The Case of the Terminated Translator (in two and a half “acts”)


Ari Siletz
by Ari Siletz

“Act” I

Melody’s day job at Voice of America Persian News Network was to provide translation and voice-over services, reading copy already approved by the editor and occasionally giving the technical production crew a helping hand. One of her bosses, Joy Wagner, loved working with Melody and believed she was by far the best translator in the Persian Service. Ms. Wagner saw Melody as a “team player,” who “NEVER causes problems and is always cooperative and willing to help.” The perfect civil servant!

Joy Wagner was mistaken, in a way. As it turned out, Melody would be nothing but trouble to the VOA because when she went home from her job as the obliging civil servant she suddenly transformed into one of the most creative, rebellious and beloved music celebrities of the large Persian diaspora community. Melody Navab-Safavi happens to be one of the founders of the legendary Abjeez (Sisters) band.

In 2007, while the death toll from the Iraq war continued to rise, the Abjeez produced a music video (see above) that eviscerated President Geroge Bush’s claim that the war was being fought to bring democracy to the Iraqis. The timing couldn’t have been more terrible for Melody because the Abjeez video reached the eyes and ears of pro Iraq War Senator Tom Coburn just when concerns had been raised that the VOA staff were anti-American. Coburn led an attack against those responsible for the video. To complicate matters further, Congress had been asked to cough up an extra $50 million for VOA PNN broadcasts. You can’t beg for money and offend Congress at the same time. Some gesture of submissiveness had to be made. So the director of VOA at the time, Sheila Gandji called Saman Arababi, the producer of the video (and Melody’s husband at the time) into the office to explain that the management “did not want a scandal on its hands.” Arbabi was asked to resign and he refused, but Melody’s contract with VOA was cancelled.

Exit stage right.

“Act” II.

Melody sued The Broadcasting Board of Governors—which oversees VOA-- for firing her. Suddenly her “upbeat attitude, radiant smile and team spirit” which made her a “pleasure to be around,” would cease to be assets to the organization because such laudatory remarks from her supervisors as to “acumen, intelligence, thoroughness and honesty” would appear in the court documents, strengthening her case against VOA for violating her constitutional right to free speech--and presumably for wrongful termination. The individuals named in the lawsuit moved to have the case dismissed. She can’t sue us, they said, because government officials are shielded from liability for violation of a citizen’s constitutional rights. They thought that this escape route (called “qualified immunity” in legalese) would be the end of it, but the Court ruled that in this case there’s no “shield.” BBG officials had to face the Court, give evidence, and prove innocence against the charges, just like anyone else accused of wrongdoing.

Reviewing the BBG arguments, it looks like their lawyers had been counting on the case being dismissed on the “qualified immunity” claim so that their clients would never have to face the judge. You can tell because these lawyers present a case that deserves disbarment for lack of preparedness.  For example, in a seemingly desperate snatch at any defense, they claimed that the newsroom shown in the Abjeez video “spoofed” the VOA by “exactly duplicating Studio 50 of the Persian News Network, thereby creating the appearance that portions of the video were shot at a Voice of America studio.” The dry manner in which the Court rejects the notion reminded me of how the straight man in a comedy routine creates humor out of a ridiculous statement by the funny man: “The Court observes no similarity between the two studios that cannot be attributed to their common resemblance to a generic modern television news room. For example a monitor in the background…”

This left the BBG no choice but to engage in mediation with Meldoy Navab-Safavi.

Exit stage left.

“Act” II.5

Four years later, Melody is back at her job at VOA. I haven't found any public records of the agreement she reached with her employers, but based on the merits of each party’s statements, I suspect justice was served and Melody was compensated for the ordeal.

Here’s an observation and a caution.

Observation: while American soldiers fought on the Iraqi battlefield to bring a make-believe democracy to Iraq, this spirited artist fought in the American courts to preserve real democracy in America.

Caution: Melody was lucky in that her firing was mishandled from a legal point of view. It is unlikely that VOA would repeat the mistake. There are clever ways to get rid of an employee where the laws of our democracy can’t help her/him no matter how unfair the employer. In these strained times between the U.S. and Iran the simplest course of action for a VOA PNN employee is to ask herself honestly if her views are broadly in line with the policies of the United States. If you don’t know what that is, just work backwards from what the U.S. actually does. And if you don’t like what you see, do yourself and VOA a favor and get a different job.  Keep in mind that government agencies aren’t like private companies where you can work your way up from the mailroom to become CEO and change what you don’t like. To have more than one vote's worth of say in U.S. policy you have to become an elected official, or chip in to help elect one that thinks like you...or make hit CD albums.


