In a letter sent to U.S. Congressmen, and obtained exclusively by Kyiv Post, 15 current employees of news outlet Voice of America (VoA) signed an open letter questioning the U.S. Government financed news agency's decision to hire Russian journalists Harry Knyagnitsky and Daria Davydova (who uses the pen name Daria Danilova).
According to the letter, Knyagnitsky was “employed by NTV, an entity fully funded by the Russian state-owned gas corporation Gazprom” noting that both Gazprom and NTV are sanctioned by the U.S. government. It added: “NTV is well known as a part of the Kremlin propaganda machine, spreading anti-American disinformation and hatred towards Ukrainians and anti-Putin Russians."
Famed Ukrainian filmmaker and human rights activist, Oleg Sentsov, who was arrested by Russian authorities in Crimea in 2014, sued NTV's Knyagnitsky in 2015, accusing him of defamatory attacks on his character while he was imprisoned.
Sentsov was eventually returned to Ukraine, despite a 20-year prison sentence, in a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia.
Knyagnitsy had bylines with Russian Reporter, which is under the management of U.S. sanctioned Oleg Deripaska, a news source known to have communicated the Kremlin's narrative regarding Ukraine to Russian speaking audiences around the globe.
The letter notes that "NTV journalists participated in the harassment of Russian political activists and even American officials, including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who complained that Russian reporters from NTV ambushed him relentlessly," and that Knyagnitsky "repeatedly presented a one-sided, pro-Russian narrative and, most importantly, promoted the Kremlin’s disinformation."
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The letter continues that Knyagnitsky used the Kremlin's preferred terms in his reporting, such as referring to the democratically-elected Ukrainian government as the "Kyiv Regime" while echoing Moscow's talking points about the illegal war against Ukraine.
Davydova, according to the letter, was active in spreading misinformation that advanced the Kremlin's political objectives, including referring to the illegal, not internationally recognized, referendum leading to Russia's annexation of Crimea, as a "legitimate referendum."
Davydova proffered an informal survey, that she herself conducted in occupied Crimea of eight local residents. Of those with whom she spoke, seven of which expressed satisfaction that Crimea was under Moscow's illegal occupation and referenced a "Nazi coup," that had earlier overthrown the pro-Moscow government of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.
The letter cites that the undersigned "cannot entrust the VoA mission to people who have worked for the Russian government and/or promoted pro-Kremlin narratives for years. That brings us concerns for our own personal reputations and the reputation of the Voice of America," and requests that VoA’s management "reconsider these hiring decisions for the sake of the VoA mission, the reputation of the Russian language service, the journalistic profession, and all efforts of the Russian Service and of the U.S. government to resist the Kremlin’s dangerous propaganda."
A VoA employee, who declined to go on record, said that the employees of VoA were "simply concerned about our reputations and that of VoA's since they decided to hire these pro-Kremlin parrots."
The employee went on to say that "it is already hard to work for the Russian language service because of the war and people's perception of the Russian language media outlets, so hiring those two is just undermining all our efforts."
VOA Spokesperson, Nigel Gibbs, told Kyiv Post in a statement: "VOA Russian management was made aware of the work of Harry Kniagnitsky and Daria Davydova. They looked at articles produced by both journalists.
"Working as a journalist in Russia can be difficult given the restrictions and threats that come from government officials. Given this context, management was satisfied that both can make a strong contribution to the VOA Russian Service and like all other VOA journalists, their work goes through the standard VOA editing processes."
Mr. Knyagnitsky and Ms. Davydova did not immediately responded to requests for comment.
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