VOA boss bans note-taking at staff meeting By Abebe Gellaw

July 22nd, 2011 Print Print Email Email

The controversy over censorship and maladministration at the Voice of America (VOA) took a bizarre twist yesterday as the Director of Africa Division, Gwen Dillard, forbid staffers from taking notes at a meeting she held with employees at VOA Horn of Africa section, reliable sources told Addis Voice.

Ms. Dillard, who was said to be visibly nervous during the meeting, told a roomful of journalists and support staffers that she decided to take the measure as she “was quoted verbatim” in an Addis Voice investigative report, VOA censorship chief revealed. The story alleges that Ms. Dillard has emerged to be in charge of censoring the VOA Horn of Africa Section including the popular Amharic service.

The Africa Division Director warned staff members that leaking information on the internal matters of VOA again would have serious consequences. After Addis Voice named Dillard “VOA censorship chief” based on facts, she launched her own inquiry into the leaking of her censorship orders to staff members.

Leaking information to journalists is as old as journalism itself and is lawful in countries like the United States unless the information is state secret that jeopardizes national security. Alemayehu Gebremariam, a constitutional law attorney and professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, noted that the Whistleblower Protection Act prohibits retaliation against a federal employee for disclosing illegal or potentially illegal conduct.

“It was for the first time in my entire life that I attended a meeting where taking notes was forbidden. VOA is becoming a little police state. After so many years as a journalist, I felt like a kid being taken care of by a super-nanny,” said one of our sources. The source felt that Dillard went too far to the extent of infringing upon the basic rights of federal government employees.

“Some of us are proud of the freedom we enjoy as American citizens. I find the whole situation disturbing,” another source added.

The meeting that took close to an hour was mainly focused on the content of the Amharic service. Dillard told staff to do more people-focused programming and should cut down the number of issues and stories that focus on political affairs. But some staff members pointed out that in a country like Ethiopia, where people live under a repressive government, politics pervades all aspects of national life. Some others also raised the fact that the greater portion of VOA Amharic programs is nonpolitical and tried to convince Gillard that coverage on politics should continue.

Dillard said that VOA would like to focus more on nonpolitical matters and gave some instances. According to her, programs and reporting focused on education, health and development would be more beneficial to listeners. As an example, she said that a schoolgirl must have a chance to talk about her interests and future aspirations. Dillard also said that training would be made available to help journalists produce such people-focused programs and stories.

Dillard noted that such an approach to VOA coverage was not new and had already been communicated to former Horn of Africa Chief, David Arnold, who was controversially suspended after he exposed the demands of the Meles regime to banish a list of vocal critics from VOA airwaves. Despite the fact that Arnold has been reinstated at VOA, he has been transferred to the English section. Dillard said at the meeting that a new Horn of Africa chief would start work within eight days. The new chief will be “very interesting”, she informed staffers.

“The main problem with our bosses is that they do not still get it why VOA is a trusted broadcaster in Ethiopia. They have ignored the fact that the popularity of the station is due to the fact that we broadcast uncensored news and views to a nation that has long been silenced by authoritarian rulers,” said the sources.

“If VOA decides to go down the drain to join the propaganda outlets of the Ethiopian government by censoring news and opinions, I do not think that people would be interested in its broadcasts. I am deeply concerned over this direction that can make VOA irrelevant to most Ethiopians,” the source added.

From June 21 to 28, three Broadcasting Board of Governors and four senior VOA staff members, including Arnold, visited Ethiopia, Southern Sudan and Nigeria. Though it was reported that the delegation discussed matters related to the jamming of VOA transmissions to Ethiopia, the greatest threat especially to VOA Amharic is internal censorship and information filtering. VOA Horn of Africa service has faced one of its worst crises after the suspension of David Arnold for telling the truth accurately and the deletion of news files that contained no factual errors.

One of the orders given by Dillard to the Horn of Africa section is not to broadcast any listeners’ comment on the current controversy rocking VOA. On Monday July 18, one out of hundreds of comments on the issue was aired. Addis Voice has later been informed that the July 18 audio file was deleted from VOA Amharic webpage as bosses have appeared to be too nervous to take criticisms and allegations against questionable conducts at the station that are contrary to the missions of VOA.