Note: The information in this writing was collected from public records, with no contact with current or past VOA employees.


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more from Ari Siletz

Excellent Job

by divaneh on

Thanks Ari for your excellent research and hard work. Unfortunately political organisations such as VOA (it's not purely journalistic) are there to serve the needs of the politicians.

RonPaul Iranian Fan

Hooshang Tarreh-Gol, Ari

by RonPaul Iranian Fan on

Hooshang Tarreh-Gol,

Ari Siletz's blog about Melody versus VOA is not directly about libertarianism versus liberal and centrist conspiracies, and I hesitate to reply to your negative and false assessment of Ron Paul and libertarianism in this space, but I would like to take the liberty to offer just a few words on the subject. I accept that in the final analysis, no political position is actually tenable from a purely ethical perspective, and that there are various paths to attaining the social justice you are referring to. I agree that the attainment of social justice is a critical goal of the political process. What we mean exactly by social justice is however a matter of debate and considerable disagreement. But whatever set of social conditions one associates with social justice, it is patently clear that it does not prevail in the United States today. There is no more clear an indicator of this fact than the growing OWS movement. We therefore as people responsible for our citizenship in a democracy, must consider every political alternative and do so with exactness, and sift facts from fiction, rhetoric from real substance. So let me ask you a question. How can there be social justice in a country that is run by essentially a private bank? The answer to this question cannot be understood in passing observation, and requires some plowing, but if the work is done, it can be seen that central banking and fiat currency are at the very heart of many of the social and economic problems the US faces today. This has occurred, not because a sound prescription for avoiding the terrible maladies and injustices the country suffers does not exist, but because the prescription has to actually be observed and strictly so.   


Ron Paul took donations from KKK in his earlier campaigns

by Hooshang Tarreh-Gol on

His "Libertarian" position in most social justice issues are even worse than Gingrich. Zero credibility on most issues. Only because he has a sane stance about not starting another war like Iraq War should not make anyone forget about his other horrendous positions. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Just in case you think I'm exaggerating about him, look at his ad. You be the judge.   Ron Paul for President 2012 Ad


RonPaul Iranian Fan

Indefinite Detention Practice Kits

by RonPaul Iranian Fan on

I suspect that hundreds of thousands if not millions will be detained before Chomsky, and that the gulags will be beyond capacity. This is why I am proposing that people everywhere, but especially minorities in the US begin to prepare for indefinite detention by using Indefinite Detention Practice Kits on a daily basis. Think of them as essential vitamins for dissenters. There are several kits to choose from and all of them come with orange jumpsuits. One allows the user to be shackled by the wrists and ankles inside a closet while a cd shouts racist profanities in the background mixed with aggressive barks of a German Shepherd at close range. The schackles come with a timer that allows the user to gradually increase the amount of time it takes for the shackles to release. Once the user is shackled, no one can release him/her manually. The timer maxes out at ten years after which it can be reset for as long as needed. Another kit allows the user to strap himself to a horizontal board and comes with a water tank that uses gravity to gush water on the user's face for minutes at a time until he/she is well beyond suffocation. Did I mention the Waterboarding Kit also comes with a brown burlap bag? There are many kits to choose from, inlcuding one that prepares you for writing a killer confession of an essay. The Confession Kit comes with beautiful parchment paper and a Bic pen. All kits can be used in the convenience of your home. Apply them to yourself or to your spouse, kids, neighbors, or passersby. This Christmas season give the gift of prepardeness. Purcahse your indefinite detention practice kit today, before you are indefinitely detained unprepared.       


maziar 58

Ron Paul...

by maziar 58 on

IMHO the act will eventually will lead to the down fall of another great nation USA that is.

win some  lose some will be 'name of the game' and in end our

 first ammendment will vanish,fourth and fifth to follow and there be no foriegn intervntion to rid us all of the 'NEW WORLD ORDER'.

Thanks Ari for the great blog.


Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

I wish I could disagree, but evidence is in your favor.

Still there is some room for hope insofar as the intention of NDAA 2012 may really be to prevent terrorism--even though much of the threat is in reaction to  U.S. policy. Keeping history in mind though, the time to really start worrying is when influential critics are detained as dissidents.

For example, if Noam Chomsky disappears, it's time to pack. To Homeland Security: "pack" as in Samsonite, not Smith and Wesson).

