Voice of America promotes N. Korean press release-like VOA news report as exclusive

BBG Watch Commentary

VOAKoreanExclusive

U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) and its parent U.S. federal agency the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) are both promoting a VOA news report that reads like a North Korean press release and fails to meet VOA Charter‘s and VOA Journalistic Code’s requirements for balance.

The report does not present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively and does not answer or challenge controversial charges against the United States.

The VOA report, Exclusive: North Korean Ambassador Says His Country Will Keep Nuclear Program,” consists almost entirely of presenting anti-U.S. statements given to a Voice of America reporter by Jang Il Hun, North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador in New York. VOA correspondent and editors did not attempt to balance these statements and VOA Management thought the report was so outstanding that it should be promoted in a press release.

VOA quotes the North Korean diplomat as warning that “If America continues to press us on the human rights issue, we have no option but to review our policy toward America completely.”

“He accused the U.S. of masterminding international criticism of his country’s human rights records to launch a smear campaign against the country’s political system,” Voice of America reported.

Even though the VOA Charter (Public Law 94-350) requires VOA news to “be accurate, objective, and comprehensive,” to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively,” “present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies,” and “present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions,” the VOA report does not include any challenges or responses to the North Korean accusations from U.S. officials, U.S. Korean organizations or U.S. human rights groups.

Wild and almost always meaningless accusations from North Korean officials against the United States are hardly exclusive news. The only exclusive part about the Voice of America report may have been that a North Korean diplomat had agreed to be interviewed by VOA, but he did so apparently at a price. Voice of America obliged him by not posting any challenges to his statements or even any mild responses from U.S. officials or anybody else.

VOA had posted earlier several other news reports about North Korea which also lacked balance. In 2011, Voice of America promoted in a press release a highly one-sided video report from North Korea without offering any effective challenge to the harsh North Korean regime’s propaganda against the U.S. In the 2011 Voice of America video news report and VOA press release Pyongyang is being described by VOA as a “vibrant city.” The VOA video shows well-stocked stores and well-fed children of the North Korean elite without mentioning North Korean prison camps and malnutrition.


 

Link to the video on YouTube.

The 2011 video ends with a North Korean saleswoman dancing for the VOA reporter in a modern-looking store in Pyongyang.

In July 2014, VOA had initially failed to report on the U.S. House of Representatives passage of the bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1771, the “North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act,” to strengthen sanctions against North Korea. But at about the same time, VOA had posted a report on North Korean beer production that also read like a North Korean or a beer company press release. VOA: Czech Know-how Brewing in N. Korea.

Responding to these earlier examples, a senior Congressional staffer in the House Foreign Affairs Committee gave BBG Watch an off-the-record comment (to publish with no attribution) on the lack of balance in VOA English News reports and VOA’s failure to fulfill its Charter obligations:

SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER: “There’s a level of irony here… VOA claiming their journalistic integrity is under attack and then putting out stories that make their journalistic integrity seem questionable.

Very disappointing.”

Management meltdown at the Voice of America seems to affect the entire organization. A few days ago, Adam Kredo reported in an article published by The Washington Free Beacon that “Congress is calling for an investigation into Voice of America’s (VOA) Persian language news service as a result of what they say is the station’s systemic pro-Iran bias and cozy ties to the anti-American ruling regime, according to a letter sent recently to Secretary of State John Kerry.”

The VOA North Korean report essentially reads like a North Korean press release and so do, to a lesser degree, VOA and BBG press releases issued to promote it. The BBG press release consists of a republished VOA press release.

Neither VOA executives, senior editors nor VOA public relations staff saw any problems with the news report despite its obvious deficiencies and violations of the VOA Charter.

Exclusive promotion of a biased viewpoint without balance not only violates the VOA Charter, but also the VOA Journalistic Code:

VOICE OF AMERICA JOURNALISTIC CODE: “VOA is alert to, and rejects, efforts by special interest groups, foreign or domestic, to use its broadcasts as a platform for their own views. This applies to all programs and program segments, including opinion or press roundups, programs discussing letters, listener comments, or call-in shows. In the case of call-ins, views of a single party must be challenged by the interviewer if alternative opinions are unrepresented. In interviews, points of possible discussion are submitted in advance if requested by an interviewee of stature (e.g., a chief of state). However, VOA journalists always retain the right and responsibility to pursue newsworthy angles, including entirely fresh lines of questioning, during such interviews.

Whenever VOA reports a charge or accusation made by an individual or a group against another, or presents one side of a controversial issue, a response and/or balancing information will be included in the first use of a news item or feature containing that material. If the balancing information cannot be obtained by the program deadline, or the subject of the charge declines to comment, that will be made clear in VOA’s account, and the balancing material will be broadcast as soon as it is available.”

