a commentary by Ted Lipien in Digital Journal
Washington – I am not afraid of taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) news in the United States, but I’m afraid of government officials who may interfere with the news and mistreat journalists.
I am not afraid of Voice of America news being available on radio, TV and Internet in the United States. As a proud former VOA multimedia broadcaster and later manager in charge of many of its programs, including VOA English News, I have a deep appreciation for their value in closed societies. This applies to both friends and enemies who are curious about the United States and what might be happening to them in their own countries. Before immigrating to the United States, I was an avid VOA listener in communist-ruled Poland. I still check VOA news websites everyday and I’m sorry to say that I am less and less impressed by what I see.
While I welcome the repeal of the Smith-Mundt restriction on the distribution of VOA news in the United States, I am at the same time concerned, however, what those in charge of these programs are doing and might do in the future. Extreme caution is required when government officials are granted new powers. This is especially true if they can directly influence public opinion, not just by having a say how the news may be written, but also deciding how it is distributed and to whom.
As John Hudson correctly points out in his his post, “U.S. Repeals Propaganda Ban, Spreads Government-Made News To Americans,” The Cable, Foreign Policy, July 14, 2013, U.S. government officials have been known to go after journalists they don’t like and some have tampered with the news. They might be tempted to do it again.
Legally, Voice of America news content is protected from U.S. government interference by the VOA Charter, a law passed by Congress and signed by President Ford in 1976.
Since I had left U.S. government service in 2006, I have witnessed not so much deliberate tempering with the news at the Voice of America but a steady decline of quality news reporting, deteriorating employee morale and attempts by officials to hide a management crisis from American taxpayers who pay their salaries, from their oversight board, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), and from Congress.