VOA “no censorship” campaign scores big victory By Abebe Gellaw
Washington DC–Hours after hundreds of protesters demanded Monday top executives of Voice of America (VOA) and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to stop censoring and putting undue pressures on the Horn of Africa section, VOA Acting Director and Executive Editor, Steve Redisch, gathered the section’s staffers and told them to continue their work without any restrictions or self-censorship.
In the brief meeting, Mr. Redisch said that he felt sorry for not meeting them sooner and thanked the section’s staffers for the “marvelous” job they have been doing. He also expressed VOA’s trust on them and their professionalism, informed sources told Addis Voice.
“I have no problems with your shows,” Redisch was quoted as saying. He told them to perform their duty as they used to before regardless of the complaints of the government of Ethiopia. He said that VOA had never asked anyone to give less priority and airtime to political coverage.
The director noted that in a country like Ethiopia, which is beset with serious political problems, VOA journalists cannot ignore political matters. According to our sources, what Redisch told staffers was contrary to orders and restrictions issued by the Africa Division Director, Gwen Dillard, who insisted on less coverage on political matters, introduced a “clearnace” system and restricted some issues including critical listeners comment on recent developments within VOA. The situation had created fear and anxiety among some staffers.
Though he declined to give more details on the questionable “administrative” measures taken against former Horn of Africa Chief, David Arnold, who was suspended for his comments in a June 23rd VOA Amharic report, Redisch expressed support to his colleague. He assured them that he would fight for Arnold and confirmed the fact that he was reinstated but transferred to the English section.
One of the experienced broadcasters of VOA Amharic service, Adanech Fissehaye, thanked Redisch for putting an end to the confusion, which had made their job very difficult. She told the VOA director that she was very relieved to hear his assurances, according to our sources.
“The last few weeks have been a roller coaster for us. I am very happy that our self-confidence has been restored.
“We were gripped with fear but Redisch uplifted our morale and spirit,” a source said. “The coordinated campaign Ethiopian activists have launched to rescue the service we render has undoubtedly made a real difference,” the source added.
Earlier in the day, Ethiopian protesters braved heat waves and demanded VOA and BBG to make sure that the Horn of Africa section operates freely without any undue pressures and censorship. “No censorship! VOA remain true to your missions…,” chanted the protesters. In a letter they submitted to VOA and BBG executives, they demanded investigation into reports of censorship and maladministration.
“We are writing today to request an investigation into reports of censorship at the Voice of America Horn of Africa section, which has been serving Ethiopians as the only powerful source of uncensored news and views. What is more worrying is the fact that the difficulties facing the VOA Horn of Africa section transpired after the Meles regime reportedly demanded VOA to banish a list of critics from appearing on its programs and coverage,” the letter stated.
“It is with high regard for BBG and VOA in particular, we humbly request you to ensure and guarantee that VOA continues to give the vital service it has been providing to the silenced people of Ethiopia consistent with its mission, the First Amendment of the United States constitution and America’s cherished values of freedom and democracy,” the letter demanded.
The letter further noted that Ethiopians do not want VOA to be hijacked by the agenda of Ethiopia’s repressive regime and added that they do not wish to see “VOA lose its vitality and service as a truly independent alternative media to the people of Ethiopia.”
In a separate letter the activists addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they urged the Obama administration to give utmost priority to the hunger starvation stocking millions of Ethiopians especially in the Ogaden, where the Meles regime has been waging war against dissidents and NOGs providing lifelines to the starving millions.
They also appealed Clinton to put pressure on the Meles regime to unconditionally release two young journalists, Reyot Alemu of Fitih and Wubishet Taye, Deputy Editor of Awramba Times. Both journalists are held under the anti-terrorism act only for writing sharply critical stories and articles.
The rally opposite the headquarters of BBG and VOA was loud and rousing. A few protesters came from faraway places. Finland resident Yeworkwoha Asrat attended the rally with her husband Belaneh Bekele. Though they came to the US on holiday, the felt that it was very important to join the rally to add their voice in the effort to rescue VOA Amharic, which has been seriously affected by the recent crisis. “VOA has to operate freely and serve the people of Ethiopia as it used to,” Yeworkwoha said.
Tedla Asfaw drove all the way from New York. He said that the Voice of America should not be transformed into the Voice of China. “VOA should never be censored in the land of freedom,” he said.
The VOA director promised to explain current developments in relation to the Horn of Africa section. He is expected to give an elaborate interview with VOA Amharic section, according to our sources.