Voice of America executives should ask themselves how repeating North Korean regime’s anti-human rights propaganda claims without any challenge from VOA or any other U.S. source is going to sound to human rights victims in North Korea or to pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and human rights activists in China, Tibet and in other countries.

BBG Watch has learned that an attempt to get VOA management to respond to the North Korean story did not produce any results yesterday.

Voice of America Management Call to VOA Journalists: Volunteer for Ebola Vaccine And Report on Experience

Voice of America executives may be desperate to make a good impression on Andy Lack, a respected journalist and media executive named by the BBG board to become Chief Executive Officer of the federal agency. He has not yet taken up his post.

Meanwhile, initial Broadcasting Board of Governors results from the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) show further declines in employee morale and increases in negative employee perceptions of the agency’s leadership despite senior management’s attempts to win over the workforce with Bingo Nights and Ice Cream Social parties, which many rank-and-file employees and their union find offensive and designed to avoid carrying out serious management reforms. As reported earlier this year by Joe Davidson (February 2014) in The Washington Post, since 2007, the BBG has been at or near the bottom in the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” ratings, issued by the Partnership for Public Service using FEVS data.

In response to the statement “I have a high level of respect for my organization’s senior leaders,” there was a 6.22% decline between 2013 and 2014. Only 39.53% employees gave a positive response to this statement in 2014.

In the wake of this news of disappearing faith in Voice of America leaders, VOA Management made a bizarre appeal to VOA journalists to volunteer for Ebola vaccine trials without apparently giving any thought for its impact on employee morale and practical consequences for a news organization from which reporters travel to Ebola-infected areas if anything should go wrong with the test.

MediaBistro.com’s FISHBOWLDC reported on an email from a VOA manager to the VOA Newsroom staff, “Calling VOA Volunteers: Receive Ebola Vaccine And Report on Experience, By Nick Massella, MediaBistro.com, FISHBOWLDC, Oct. 17, 2014.

AS REPORTED BY FISHBOWLDC

Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2014 11:44 AM
To: VOA Newsroom
Subject: Ebola test volunteer?

I’m just wondering if any of our correspondents or writers would be interested in becoming a volunteer for the Ebola vaccine being tested at Walter Reed, and then report or blog about the experience? Officials say there is no possibility of contracting Ebola from the vaccine because it does not contain the virus. They mainly seem to be interested in making sure there are no other side effects. (There is already one potential volunteer but I want to make sure everyone has a chance.)

This is how VOA journalists reacted in various private venues to a string of recent management actions at the Voice of America. These reactions were forwarded to BBG Watch by several sources.

ANONYMOUS VOA JOURNALISTS:

The agency’s senior leaders have had chance after chance after chance. They’ve failed. It’s time for them to go.

How dissimilar VOA editors and leaders are to Ben Bradlee.

How VOA is similar to the Secret Service (in terms of mismanagement).

This is a job [volunteering for Ebola vaccine and reporting on the experience] too important for anyone but managers!

Employees were disbelieving — it [the VOA Management’s appeal to VOA journalists to volunteer for Ebola vaccine trails] seemed so lame — people laughed about it, and thought the call was bizarre.

It’s [the VOA Management’s appeal to VOA journalists to volunteer for Ebola vaccine trails] journalistically unsound on many fronts….

Those of us who still care and try,…we have zero editorial leadership, no one to go to to act. I guess they are all awaiting [Andy] Lack’s arrival… the product be damned in the meantime.

I would like to write anonymously, of course, to honestly and accurately — without emotion — share exactly what is going on. Central [VOA News] is nearly dead, [VOA] English not far behind… there is a small pool of good reporters attached to the English website (very good in some cases). But that’s about it.

BBG Watch has learned that an attempt to get VOA management to respond to the call for Ebola vaccine volunteers story did not produce any results yesterday.

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VOA CHARTER

To protect the integrity of VOA programming and define the organization’s mission, the VOA Charter was drafted in 1960 and later signed into law on July 12, 1976, by President Gerald Ford. It reads:
The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts:

1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.

2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.

3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350)

VOA-Screenshot-Oct-22-2014-2PM-EDT

VOICE OF AMERICA (VOA) NEWS REPORT

[Voice of America] Exclusive: North Korean Ambassador Says His Country Will Keep Nuclear Program

[AP Photo FILE – satellite image provided by GeoEye shows the area around the Yongbyon nuclear facility in Yongbyon, North Korea]

Baik Sungwon

October 21, 2014 12:40 AM

NEW YORK—North Korea will keep its nuclear program and could review its policy toward the United States completely if Washington continues to press Pyongyang on human rights, a senior North Korean official said on Monday.

Jang Il Hun, North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador in New York, told VOA that his country already declared itself a nuclear-armed state in its constitution and adopted a new policy calling for expansion of nuclear weapons. In a rare interview, he stated his country’s positions on the nuclear issue, human rights, and American detainees.

“If America continues to press us on the human rights issue, we have no option but to review our policy toward America completely,” warned Jang.

He did not elaborate on what a review of policy meant specifically.

North Korea agreed to a nuclear deal where it promised to abandon its nuclear program, but seemed to back-peddle efforts on denuclearization when it subsequently conducted nuclear tests. Recently, the country signaled renewed interest in resuming the stalled nuclear talks.

However, Jang raised doubts about the prospect of resuming the talks.

“I do not see the point of having the six-party talks at this point,” he said.

He accused the U.S. of masterminding international criticism of his country’s human rights records to launch a smear campaign against the country’s political system.

Asked whether the North will allow a visit by an investigator from outside to probe the human rights situation inside the country, the North Korean envoy replied: “It is a subject for discussion as long as the matter is handled in a positive manner.”

Three Americans are being detained in the North on charges of committing hostile acts against the country. Recently, U.S. officials made repeated calls for the release of the Americans, stressing the issue poses a serious impediment to better ties with Washington. So far, Pyongyang has not responded positively to the call.

On the possibility of negotiating the release of the three Americans, Jang said it would be difficult, saying “it is a matter of enforcing law.”

Despite the standoff over the nuclear issue and American detainees, Washington and Pyongyang appear to be keeping dialogue open through the so-called New York channel.

Asked whether there is regular communication between Washington and Pyongyang, Jang, who serves as Pyongyang’s point man for talks with Washington, said: “We meet with U.S. officials and discuss issues of mutual concern on a regular basis.” [END OF VOA NEWS REPORT]

VOICE OF AMERICA (VOA) NEWS RELEASE

VOA-NK-Press-Release-Screen-Shot-Oct-22-230PM-EDT

Media Relations / Press Releases

VOA Exclusive: North Korean Ultimatum to US: Stop the Pressure on Human Rights

VOA-Korean-Service-Exclusive-News

October 21, 2014

A high-ranking North Korean official has issued a warning to the United States: America’s continued pressure on the human rights situation in North Korea will lead Pyongyang to review its policy toward the United States.

The warning came from North Korean deputy UN Ambassador Jang Il Hun, who gave an exclusive interview to VOA’s Korean Service in New York that laid out his country’s positions on key diplomatic issues between Washington and Pyongyang, including North Korea’s nuclear program and its human rights record.

“If America continues to press us on the human rights issue,” Ambassador Jang said, “we have no option but to review our policy toward America completely.”

He did not elaborate on what a review of policy meant specifically.

A UN report in February detailed gross violations of human rights by the North Korean regime. Pyongyang has categorically denied the accuracy of the report and released a report of its own defending its human rights record.

Asked whether the North will allow a visit by an investigator from outside to probe the human rights situation inside the country, the North Korean envoy replied: “It is a subject for discussion as long as the matter is handled in a positive manner.”

The ambassador also accused the United States of masterminding international criticism to launch a smear campaign against his country’s political system.

Recently, North Korea has signaled renewed interest in resuming the stalled talks on its nuclear program. However, Jang told VOA: “I do not see the point of having the Six-Party Talks at this point.”

The interview with VOA Korean Service reporter Baik Sungwon followed a discussion in New York Monday between U.S. experts and North Korean diplomats hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. [END OF VOA NEWS RELEASE]

BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS (BBG) NEWS RELEASE

BBG-Screenshot-Oct-22-2014-230PM-EDT

VOA Exclusive: North Korean Ultimatum To US: Stop The Pressure On Human Rights

OCTOBER 22, 2014

VOAKoreanExclusiveWASHINGTON- A high-ranking North Korean official has issued a warning to the United States: America’s continued pressure on the human rights situation in North Korea will lead Pyongyang to review its policy toward the United States.

The warning came from North Korean deputy UN Ambassador Jang Il Hun, who gave an exclusive interview to VOA’s Korean Service in New York that laid out his country’s positions on key diplomatic issues between Washington and Pyongyang, including North Korea’s nuclear program and its human rights record.

“If America continues to press us on the human rights issue,” Ambassador Jang said, “we have no option but to review our policy toward America completely.”

He did not elaborate on what a review of policy meant specifically.

A UN report in February detailed gross violations of human rights by the North Korean regime. Pyongyang has categorically denied the accuracy of the report and released a report of its own defending its human rights record.

Asked whether the North will allow a visit by an investigator from outside to probe the human rights situation inside the country, the North Korean envoy replied: “It is a subject for discussion as long as the matter is handled in a positive manner.”

The ambassador also accused the United States of masterminding international criticism to launch a smear campaign against his country’s political system.

Recently, North Korea has signaled renewed interest in resuming the stalled talks on its nuclear program. However, Jang told VOA: “I do not see the point of having the Six-Party Talks at this point.”

The interview with VOA Korean Service reporter Baik Sungwon followed a discussion in New York Monday between U.S. experts and North Korean diplomats hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. [END OF BBG NEWS RELEASE]

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