Ethiopian journalist Sisay Agena says he was shocked and disappointed to see the Voice of America gaining bad experience from oppressive regimes. “It is sad to know that Ethiopians are being censored by their own government as well the Voice of America, a broadcaster which had the trust of the people of Ethiopia for providing uncensored news and opinion,” he noted.

Meanwhile, VOA has refused to answer some questions posed by Addis Voice in relation to the censorship scandal that has ruffled feathers up to the offices of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which is an agency of the US government that oversees its civilian international broadcasting, including the VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio and TV Martí. The declared mission of BBG is: “To promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multimedia communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information, and other programming about America and the world to audiences overseas.”

On Monday, July 18, Addis Voice, emailed a few questions to VOA Public Relations Department. Initially we were told that the Acting Director and Executive Editor, Mr. Steve Redisch, should approve the replies. Despite the fact that we have repeatedly called the PR office to get a reply the consistent answer we have received is a short sentence: “We do not have an answer today!” Our repeated efforts to speak to VOA PR Director, Mr. David Borgida, have not materialized.

Addis Voice hopes that VOA will soon provide honest answers to the following questions waiting for answers.
———
from AV Editor editor@addisvoice.com
sender time Sent at 14:41 (GMT-04:00). Current time there: 12:58. ✆
to David Borgida
cc xxxxxx@bbg.gov,
xxxxxx@bbg.gov,
Bruce Sherman ,
Letitia King ,
xxxxxking@voanews.com
date 18 July 2011 14:41
subject VOA censorship row

)
Dear Mr. David Borgida,
First of all, I would like to thank you for your cooperation despite the fact that the information I have been getting from VOA lacks details.
As a follow-up to a story I published today, VOA censorship chief revealed , I would like to pose a few more questions.

1. Addis Voice has learned that Ms. Gwen Dillard, VAO Director of Africa Division, has told Horn of Africa staff members that VOA will give less attention to the Diaspora and political matters. Is this a position consistent with VOA policies? Has there been any shift in the editorial policy of VOA?

2. VOA did not cover the Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America (ESFNA) festival held in Atlanta, July 3-July 9. Why did VOA decide not to cover the event, which is the biggest annual cultural and sports festival among Ethiopians in the Diaspora?

3. We have also confirmed that VOA is not airing comments about current developments at VOA related to allegations of censorship and malpractice. Why is that?

4. Mr. David Arnold has been reinstated after he was suspended. But we have now confirmed that his statements in the June 23rd report contained no factual inaccuracies. So what was the ground for his suspension? After he was reinstated, he was told that he would no longer serve as the Horn of Africa chief. What was the basis for this decision?

5. VOA has been investigating allegations made by the Ethiopian government. Much of the allegation is focused on the opinion of its critics. Was the investigation proper given the fact it was based on opinions, not factual errors?

6. Addis Voice has been publishing investigative reports on VOA. What are your reactions on the stories published so far? Are there any factual inaccuracies? If yes, could you please identify them and give the correct version of facts or events?

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards
Abebe Gellaw
Editor/ Addisvoice.com

A note to readers:
On July 21, Ethiopian Review website had published a “correction and apology” regarding my story, VOA censorship chief revealed. I complained to the editor, Mr. Elias Kifle, that I issued neither a correction nor an apology to Ms. Gwen Dillard. Elias admitted the mistake and removed the correction promptly. I am glad that the issue was resolved amicably.
Addis Voice’s makes sure that its reporting is 100 percent accurate. If we need to make any corrections or apologies, it must be noted we will do so as a matter of urgency.

  1. amazing
    | #1

    The next step is to tell the American public the involvement of VOA bosses with dictatorship. I am sure Meles regime is using America to its survival. He is probalby telling them, Ethiopia will be unstable if they continue to allow the diaspora tarnish the dictator’s name and America is actually following dictators. Perhaps they are cutting deal. Glad the

  2. kentu
    | #2

    smokeless factory got weyane government by one stone kill to birds reason creating border despute and make no peace and war. two advantage s1;weaking shaibia government 2-by expense of ethiopian tax money pay 100000 thousand tigray milicia every month salary so it is a great idea free money if contunues like that maybe tigray is going to be paris.

