BBG Watch Commentary

Voice of America did not report to the world on this religious freedom message from President Obama on the celebration of Coptic Christmas.
Voice of America did not report to the world on this religious freedom message from President Obama on the celebration of Coptic Christmas.

Late yesterday, Tuesday, January 7, BBG Watch reported that the English website of the Voice of America (VOA), a U.S. taxpayer-funded news organization charged by Congress with informing the world about international and American news and US policies, failed to post any news about Orthodox Christmas Eve and Christmas celebrations in the United States and abroad on Monday and Tuesday.

Orthodox Christmas – ignored by Voice of America English News, noted by some VOA language services, BBC, RFE/RL, BBG Watch, Jan. 7, 2014. (RT – Russia Today – also reported extensively on orthodox Christmas celebrations.)

President Barack Obama

Michelle ObamaWe have now confirmed that the Voice of America has also failed to report to the world about President Obama’s religious freedom message on the celebration of Coptic Christmas. The statement included wishes for a joyous Christmas to Coptic Orthodox Christians in the United States and around the world.

Although we have not been able to fully check all VOA websites in all 45 languages VOA uses, it appears that very few, if any, have reported on the President’s Coptic Orthodox Christmas statement and his condemnation of religious violence and religious persecution. VOA Russian and Ukrainian services had reports on Orthodox Christmas but do not appear to have posted anything on President Obama’s statement. The Voice of America is required by its Congressionally approved charter, which is public law in the United States, not only to report news but also to clearly present polices of the United States.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which like VOA is also overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a bipartisan federal board in Washington, DC, reported extensively on Orthodox Christmas celebrations in the countries to which it broadcasts. It does not appear that RFE/RL reported on President Obama’s Coptic Christmas statement, but BBG Watch was not able to check all of its many language websites. Unlike VOA, RFE/RL is not required to report on U.S. news and policies but to focus on internal news in nations without fully functioning free media.

Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa, which broadcast to the Middle East and are also U.S.-taxpayer-funded and overseen by the BBG, reported extensively on Coptic Christmas celebrations in Egypt. BBG Watch was not able to determine whether Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa reported on President Obama’s statement, but at least they did not ignore news of Coptic Christmas celebrations this year like Voice of America English News and the vast majority of VOA language services did.

Violence and restrictions on Christians freely practicing their faith are common among many countries to which VOA directs its news programs in its many languages, both online and in radio and TV broadcasts. In addition much of the Middle East, religious persecution is also common in China and in other non-Muslim countries where VOA has its audience.

It appears to be yet another failure of the VOA central English newsroom and the VOA central website team. VOA newsroom was alerted to President Obama’s statement but did nothing to initiate any reporting on the story.

The VOA central newsroom is charged with planning coverage and including reports on White House statements such as this one in VOA news stories posted on the VOA English website. These news stories are then picked up by at least some VOA foreign language services.

VOA veteran correspondents have been complaining that their story reporting ideas and even their own reports are being ignored and not posted on the website, or sometimes shortened and often posted late. VOA reporters have very little to say what news is covered or posted on VOA’s main website.

In a statement released by the White House on Tuesday, January 7, 2014, President Obama “reaffirm[ed] the commitment of the United States to work for the protection of Christians and other people of faith in Egypt and around the world.” “The freedom to practice our faiths is critical to stable, pluralistic, and thriving societies, and the United States will continue to be vigilant in its work to protect that freedom,” President Obama also said in his statement posted on the White House website.

It is unfortunate that the Voice of America ignored President Obama’s 2014 statement against religious violence and his and the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Coptic Christmas wishes to Coptic Orthodox Christians in the United States and around the world, especially since in late 2013, VOA along with other world media was reporting that “dozens of churches and businesses owned by Egypt’s Christians have been looted and torched since the military ousted president Mohamed Morsi in July. In October 2013, a shooting attack outside a Coptic church in Giza left four people dead and wounded many others.

The Huffington Post and other media reported on the statement and noted that Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar in which Christmas falls 13 days after the date in the western Gregorian calendar.

President Obama Wishes Coptic Orthodox Christians A Joyous Christmas, Huffington Post, Posted: 01/07/2014 12:15 pm EST.

On December 21, BBC reported: “As Coptic Christians in Egypt prepare to celebrate their Christmas on 7 January, they are still waiting for scores of churches destroyed in August to be rebuilt. Christians – who account for an estimated 10% of Egypt’s population of 92 million – have long been easy targets. And for some families this Christmas is a time to mourn, reports the BBC’s Orla Guerin in Cairo.” Lives of fear for Egypt’s Christians, BBC, Dec. 21, 2013.

We would like to ask VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch where is the Voice of America?

Why can’t the Voice of America news report even in a few sentences on President Obama’s strong message of support for religious freedom and his wishes to Orthodox Coptic Christians on their Christmas?

Such frequent and increasing news failures by the Voice of America are a shame and a waste of U.S. taxpayers money and can be directly attributed to poor leadership at the top of the organization.

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 07, 2014

Statement by the President on the Celebration of Coptic Christmas

Michelle and I wish Coptic Orthodox Christians in the United States and around the world a joyous Christmas. On this special day, we celebrate the messages of peace and hope that continue to inspire congregations more than 2,000 years after Jesus’ birth. During this season, we reaffirm the commitment of the United States to work for the protection of Christians and other people of faith in Egypt and around the world. The freedom to practice our faiths is critical to stable, pluralistic, and thriving societies, and the United States will continue to be vigilant in its work to protect that freedom. We wish Coptic Christians the blessings of this season and join them in offering prayers for peace in the year ahead.

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