VOA censorship chief revealed – By Abebe Gellaw
WASHINGTON, DC - In response to a recent Addis Voice investigative report, VOA embroiled in fresh censorship row, Voice of America issued a very brief statement Thursday explaining why VOA skipped coverage of a high profile public meeting held at the Sheraton in Arlington, Virginia. The event was jointly organized by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ginbot 7 and the Alliance for Liberty Equality and Justice in Ethiopia (ALEJE).
“There are many news events going on in the Washington area and VOA cannot cover them all. That is all we will have for you on this matter,” David Borgida, VOA Director of Public Relations, said in an email. But the PR director later declined to give further clarifications and answers to follow-up questions on the matter. Contrary to VOA’s official statement, Addis Voice can reveal that the Amharic desk had assigned an experienced staff member, who attended the event, to do the report that was scheduled to be aired on Monday July 11. According to reliable sources, the decision to censor the coverage was made by the Director of Africa Division, Gwen Dillard.
Ms. Dillard has reportedly communicated to Horn of Africa staff members that VOA should give less attention to the Ethiopian Diaspora as well as issues focused on political affairs. She emailed to staff that VOA would be more focused on development related matters, a questionable line which appears to be consistent with the demands of the Meles regime.
It emerged that Ms. Dillard was asked by her bosses why the event was not covered. She informed them that no one was assigned to cover it. “What Ms. Dillard told her bosses not only contradicts the truth but also seems to be a cover-up effort on her part. The truth of the matter was that she cut out the event from VOA coverage by inserting her disparaging bias to the Ethiopian Diaspora,” said one of our sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Dillard had earlier sent out emails to Horn of Africa section staff members that practically imposed a news and opinion blackout on issues related to the David Arnold saga as well as the controversy over censorship at VOA. As a result of her orders, a lot of listeners’ call-in comments on the ongoing controversy at VOA have been filtered out, according to informed sources.
“VOA, as an independent broadcaster, cannot filter unfavorable news and opinions about its conduct and integrity. It beggars belief to suppose that VOA only reports about others but not matters closer to home,” another source added.
After Arnold was removed from his position as Horn of Africa chief, Dillard has made some questionable interventions in the affairs of the section. Dallard also refused to approve coverage of the 28th annual Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America (ESFNA) event, which was held from July 3 to July 9 in Atlanta at the world-famous Georgia Dome, the largest cable-supported domed stadium in the world. ESFNA annual festival is arguably the biggest cultural, sports and social event among the Ethiopian Diaspora.
Meanwhile, Addis Voice has also learnt that the controversial June 23rd VOA report on the visit of three Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG) and VOA delegation to Ethiopia contains no factual errors. Mr. Arnold accurately revealed that Bereket Simon, Meles Zenawi’s close confidant and Minister of Government Communication Affairs, demanded the delegation to ban a long list of dissidents and critics from VOA airwaves.
Arnold was suspended in a letter written by BBG Governor Michael Meehan, a member of the delegation that met with Ethiopian government officials last month. While the official VOA position on the report in question is that it contained unacceptable inaccuracies, it emerged that no single factual error was found in the report. “The suspension of Arnold for telling the truth was shocking. It created a sense of insecurity among his colleagues,” a source said.
The Board of Broadcasting Governors met last Thursday to look at ongoing strategic reviews and reform processes. One of the delegates to Ethiopia, Southern Sudan and Nigeria, BBG Governor Susan McCue, told the board that some progress was made in Southern Sudan and Nigeria in relation of the expansion of VOA broadcasts. McCue reported neither success nor failure during the delegation’s tense meetings with Bereket Simon, who is widely seen in Ethiopia as the archenemy of press freedom. Simon is also in charge of jamming VOA and other broadcasts to Ethiopia.
Ethiopian activists have called a rally next Monday, July 25th opposite VOA headquarters, 330 Independence Ave SW, Washington DC, to demand VOA and BBG to investigate allegations of censorship and malpractice. The protesters will also petition the US Congress, BBG and State Department to look into controversial developments related to allegations of censorship and maladministration at VOA to appease the Meles regime.
Addis Voice will publish a secret document tomorrow that contains a long list of critics and opinions blacklisted by the Meles regime.
Abebe Gellaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org