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Posts Tagged ‘VoA’

Voice of America is Accused of Ignoring Government Atrocities in Ethiopia

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on May 21, 2021


JASON PATINKIN SPENT the better part of a decade as a freelance reporter, covering conflicts, extremism, and counterinsurgency in East Africa for major news outlets including the Washington Post, Reuters, and the Associated Press. He won commendations for relentless reporting under a repressive regime in South Sudan and broke stories about war crimes that provoked global outrage.

But as Patinkin watched a brutal civil war unfold in Ethiopia this winter and spring, the coverage by his most recent employer, the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America, shocked and unnerved him. Troops and paramilitaries loyal to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed were accused of killing and expelling civilians and committing gang rape, but VOA’s coverage largely favored the government, in Patinkin’s view, while ignoring its potential war crimes.

For months, Patinkin complained to senior editors about bias in the news outlet’s Ethiopia coverage. In his resignation email last month, he called out “VOA’s pro-Abiy propaganda effort,” its failure to issue corrections for “false and biased reporting,” and its airing of “pro-government propaganda while ignoring atrocities blamed on pro-government forces.” Twelve other current and former VOA service chiefs, reporters, and staffers, as well as outside experts, described violations of basic journalistic standards in VOA’s coverage of Ethiopia stretching back decades. Ethnic factions, especially in VOA’s Amharic language section, have used the news agency to push partisan agendas and settle scores, current and former VOA staff, including two former heads of the agency’s Horn of Africa service, told The Intercept.

“Since I was hired full-time at VOA about a year and a half ago, I’ve seen many incidents and decisions here that caused me great concern as a journalist,” Patinkin wrote in his April 30 resignation email, which was seen by The Intercept. “But VOA’s continued tolerance of a wartime propaganda effort is too much. I cannot in good conscience remain associated with this organization.”

Founded in 1942 with a mandate to serve as a “reliable and authoritative source of news,” Voice of America’s digital, television, and radio platforms provide news in more than 45 languages to an estimated weekly audience of more than 278 million people. With an annual budget of $252 million, the broadcaster says it is committed to “telling audiences the truth.”

The agency’s Horn of Africa service, especially VOA Amharic — which broadcasts in the language of the ethnic Amhara leaders and militias that Abiy and his government depend on — has failed to live up to that mission, the current and former VOA staffers said. “The Amharic service reaches Abiy’s political base. If the Amharic service were impartial, if it were reporting the atrocities, it would be so important,” one Africa Division reporter told The Intercept. “Instead, the American taxpayer is paying for propaganda.”

“This is a war, maybe a genocide, in Ethiopia,” the reporter said. “We have access to a lot of information — on the ground — that could be reported, but we’re hampered at every turn. It’s a matter of life or death. That’s no exaggeration whatsoever.”

We have access to a lot of information — on the ground — that could be reported, but we’re hampered at every turn. It’s a matter of life or death. That’s no exaggeration whatsoever.”

VOA declined to answer detailed questions from The Intercept and did not respond to requests to interview senior staff named in this article. “The Voice of America expects all its journalists to adhere to the principles of producing accurate, balanced and comprehensive reporting with journalistic integrity free of political interference on all broadcasting platforms and languages,” said Anna K. Morris, a Voice of America spokesperson. “Nearly 12 million people tune in to the [VOA Horn of Africa Service’s] broadcasts every week because of its impactful reporting aiming for the highest journalistic standards.”

But VOA staffers say that since Abiy dispatched troops to Ethiopia’s Tigray region last November to crush what he called a mutiny, the news agency’s longtime journalistic failings have become even more pronounced. “I never thought that I would experience this in the United States of America,” that same Africa Division reporter said. “We come from countries where we’ve never really had press freedom. To experience this in the U.S. is shocking.”

That is precisely why Patinkin felt compelled to resign after repeated complaints to his bosses, he told The Intercept.

“It’s appalling that VOA has been used to advance wartime propaganda. What VOA is doing, particularly the Horn of Africa service, is a complete abdication of the sacred duty that we have as journalists,” Patinkin said. “There may be a genocide going on in Tigray right now, so as a journalist, not to mention as a Jew — whose people have experienced genocide — there is no way that I’m going to be a part of that.”