  3. abbabu
    | #3

    This is turning out to be a sad saga. Perhaps it is also a good lesson. We need an outlet that is really free, not a propaganda arm of some government. We have to remember that VOA was set up to support the US war effort during the Second World War. So, whoever was expecting “balanced and accurate” reporting from this station was only living in a dream.

    Stop dreaming: let us make sure ESAT survives the attacks of Melles and his gang and truly presents itself as a voice of the Ethiopian people. It might even be the model of media environment we want to create after the fall of the cleptocratic tribalist mafia

  4. Tekle
    | #4

    Why are there groups, individuals or countries hate the way Americans behave in maters of basic human rights. Why was Abbu-Gareb prison, under the absolute command of USA, tortured and humlated Iraqis? They inavaded Iraq to spread the practice of democracy and end up perpetuating the worst human right violation on earth. The good thing about USA is that those individuals who acts against the their own law will be accounted one day. It may take few months or years for the ‘censoring lady’ to be accounted for her action. I invite all readers of this article to go ahead and read Al Gores’s ‘The ASSAULT ON REASON’.

  5. Tumsa Dorkii
    | #5

    What the new cop in town will tell you is this: If you want a radio station where you can air your opinion, you should get your own or go back to Africa. You had come here and taken all the opportunities that belong to ‘my people’. In the meanwhile, please don’t disturb; I am in the middle of a love affair with my boy Meles. Buzz off!!!!

    Folks, what we should is write to our representatives in the congress and our beloved lawyers should lodge a complaint with the State Department. Or better yet, take the case to court. This is a free country wherein citizens and residents are free to express their opinion and are guaranteed by the constitution with such rights.

    I think Mr. Borgida may be enjoying this squabble between Addis Voice and Dillard. He is using her as muscle against her own likes. I bet you he is giggling and cracking up behind a closed door. Alone. And he may never answer Addis Voice’s allegations. Why should he? The game just started. And she is telling us all to go back to Africa.

  6. Gary
    | #6

    Reporters and staff shouldn’t be permitted to take notes. In our devolved and dying democracy, these people are hired to rubber stamp the views of the powers that be. (LOL)

    Want fair and balanced? Try Aljazeera. If you want unbiased journalism on the VOA, contact President Obama and ask him to appoint me to replace Dillard as African Division Director. True, I have no qualifications or experience, but at least I’m not burdened by prevailing biases.

  7. qualebicha
    | #7

    Yes,Yes;Zinawi and Ms.Dillard eyed each other for several seconds and Ms.Dillard fell in the hands of Zinawi and she has now transformed into the deadly weapon of Zinawi.Ethiopinas,there is a lot of work to be done.Ms.Dillard,mind your life and career with your gurdian billinaire, Zinawi,leave Ethiopians alone,don’t mess up with the lives of Ethiopians;you are not a proffessional and can not be trusted.That is it.

    We dug up the fact about Ms.Dillard.Ms.Dillard was tinged with venomous mouth of Barakat Simon and began to behave weird and bizzar.There is no gurantee that Ms.Dillard can retain her sense of judgment.Ethiopians,Ms.Dillard certainly is not fit for the position she holds as director of the African division. We demand the resignation of Ms.Dillard as soon as possible.

