Voice of America uses Reuters news report on major U.S. foreign policy story

BBG Watch Commentary

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief reporters at the Pentagon, Aug. 21, 2014. DOD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief reporters at the Pentagon, Aug. 21, 2014. DOD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp

With many of its senior executives taking August vacations and many reporters allowed by senior managers to take vacation leave as well, mismanaged U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) used today a news report from UK-based Reuters agency on a major U.S. foreign policy news story–U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey discussing the failed hostage rescue mission in Syria and telling reporters at the Pentagon that “the sophistication, wealth and military might of Islamic State militants represent a major threat to the United States that may surpass that once posed by al-Qaida.”

SEE: Hagel: Islamic State ‘Beyond Just a Terrorist Group’ – Reuters on Voice of America English News website, August 21, 2014 5:10 PM.

UPDATE: Hours later — not at 5:10 PM — VOA substituted the Reuters report with its own report. The VOA report was more balanced and more comprehensive. According to a comment left on our website “a story was filed by a VOA reporter, but [it] wasn’t used by the web editor,” apparently not until many hours later.

It is astounding that Washington-based Voice of America cannot provide its own coverage of the Pentagon, and often the State Department, the U.S. Congress and even the White House, not to mention other significant U.S. institutions and groups. By using a Reuter’s report on today’s U.S. military and foreign policy comments by U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, the Voice of America senior management violated the VOA Charter, which is U.S. Public Law 94-350. The Reuter’s report was not inaccurate in what information it contained, but it was not comprehensive. It focused on only one part of the Hagel and Dempsey press briefing–their comments about the threat from the Islamic State.

The Reuters report did not cover Secretary Hagel’s comments that U.S. airstrikes and military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish security forces have stalled the advance of Islamic State. In that respect, the Reuter’s report failed to satisfy Part One of the VOA Charter which calls for “objective” and “comprehensive” news. Part One of the VOA Charter says: “1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”

The Reuters report on the VOA website focused only on the threat from the Islamic State. By omitting other comments from Hagel, it failed the “objective” and “comprehensive” test.

By the same token, the Reuters report on the VOA website also failed to satisfy Part Two of the VOA Charter, which 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.

The Voice of America failed to present the complete view on this topic from the U.S. military, a significant U.S. government institution.

Also by the same token, the Voice of America failed to satisfy Part Three of the VOA Charter by using a Reuters report rather than providing its own balanced and comprehensive reporting. Part Three of the VOA Charter says: “3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.”

Assuming that Secretary Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were speaking on behalf of President Obama and the U.S. Executive Branch, which they clearly were, the Voice of America did not present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively because the Reuters report covered only one aspect of the press briefing and ignored a very significant presentation of U.S. military and foreign policy thinking on the situation in Iraq.

The management of the Voice of America also violated Part Three of the VOA Charter in yet another respect. Part Three of the VOA Charter says that VOA “will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.” While it would be unreasonable to expect a major presentation of the whole spectrum of U.S. views on the issues mentioned during the Pentagon press briefing, some of the claims made by U.S. administration officials could and have been challenged by other prominent Americans and U.S. groups. The Obama administration has been criticized for doing either too little or too much. This should have been acknowledged at least in one sentence.

The Pentagon briefing started at 3:40 PM EDT.

As of 8:30 PM EDT there is no original Voice of America reporting on Hagel’s and Dempsey’s remarks about Islamic State of Iraq. (Eventually, after many hours, VOA substituted the Reuters report with its own report by a VOA correspondent. The VOA report was more balanced and more comprehensive.)

The Reuters report on the Voice of America website did not quote Hagel as saying that U.S. airstrikes and military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish security forces have stalled the advance of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist forces around Irbil, Iraq. The Reuters report used by VOA did not focus on this part of the Pentagon briefing.

“In effect, the VOA newsroom is no longer the Voice of America. It is the voice of Reuters and others. What does that tell you? Senior officials have abrogated the VOA Charter,” one longtime observer of U.S. international broadcasting told BBG Watch.

NOT REPORTED [originally, for many hours] BY VOA – SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: “American air strikes and American arms and assistance helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces blunt ISIL’s advance around Irbil, where American diplomats and troops are working, and help the Iraqis retake and hold-Mosul Dam. A breach of the dam would have threatened the lives of thousands of Iraqis as well as Americans at our facilities in Baghdad and prevented the Iraqi government from providing critical services to its citizens.

The United States led an international effort to address the humanitarian crisis that unfolded at Mount Sinjar. As there continues to be an acute humanitarian need elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. appreciates the partnership of the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia and the United Nations in helping provide relief. I expect more nations to step forward with more assistance in the weeks ahead.

Overall, these operations have stalled ISIL’s momentum and enabled Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regain their footing and take the initiative. As Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to take the initiative, the United States will continue to support them.”

The Pentagon posted a transcript online.

The Department of Defense also posted its own news report on today’s briefing by Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey, but the Voice of America was not able to produce its own news report on such a major U.S. news story.

Voice of America was also many hours late today behind U.S. and international media, including The New York Times and BBC, in reporting on the Islamic State’s $132 million ransom demand for U.S. journalist Jim Foley. VOA failed to report today on the State Department spokesperson’s comments on the ransom demand and U.S. policy on negotiating with terrorists.

Ransom demand for Foley: Voice of America not reporting, hours behind BBC, NYT, other media, BBG Watch, August 21, 2014.

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey in the Pentagon Briefing Room can be seen on C-SPAN.

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