👉 ከጥቂት ሰዓታት በፊት በላኩት ቪዲዮ ጽሑፍ ላይ፤ “እነ ግራኝ የሲ.አይ.ኤ ችግኞች ናቸው፤ የማንቹሪያን እጩዎች ናቸው።” እንዳልኩት ያው፤ የሲ.አይ.ኤ ልሳን የአሜሪካ ድምጽም ግራኝ በትግራይ እየፈጸመው ያለውን ከፍተኛ የጦር ወንጀልና ግፍ ቸል ብሎታል። አያስገርምም! እንድናውቃቸው የተደረጉትና በተለይ በዋሺንትገተን ዲሲ በቨርጂኒያ እና በሚነሶታ ያሉ እያንዳንዳቸው “ኢትዮጵያውያን” የሆኑ ሜዲያዎች/ማሕበረሰባዊ ሜዲያዎች/ዩቲውብ ቻነሎች ወዘተ በሲ.አይ.ኤ እና በባለኃብቱ ጆርጅ ሶሮስ ሞግዚትነትና ድጎማ የሚኖሩ ናቸው። አዎ! ሁላችንም የምናውቃቸው የሀበሻ ሜዲያዎች። በአዲስ አበባም ብዙ ሜዲያዎች በአሜሪካ ኤምባሲ በኩል ስልጠና የሚደረግላቸው ናቸው። ከዚህ በተጨማሪ የሐበሻን አአምሮ ለመቆጣጠርና የስሜት ሙቀታቸውንም ለመለካት በተለይ በዩቲውብ “ፓኪስታናውያን የሲ.አይ.ኤ ተለማማጅ” ዩቲውበሮች በትግራይ ላይ እየተካሄደ ያለውን የጭፍጨፋ ጦርነት አስመልክተው ብዙ “መረጃዎችን” በማቅረብ ላይ ናቸው። ሁሉም እንዴት ተናብበው እንደሚሠሩ በደምብ ከተከታተልን የሆነ ማትሪክስ ይሠራልናል።


አሁን ግን በሉሲፈራውያኑ የምትመራዋ ዓለማችን የቅጥረኛ ልጇ ዐቢይ አህመድ ጉድ እንዳይሰማባት ፀጥ ማለቱን መርጣለች። ለፀረ-ኢትዮጵያና ፀረ-ተዋሕዶ አጀንዳዎች የተመደቡት እንደ አሶሺየትድ ፕሬስ፣ የአሜሪካ ድምጽ፣ ቢቢሲ፣ የጀርመን ድምጽ የመሳሰሉት ዓለም-አቀፍ ሜዲያዎችና የዜና ወኪሎች በሃገራችን እየተካሄደ ስላለው ጂሃዳዊ ጭፍጨፋ ትንፍሽ አይሉም። በተለይ በኢትዮጵያ ቋንቋዎች ታይቶና ተሰምቶ በማይታወቅ መልክ ዲያብሎሳዊ ቅስቀሳዎችን የሚያካሂዱት ቢቢስ፣ ቪኦኤ እና ዶቼ ቬሌ ኢትዮጵያ ውስጥ ያሉ ሜዲያዎች ከማይደርሱባቸው ቦታዎች ሁሉ መረጃ የሚሏቸውን ነገሮች ለአድማጩና አንባቢው በማቅረብ ላይ ናቸው። እነ ጽዮን ግርማና ባልደረቦቿ ስለተጠለፉት እህቶቻችን ሆነ በሕዝበ ክርስቲያኑ ላይ እየተካሄደ ስላለው ጂሃድ የዓለም ዓቀፉ ማሕበረሰብ በሚገባ መልክ እንዲያውቅ ቢፈልጉ ኖሮ በአንድ ሕንፃ ውስጥ አብረው ለሚሰሩትና በእንግሊዝኛ እና በሌሎች ብዙ ቋንቋዎች 24 ሰዓት ዜና ለሚያስተላልፉት የጋዜጠኞች እና የአርትኦት ባለሙያዎች አስፈላጊውን መረጃ በሰጡ ነበር። ነገር ግን በቢቢሲ፣ ቪኦኤ እና ዶቼ ቬሌ የሚሠሩት ትውልደ ኢትዮጵያውያን ሁሉም ነፍሳቸውን የሸጡ ቅጥረኞች መሆናቸው ያሳዝናል።

THERE’S BEEN A LOT OF SPECULATION—and no small amount of hysteria—about what President Trump may do with Voice of America and its parent federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Reports in Politico and The Washington Post implied a takeover plot is afoot for Trump to mold VOA to his own purposes, as if POTUS has no other channels with which to communicate to global audiences.

Trump plans to slash State Department spending, under which VOA falls, by as much as 28 percent, which means some reductions are quite likely. But let’s make one thing clear: As federal entities, VOA and similar media do not do, and have not done, journalism for journalism’s sake. They are and always have been funded by taxpayers to support a larger agenda.

Whether that agenda is to make audiences feel good about America, as the last chairman of the BBG once put it, or to push the notion that they tell America’s story but do so by exercising press freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, it’s still an agenda.

There are many reasons to be concerned about Trump administration treatment of and attitudes toward media, and to watch closely the actions of a two-person Trump team in place at VOA. But to hold VOA and its parent agency out as journalistic paragons of virtue, as some major media have done, and assert they are no different from non-government media, ignores basic facts.

