Holding BBG and VOA Accountable! By LJD
According to the Voice of America (VOA) website, VOA Amharic Service attracts about one-fifth of the adult population. This is one of the largest audiences proportionally of any service at VOA.
It appears to me that VOA Amharic Service draws the most audiences comparatively of all the services VOA provides due largely to a lack of independent media in Ethiopia and its staff strict adherence to its charter and Journalistic Code which requires striving for accuracy, objectivity, excellence, and so forth.
Since VOA is one of my most trusted sources of news and information, I am its ardent advocate. However, the emerging alleged news that VOA Horn of Africa Division has started censoring its programs alarmed me. And it disappointed me. The VOA Horn of Africa suspected censoring scheme concerned and dissatisfied me because it would negatively affect the reliability of the news and information it provides; besides, it is against its charter and Journalistic Code.
”To seek improved market access for VOA programming and advocate for greater freedom of the press”, a well informed team of seven — three members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and four members of VOA staff — visited Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Nigeria from June 22 to June 27, 2011. In Ethiopia, the visiting team met with the Ethiopian Ministry of Government Communications Affairs, Ethiopian Broadcast Authority, Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency, VOA Affiliate station Sheger FM, and VOA reporters.
Pandora’s Box was opened during an interview which one of the vesting team members — the VOA Horn of Africa Service Chief — David Arnold gave to VOA Amharic Service on June 23, 2011. Immediately after his interview was aired, it became absolutely clear that the purposes of a 42-pages document that was given to the visiting team was not supposed to be unveiled in public because it comprises names of the despotic Ethiopian government critics whom the government wants to silence and their valuable views against their tyrannical government which VOA Amharic Service broadcasted from January 2011 to May 2011.
For disclosing what occurred in the meeting with the Ethiopian Ministry of Government Communications Affairs which was intended kept secret, Arnold found himself between a rock and a hard place. He got suspended from his position. Though at different department, a few days later he was allowed to resume working.
According to Arnold’s brief biography, He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia during the 1960’s. In the early 1990’s, he established a public relations and marketing department for the National Museums of Kenya, worked in Addis Ababa on a proposal for a Horn of Africa journalism training center, and conducted newspaper publishing and reporting workshops in Kampala, Lilongwe, Asmara and Addis Ababa.
Following Arnold suspension from his job, in an unprecedented manner, without giving any explanation for their decision to their audience, his bosses removed an hour worth of programs from VOA Amharic Service website which was broadcasted on June 23, 2011 that included Arnold’s interview.
The Ethiopian Diaspora has been widely alleging since Arnold’s suspension and the removal of the June 23 programs from VOA Amharic Service website that VOA’s Africa Division Director, Gwen Dillard, has started daring to decide which news, voices, relevant discussions, and listeners’ comment be broadcasted to her Ethiopian audience. For example, per her instructions the June 23 and July 18, 2011 programs those contained pertinent discussions with Arnold and a listener comment about VOA’s censorship maneuver which VOA Amharic Service aired are removed from the VOA website respectively because they contain information which Dillard does not want her audience to hear. The Diaspora also claims that in some of the meetings Dillard held with her staff: She prohibited them from taking notes. She instructed them not to broadcast listeners’ views concerning VOA’s censorship plan. She worried them by letting them know that leaking information to the public would endanger their job.
Furthermore, although the VOA journalistic code states that VOA audience has a right to expect truthfulness from its journalists, I noted that VOA’s Executive Editor & Acting Director, Steve Redisch, provided mendacious statements in his written communication with the Addis Voice editor: “There have been inaccurate reports about the tone and substance of an official meeting on June 22 between members of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors and Ethiopian Communication Affairs Minister, Bereket Simon.” He stated that “Contrary to the VOA report, at no time did Ethiopian government officials ask the Board members to prohibit any individuals from appearing on VOA programs. Consistent with VOA’s standards of accuracy and not for reasons of self-censorship, the report was taken off the website,”
The above Redisch’s contradictory statements to hide the truth from the Addis Voice editor is baffling me because I think it would have been much better issuing corrections for the inaccurate reports which were aired on June 23 and July 18, 2011 than entirely removing them from the VOA Amharic Service website. By the way, the removed programs of July 18, 2011 contain an interview which I have been looking forward to listen.
In my opinion, Dillard’s and Redisch’s action that starting censoring their programs and concealing the truth from their audience would negatively affect VOA’s goodwill and market share.
Seeking to learn the whole truth about the allegations which VOA Horn of Africa division is engulfed and taking the VOA charter and journalistic code at their face value I called the BBG Public Relations office in Washington, D.C. more than a couple of times in the week of July 16, 2011. And I left recorded messages. To date the Public Relations office has not returned my calls.
For not getting respond to the messages I left, I am frustrated by the Public Relations office. Moreover, I am disappointed by the silence of the BBG and VOA authorities for causing their audience to dwell, mire, and speculate about what occurred in the meeting which the VOA’s visiting team held in Ethiopia with various government agencies. Consequently, I wrote this article to hold the BBG and VOA authorities accountable to their charter and journalistic code and to politely request them to address the concerns of their audience truthfully and immediately.
Some questions those beg their answers are:
1) What are the Ethiopian government expectations when it submitted its 42-pages complaints to the VOA visiting team?
2) Why VOA’s visiting team wants to keep this document secret?
3) Will the BBG and VOA let its audience know their responds to the Ethiopian government complaints?
4) Would the BBG and VOA allow their VOA Amharic Service repost on its website its July 18, 2011 aired program because it contains a last part of an interview which I have been eagerly waiting to listen?
Note: I have great confidence in the BBG and VOA. To illustrate, it never crossed my mind that one day the BBG and VOA might give in to a demand of a super power and change their editorial policies, let alone they would give way to an order of one of the world’s most autocratic government that is mainly known for famine, poverty, corruption, rigging elections, et cetera.
I look forward to hearing from you soon!
The writer who is responsible for this article can be reached at LJDemissie@yahoo.com