOA provides news, information, and cultural programming through the Internet, mobile and social media, radio, and television in more than 40 languages.” While being paid by the U.S. government, Alinejad has launched several social media campaigns #WhiteWednesdays, #MyCameraIsMyWeapon, #MyStealthyFreedom and #LetUsTalk that challenge the Islamic Republic.
Alinejad and the CBC
For the past seven years, Alinejad has been a frequent guest on CBC programs. This month, she was interviewed not only on The Current, but also The National. She has also been quoted several times in online news stories written by CBC reporters Murray Brewster, Evan Dyer, and Brennan MacDonald. Last year, Power and Politics’ host Rosemary Barton did a nine-minute televised interview with Alinejad. However, not once has the CBC disclosed to its viewers and readers that Alinejad is funded by the USAGM and works as a journalist for VOA.
Worse still, on December 20, 2022, and January 5, 2023, CBC’s The Fifth Estate aired a 45-minute profile of Alinejad called “The Dissident”. There were at least 27 CBC staff involved in the production of this episode including writer journalist Gillian Findlay, director Scott Anderson, senior producer Allya Davidson, research producer Lynette Fortune and associate producer Ivan Angelovski. Despite so many senior CBC staff working on Alinejad’s profile, The Fifth Estate did not mention her affiliation with the U.S. government.
At the beginning of “The Dissident”, Findlay described Alinejad as “the voice of the protestors in Iran” and “is the credited with inspiring the protests.” Findlay stated that “She [Alinejad] continues to travel the world to lobby politicians and everyone who would listen to help Iranians overthrow their government.” Later in the program, Findlay acknowledged that Alinejad has been accused of being “an agent of the West”. Yet, Alinejad deflected the accusation by stating that she meets with anyone who will help her in opposing the Islamic Republic.
At this crucial point of the program, Findlay and The Fifth Estate do not probe any further these claims that Alinejad may be connected to Western or Israeli intelligence services. They do not disclose Alinejad’s known ties to the U.S. government. Despite The Fifth Estate being the CBC’s premier investigative program, Alinejad’s payments from the USAGM and her position with VOA were never revealed.
Yet this information about Alinejad has been publicly available for many years. In 2020, Eli Clifton, an investigative journalist and researcher with the Washington D.C.-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, published an article online entitled “U.S. media outlets fail to disclose U.S. government ties of ‘Iranian journalist’ echoing Trump talking points.” Clifton wrote “Masih Alinejad isn’t just an Iranian journalist and activist. She’s on the U.S. government payroll and works for the increasingly ‘rabidly pro-Trump Voice of America.” He linked to the USA Spending web site and exposed the contracts that Alinejad had received.
In its interviews with Alinejad, the CBC also fails to provide the geopolitical context and the troubled history between the West/Israel and Iran. The CBC does not explain why the Iranian government is legitimately concerned about violent protests taking place in the country and the real possibility that they are being fomented by foreign governments including the U.S., United Kingdom and Israel. This has already happened inside Iran seventy years ago.
The West and regime change against Iran
In August 1953, the U.S. and UK led a coup against the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, because he nationalized the oil industry in Iran. As documentary filmmaker Taghi Amirani shows in his powerful film, Coup 53, American and British intelligence officers orchestrated the overthrow by killing people loyal to Mossadegh, paying criminals and mercenaries to instigate violent protests, and bribing senior military officers to oust the Prime Minister. Declassified CIA documents revealed that the U.S. and UK deployed agent provocateurs and “shock troops” on the streets and the BBC to falsely portray the protests as spontaneous and to spread propaganda against Mossadegh on the airways.
The U.S. and UK then installed the Shah, Mohammad Reza, as the leader of Iran. Stephen Kinzer, journalist and author of Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, explained that the Shah ruled as an oppressive dictator for more than twenty-five years giving the American and British governments political influence in the country and Western corporations access to Iranian natural resources. American and Israeli intelligence services, the CIA and Mossad, also helped the Shah establish a notoriously brutal security service, SAVAK, to repress, disappear, imprison, torture and kill dissidents.
In 1979, a people’s revolution in Iran deposed the Shah and occupied the American Embassy in Tehran. Since the revolution, the West and Israel have engaged in illegal interference in the country and have assassinated Iranians. For example, in 2020, the U.S. killed General Qasem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in a drone strike. In 2021, Israel assassinated an Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. None of this history is included as background to the CBC interviews with Alinejad or any of the stories about the protests today in Iran.