I spent about 35 years with Voice of America, serving in positions ranging from chief White House correspondent to overseas bureau chief and head of a key language division, and I can tell you that for a long time, two things have been true. First, US government-funded media have been seriously mismanaged, a reality that made them ripe for bipartisan reform efforts in Congress, climaxing late in 2016 when President Obama signed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Second, there is widespread agreement in Congress and elsewhere that, in exchange for continued funding, these government broadcasters must do more, as part of the national security apparatus, to assist efforts to combat Russian, ISIS, and al-Qaeda disinformation.

Obama’s reforms, but also various precursor measures, paved the way for VOA (and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks) to become even more closely associated with the so-called Counter Violent Extremism and counter-disinformation programs.

It’s little-remembered now, but just over two years into his presidency, in September 2011, Obama ordered an “integrated strategic counterterrorism communications initiative”—designed to get agencies including VOA’s parent agency to collaborate in combating terrorism and extremism. The order also created a Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, bringing representatives of all departments and agencies into counter-terrorism efforts, including DOD, CIA, and significantly, the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

In March 2016, another Obama order created a Global Engagement Center, which costs taxpayers about $160 million annually to counter disinformation, with initial funding from the Pentagon budget. Meantime, the Broadcasting Board of Governors is on a path to eventual elimination, to be replaced by a CEO—which would be a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate.

That structure alone makes clear that VOA and other government-funded media are most certainly not “news companies,” a description former VOA director David Ensor was fond of using (before arriving at VOA in 2010, Ensor had crossed over from mainstream roles at NPR, ABC, and CNN to heading public diplomacy programs at the US Embassy in Kabul, what many still consider to be propaganda).

A yet-to-be-formed International Broadcasting Advisory Board will include the Secretary of State advising the CEO (John Lansing, an Obama holdover, currently holds the role). Meanwhile, the aforementioned Global Engagement Center is supposed to coordinate all government efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation efforts “aimed at undermining United States national security interests.”

The Center itself is located in the Department of State: That might seem sufficient to insulate VOA behind the firewall that has allegedly immunized government-funded media from political and policy interference, but let’s take a closer look. At best, it is difficult to believe there will not be significant levels of policy-based coordination between the new advisory board, which includes Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and the broadcasting CEO. And it’s hard to envision Donald Trump wanting to tamper with the kind of inter-agency approach ordered by Barack Obama.

As for firewalls, VOA already established an Extremism Watch Desk. Its material appears prominently at the top of VOA’s website—the same VOA that a former director tried label a “news company” while in the same breath describing it as a “state broadcaster.” It’s hard to imagine there won’t be interaction between this VOA extremism unit and the Global Engagement Center, and that members of the unit will not at some point be detailed to the State Department-based Center and vice versa.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors has also been deeply involved in the development and funding of anti-Internet censorship technology, which clearly supports freedom of expression. This is also another obvious area of overlap between the broadcasters and the Global Engagement Center.

The impression often given in media reports is that programming by VOA and other government-funded media is not influenced, directed, or shaped by foreign policy objectives of any administration. This is just absurd. Among other things, the revered firewall certainly didn’t stop officials from standing up the Extremism Watch Desk.

In a tense confrontation with management in 2015, some VOA reporters protested against a day-long workshop that had been arranged by VOA officials at a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute, whose director sat on the BBG. VOA reporters demanded from their news managers “a swift and complete renunciation of the idea that VOA would engage in countering violent extremism.” They also asked why such an operation would be placed at VOA “as opposed to an intelligence agency.”

Yet, as of this writing the VOA Extremism Watch Desk remains, allowing broadcasting bureaucrats to retain their high-paying jobs and be seen as loyal warriors in countering ISIS, regardless of who is in the White House.

A few years ago, Obama adviser Ben Rhodes video-conferenced with the BBG to lament how far behind the agency had fallen in countering Russian disinformation. It’s difficult to accept the notion that there wasn’t some impact on programming from that.

Whatever Trump decides to do, remember too that taxpayers, who VOA and BBG officials assert get maximum bang for the buck from US international broadcasting programs, also expect VOA to be a key player in countering terrorist and Russian disinformation.

VOA still operates under its congressionally-approved 1976 Charter, requiring it to report accurately, objectively, and comprehensively, and reflect a range of opinions. It carries what are called “editorials” reflecting US government positions, written by a special policy office at VOA. Over the decades, VOA has succeeded, to varying degrees, at making the case that its government-paid reporters are no different than those working for commercial media.

But any notion that “whole of government” approaches can exclude participation by VOA, challenges common sense. A recent Washington Post editorial, in support of a new agency TV program that is clearly part of the counter-disinformation effort, said staffs at VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are “made up of professional journalists … [who] do not want to be US propaganda tools.”

Good for them. But the fact remains that every two weeks they accept government paychecks. And at the end of the day will be progressively more enmeshed with the national security and foreign policy objectives of the United States. Government-paid journalists can no longer pretend they are just like their friends at CBS, NBC, AP, NPR, Reuters, and others, or expect to be seen as such by those working for non-government media. That’s simply living in delusion.



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