RonPaul Iranian Fan

The NDA Act Of 2012 , Title X, Subtitle D, SEC 1031

by RonPaul Iranian Fan on

Based on the provisions of The National Defense Autorization Act of 2012 just passed by both Houses of US Congress, The US military can now detain anyone indefinitely, even an alien resident or a naturalized citizen of the United States, if such a person is deemed to be a threat to US national security. At a time of war, say against Iran, any American could be considered as posing a threat to US national security by merely expressing opposition to war on Iran.   

Therefore, based on the NDAA of 2012, the US military can now detain someone like Melody based on her dissenting opinion against war as expressed by her music video. At a time of war her music video could be construed as aiding and abetting the enemy, and her detention does not have to be explained, nor is anyone going to hear from her ever again, until hostilities end, or when John McCain or lindsey Graham say it is ok for her to be heard from.  

I am not comforted at all that Melody's music video got her a court settlement and would have landed her in prison if she had aimed it at Iranian authorities while living in Iran, because we are witnessing before our very eyes, a historical retreat on the part of the United States against the defining principles of it's greatness, and the reason why so many people from all over the world call her home. Lawmakers in the United States it appears are just at ease with tyranny and as intolerant of liberty as the worst offenders of the IRI. Rest assured that in the decades ahead, Iran is not going to become more the United States, but the United States will look more and more like the IRI.       

Multiple Personality Disorder

Excellent blog!

by Multiple Personality Disorder on



Excellent job Ari, for bringing some decency to the "Blogs" section of this otherwise mainly disappointing section of this splendid website.  Keep up the good work.  Your blog is a product of hard work, research, and care for the community.  God knows how long you spent trying to gather the information and present it here in a manner suitable for the average Internet reader, me being one of them.  The writing is excellent.  I learned three new words, which I am sure I'll forget them pretty soon, but before I do; you are very acumen, I hope no would ever eviscerate you, and... , well enough laudatory.

And, congratulation to Melody for winning her case against VOA.  I always knew she was an intelligence woman.    

Tiger Lily


by Tiger Lily on




Cheer up Lily!

by Faramarz on

Santa is coming and will bring you stuff if you have been good!

Make sure to hang your socks!

Tiger Lily

Perffperizzzmiizzzi, pffftidi!

by Tiger Lily on


If anyone enters the world of illiterate Faustian pacts, no moral relativism is of any saviour. I don't even know this woman and still no nothing about her, so nothing of personal anything on her,  but, enter the world of the devil, well, that's what happens and not only that, by people entering these worlds, the rest of us have to suffer their crap till the end of our days as a domino of consequences. From crap cultcrap TV to war propaganda to food price speculations to whatever.

It's illiteracy.

There is no excuse.

"Employment at will" indeed. Well said. 


اخ که چقدر خر تو خره... دادا تو هم ول کن دنیا که کربلا هستش








Employment at Will

by Faramarz on

Thanks for the report Ari.

This stuff happens in Corporate America everyday and if you are lucky you get a decent package and life goes on.

I am glad that she was able to get justice in the American justice system. In most places in the world, she would have been tried for treason. 

Tiger Lily

the usual Iranian illiteracy hovering around an imbued

by Tiger Lily on

 buzz off beehive.



اخ که چقدر خر تو خره... دادا تو هم ول کن دنیا که کربلا هستش






Ari, you have an imagination

by Hooshang Tarreh-Gol on

all your own. Job well done. Wonder how Melody feels about your blog?Exeunt.


Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on


Anahid Hojjati

Melody was also lucky

by Anahid Hojjati on

that she was working for us government not iran's government. if a seda and sima employee did such a thing, as a minimum, she would be in jail. we in the us may not have perfect democracy but we sure have it better than those under iri.


Once again, Ari is our best Journalist

by bahmani on

Congratulations on using research, facts, and an unobjectionable objective view in helping clear up rumors and mis-feeds that have unfortunately clogged our collective psyche like bacon fat in the colon of a West Virginian.

Now, please, can you clear up this other rumor that keeps some people up all night trying to figure out how Blogger works:

Trita Parsi; A good man who's simply misunderstood and a myth that has been blown completely out of proportion? Or, the other things he's accused of (too many to list)

Thanks again, Love You Baby! (No, YOU!)

To read more bahmani posts visit: //


Awesome reenactment of the accounts that took place in VOA...

by Bavafa on

While VOA broadcast the type of news and program that sounds like music to our ears, anti-IRI type melody, I believe their mission is vastly different than advertised.

  Just as US military is an instrument to follow and execute the polices made in Washington, VOA is no different only they use soft arm as oppose to bombs and tanks.


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory