Voice of America slighted Obama, ignored Menendez, Coons and Royce, violated Charter in U.S. – Africa Summit coverage

Sen. Menendez

BBG Watch Commentary

Sen. Bob Menendez. Voice of America did not report on his meetings with African leaders.

Sen. Bob Menendez. Voice of America did not report on his meetings with African leaders.

President Obama’s speech at the summit of African leaders in Washington was interrupted and cut in a Voice of America (VOA) radio transmission to of all places — Africa. Instead of being able to listen to the concluding remarks of President Obama’s speech about Africa, audiences in Africa were suddenly treated by VOA to a program of African music, which does not even start with a news summary. VOA made no attempt to continue its live transmission or to present the highlights of President Obama’s speech in the later part of its radio program to Africa.

A BBG Watch reporter and commentator observed, “That’s certainly what they would have done as a matter of course, until VOA’s quality decline over the past few years.”

Voice of America also did not report online on meetings with African leaders held by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), and Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee Chairman Chris Coons (D-DE). VOA also did not report online on Chairman Royce’s op-ed critical of the human rights and good governance aspects of the Obama Administration Africa policy.

Rep. Royce is a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill, H.R. 4490, the United States International Communications Reform Act, to reform the Voice of America together with the rest of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which was unanimously approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and passed by the House of Representatives. Senator Menendez is playing a key role in getting the bipartisan reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate.

A BBG Watch reporter and commentator made these points on the interruption by Voice of America Radio of President Obama’s speech at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington:

But what was more surprising was what happened towards the end. President Obama was part way through his closing remarks – he certainly hadn’t finished them – when VOA suddenly ended its live coverage, and at exactly 20.00 GMT cut back to its regularly scheduled programme – “The Africa Beat,” a 60 minute programme of African music. I was surprised that VOA didn’t just stay with the President until he’d finished speaking. That’s certainly what they would have done as a matter of course, until VOA’s quality decline over the past few years.

I’m not convinced it was the right judgement by VOA (or consistent with the VOA Charter) that it was more important for its African audience to have a full 60 minutes of African music, than it was to give full and complete coverage of a Presidential address that would be of major interest to Africa – even if that had meant a shortened music programme.

It’s worth mentioning that VOA English to Africa now has music programming (but no significant news shows) during the last two hours of it’s evening line up, with “The Africa Beat” (which doesn’t even start with a news summary), then followed by an hour of American music (although that does at least start with 5 minutes of news). So VOA’s English language audience in Africa will have to wait until Wednesday morning for any analysis or reportage of the President’s address, as after 8pm in Liberia (9pm in Nigeria), for VOA English there’s no time for news nowadays, it’s music all the way.

All the more reason VOA should have stayed covering the President live until he had actually finished speaking.

VOA English News did not report online that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), and Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee Chairman Chris Coons (D-DE) met with President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila and President of South Sudan Salva Kiir.

Menendez and Royce issued the following joint statement after the meeting with President of South Sudan Salva Kiir:

“We are gravely concerned by the continuing crisis in the world’s newest nation, where over a million people are displaced and a man-made famine looms. We are deeply disappointed by South Sudan’s terrible slide backwards into violence and hunger, and stand in solidarity with the South Sudanese people, whose lives now depend upon constructive actions from their political leaders.”

Menendez, Royce, and Coons issued the following joint statement after the meeting with President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila:

“We look forward to a time when a lasting peace and the opportunity for prosperity is a reality for all Congolese citizens and for the Great Lakes region.”

The Congressional leaders called on both parties to the conflict – President Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar – to recommit themselves to a lasting peace.

The Congressional leaders also vigorously pressed President Kabila to lift the current suspension of exit permits for adoptive children, which is impacting hundreds of American families, while stressing the urgency of the medically critical cases. Earlier this week, one young child with health issues awaiting an exit visa from the DRC tragically passed away.

Menendez, Royce and Coons also raised the issue of good governance and the importance of respecting presidential terms limits as outlined in the constitution.

Voice of America English News failed to report online on these meetings and statements by Congressional leaders of both parties.

In its radio coverage of the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, Voice of America was slighting President Obama and in its online coverage VOA English News was ignoring both key Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

While reporting online on President Obama’s speech at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, VOA English News failed to report on Rep. Royce’s criticism of President Obama’s Africa policy. Such balanced reporting is required by the VOA Charter.

Instead of quoting from a Republican leader in the U.S. Congress, Rep.Ed Royce, who criticized the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit and President Obama for not paying sufficient attention human rights abuses and political corruption in Africa, a Voice of America report quoted Leslie Lefkow, the deputy for Africa at Human Rights Watch in Amsterdam.

While Ms. Lefkow gave VOA an excellent interview on human rights abuses and political corruption in Africa, VOA failed to mention Congressional criticism being expressed a few blocks from VOA headquarters in Washington, DC. Despite the VOA Charter‘s obligation to offer balanced reporting and reflect views of significant U.S. institutions, the main VOA English news website had nothing about the criticism of President Obama’s Africa policy from the Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who wrote an op-ed, What’s missing from the Africa summit.” Rep. Royce wrote that in Africa, electing fresh, new leaders is not something people do often.” “Consider this: The 10 current longest-serving African leaders have held their offices for a total of 252 years,” Royce observed. His op-ed on the CNN website was not mentioned online by VOA English News.

REP. ED ROYCE: President Obama once pressed for good governance aggressively. In 2009, when he traveled to Ghana and addressed that country’s parliament, he took a “no excuses” approach toward African leaders.

In an interview just before landing on the continent, the President noted that, “I’m a big believer that Africans are responsible for Africa … for many years we’ve made excuses about corruption or poor governance; that this was somehow the consequence of neo-colonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or racism. I’m not a believer in excuses. … I think that it’s very important for African leadership to take responsibility and be held accountable.”

Nice words, unfortunately undermined by a summit agenda that shorts good governance.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Royce served on the Africa Subcommittee for 16 years and was chairman of the Subcommittee from 1997-2004.

The VOA Charter says that 1. (…) “VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”

The VOA Charter also says:

“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)

While VOA posted online many news reports on the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, they rarely touched upon critical issues of good governance and human rights. VOA’s Kim Lewis should be applauded for posting “HRW Calls for Summit to Focus on Human Rights” and her human rights-focused interview with Human Rights Watch representative in Amsterdam.

Listen to Kim Lewis interview with Leslie Lefkow

But VOA executives and managers should have made sure that significant U.S. views on the human rights situation in Africa were also presented by the Voice of America, as required by its Charter. VOA should have covered significant bipartisan Congressional voices on Africa during the Washington summit. It did not. The Voice of America interrupting President Obama’s speech about Africa to Africa is simply appalling. It’s a failure of leadership and planning by VOA’s top executives and managers. They should resign.

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