  8. DRAMA
    | #8

    HERE WE GO AGAIN. DO SOME CAUCASIANS OR EVEN SOME AFRICAN AMERICANS OF TODAY THINK WE ARE STUPID? DEVELOPMENT OVER OUR PERSONAL AND COLLECTIVE FREEDOM? NICE LINE! NOT. CHECK OUT DILLARD’S DOUBLE STANDARD. SHE SAYS
    “Dillard said that VOA would like to focus more on nonpolitical matters and gave some instances.”
    WHAT DOES THIS INDIRECTLY TELL US PEOPLE? DOES IT SIMPLY MEAN THAT THE US GOV. HAS A CROOKED PLAN WHEN IT COMES TO POLITICS IN THE HORN OF AFRICA (MAILNY ETHIOPIA) AND THE GOV. WOULD CHOOSE THE VOA NOT TO EXPOSE THE US. STAND AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF ETHIOPIA’S NEEDS? MAYBE WE SHOULD BE STUPID ENOUGH AND CONCENTRATE ON THEIR HOLINESS IN HOW THEY ARE HELPING ETHIOPIA DEVELOP BY SHUTTING THE HALE UP, WHILE THEY ARE PLANNING TO ROB OUR RESOURCES; TYPICAL CROOKED COLONIALIST VIEW.
    BOB MARLEY ONCE SANG IN HIS SONG ” I KNOW”,
    THE RICH MAN’S WAY IS IN HIS CITY,
    THE RIGHTEOUS WAS IS IN HIS HOLINESS.
    SO STIFF NECKED FOOLS,
    YOU THINK YOU ARE COOL,
    TO DENY ME, MY SIMPLICIY.
    THIS IS IT: THE US GOV. POLICY AT THIS TIME IS NO DIFFERENT THAN THOSE COLONIAL EUROPEANS THAT HAVE BEEN RIPPING BLACK PEOPLE’S RESOURCES AND LABOR FOR CENTURIES. THE EUROPEAN COLONIALISTS USED TO BELIEVE THAT THEY WERE DEVELOPING AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS WHILE THEY WERE ROBBING THE CONTINENT NAKED.
    IS THIS THE VIEW THE SO CALLED EDUCATED AMERICAN EXECUTIVE FOR THE HORN (DILLARD) HAS FOR ETHIOPIA??????? WHAT ARE WE? BAGGAGE HANDLERS? ARE WE GOING TO ALLOW THESE FILTHY RICH NATIONS TO PEA ON ETHIOPIA? DON’T YOU ALL HAVE FAMILIES AND FEEL RESPONSIBLE??????????OUR FOREFATHERS SPENT SO MUCH OF THEIR BLOOD PROTECTING THE FUTURE GENERATION FROM BEING SLAVES. NOW YOU ALL EXIST AS PROUD ETHIOPIANS. IT WOULD BE SHAME ON YOUR GENERATION TO SELL OUT ALL THAT BLOOD. ALL YOU LAZY ETHIOPIANS IN DC. AND ELSEWHERE BETTER WAKE UP ONE DAY AND CHASE DILLARD AND HER LIKES TO THEIR OFFICE AND SHOW THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, “NOT THE ETHIOPIAN POPULATION HERE AND THERE”, BUT, I REPEAT, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, HOW BIAS AND CORRUPTED THE OFFICIALS THEY HAVE ELECTED OR MAYBE APPOINTED BY THE PERSON THEY HAVE ELECTED. THIS IS A PEACEFUL MISSION THAT WE SHOULD FOLLOW AS ETHIOPIAN-AMERICAN CITIZENS AND WE ARE FREE TO PRACTICE IT IN THIS LAWFUL NATION. WE ARE NOT HERE TO BE BEGGARS. DILLARD IS A NO DIFFERNT AMERICAN THAN ANY OF YOU. YOU ARE NOT IN THE USA TO BE A SECOND CLASS CITIZEN. FIGHT FOR YOUR POSITIONS IN THIS LAND OF EVERONE’S. THE ITALIANS, THE JEWS, THE AFRICAN AMERICANS, THE HISPANICS… ALL DO IT BECAUSE THEY KNOW IT IS THEIR SHARE. REMEMBER THIS WAS A NATIVE LAND AND IS A LAND NOONE WOULD BE A SECOND CLASS CITIZEN IF WE UNITE TO RAISE OUR VOICES. RAISE YOUR VOICES AGAINST ANY CORRUPT INDIVIDAUL OR SYSTEM. YOU ARE FREE TO DO IT IN THE U.S.A.

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