As well, a search on the CBC News web site shows that there has not been any programming to mark the 70th anniversary of this tragic coup against Mossadegh and the crushing of Iranian democracy. The US-UK coup against Mossadegh in 1953 set in motion subsequent Western-backed regime operations against democratically-elected governments in Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, Panama in 1989, Haiti in 2004 and Ukraine in 2014 among other countries.
During her CBC interviews, Alinejad has consistently called for regime change against the Islamic Republic. On The Current, she declared “We are here to end the gender apartheid regime” and “we will get rid of this barbaric regime which became a threat not only to Iranians, to people in the region, to Europe, to democracy.” Alinejad’s views amplify the U.S. State Department’s “maximum pressure” campaign that includes punishing sanctions against the Iranian state. In 2018, Pompeo established the U.S. Iran Action Group led by State Department official Brian Hook to increase economic and political pressure against Iran. Concerns were raised that this new group was leading a regime change operation against Iran.
A year later, in 2019, Pompeo posted a photo of him standing with Alinejad in his office at the State Department. In his accompanying statement with the photo, the Secretary of State thanked Alinejad for “her bravery and defending human rights in Iran.” Pompeo did not mention that she is funded by the USAGM to which he advises. That April, he told an audience at Texas A&M University, “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses.”
The CBC never considers what is likely behind Alinejad’s and the U.S. government’s calls for ending the Islamic Republic. An honest assessment of the record of American foreign policy towards Iran shows that the U.S. is concerned about maintaining its power and access to resources in the region. Iran is situated in the heart of the Middle East bordering seven countries and long coastal borders on the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf where most the world’s oil is shipped. More significantly, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration acknowledges, Iran holds “some of the world’s largest deposits of proven oil and natural gas reserves, ranking as the world’s third-largest oil and second-largest natural gas reserve holder.” Iran and Russia have recently signed multi-billion-dollar energy and trade contracts strengthening ties between the two countries. The U.S. and its allies including Canada want to end the Islamic Republic, because it is a powerful, independent country that challenges Western dominance, has immense natural resource wealth and is strategically situated in the region.
The CBC also fails to critique Canada’s aggressive foreign policies toward Iran, such as enacting illegal sanctions, suspending diplomatic relations with Tehran, and provocatively deploying the Canadian Armed Forces in countries on Iran’s border like Iraq. The CAF have been deployed to Iraq since 2015 and are training Iraqi soldiers under Operation IMPACT and NATO Mission Iraq, which is similar to CAF’s Operation UNIFIER that aggravated conflict in Ukraine.. This March, the Department of National Defence extended Operation IMPACT in Iraq until 2025, but this also exacerbates tensions with Iran.
Though it is purportedly Canada’s “most trusted news source,” the CBC is not transparent with the public about Alinejad’s affiliation with the U.S. government and partial against Iran. It also does not provide any geopolitical context about the historic tensions between the West and Iran. The CBC never has an Islamic Republic official on to give an explanation or an academic expert to provide an alternative perspective on Iran. All of this represent a serious violation of the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices (JSP). The JSP requires the CBC to uphold the values of accuracy, balance, impartiality and integrity and to serve the public interest, reflect diversity and act responsibly.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, found in its 2021 report that the USAGM did not have an adequate ‘firewall’ to prevent influence from its leadership on the news network, inhibit political meddling and ensure integrity of its journalism. Thus, there is a concern that the U.S. State Department is directly influencing VOA’s programming and Alinejad’s activism, which are hostile to Iran. What is equally concerning is that the CBC is in collusion.
A week after The Current’s interview, this author submitted a 13-page complaint to Jack Nagler, CBC Ombudsman; Brodie Fenlon, Editor in Chief and Executive Director of Programs and Standards for CBC News; and Catherine Tait, CBC President and CEO, over the public broadcaster’s consistent and purposeful concealment of Alinejad’s U.S. government funding and her VOA Persia position. Ombudsman Nagler informed them that the CBC programmers have twenty working days to respond to their complaint and answer their questions. This author awaits the CBC’s reply.
Tamara Lorincz is a PhD Candidate at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University, member of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-Canada, and fellow with the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute (my views are my own).