Commentary

Ann Noonan and Ted Lipien at BBG Miami Meeting, June 20, 2014

Voice of America Needs to Avoid Extremes and Be Real

By Ted Lipien

No one I know is proposing to do away with the first principle of the VOA Charter on accurate and objective news reporting. Promoting an extreme and false idea that Congress wants VOA to do “propaganda” is not serving VOA’s interests. It is harming VOA. Attacking and instructing Congress, calling H.R. 4490 the “Royce Bill” or “Propaganda Bill,” when it is clearly bipartisan and includes a provision calling for “accurate and balanced news,” is not helping VOA either.

What some VOA Newsroom employees may not realize, but what the AFGE Local 1812 Union leadership probably knows well, is that H.R. 4490 was a compromise bill between a House that wanted to save VOA and Senate Republicans who wanted complete defederalization (and therefore destruction of) of VOA. I know that some people in the VOA English Newsroom really hate H.R. 4490, while many among VOA language services and most other employees I talk to strongly support the bill’s management reform provisions. But if this bill fails because of pressure, they’re going to REALLY hate the next BBG reform bill – especially if the Senate changes hands in January.  

AFGE 1812 knows this and most VOA employees do as well. Congress simply isn’t going to support the current (or higher) funding levels for an organization that shows complete contempt for any affiliation with the U.S. government. 

The VOA Charter is a good compromise by guaranteeing news objectivity while also providing for an accurate and balanced U.S. government news beat which is not PR or even public diplomacy. But the critical two other principles of the VOA Charter, which give U.S. taxpayers what they expect, have been severely compromised by the current VOA and agency management.

Never in my long career as a VOA journalist and program manager have I seen a fake VOA interview, a fake map, a report presenting views of one of the most repressive regimes without any meaningful balance and a news report promoting Putin’s propaganda on Crimea with no questions asked. Zombie videos with blood thirsty Uncle Sam have replaced a VOA news video that might have shown U.S. Vice President Biden and a bipartisan U.S. Congressional delegation visiting Ukraine but didn’t.

Listening to  apocalyptic voices on either side and attacking Congress as being overly harsh is not going to help VOA. It’s time to pull back, reassess the situation, reject extreme views and work with AFGE Local 1812 Union and other supporters of VOA to get the best bill Congress can give. Only this can preserve VOA’s journalistic independence and its future while also reforming the management that is killing VOA Newsroom and VOA news reporting. 

Ted Lipien listened to VOA in communist part of Europe, was head of VOA Polish Service during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy, placed VOA programs on stations in Bosnia, Russia, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq, started VOA television news programs to Ukraine and Russia, was editor of multimedia and multilingual VOA opinion magazine “New Europe Review” under Advisory Board which included Vaclav Havel, and served briefly as acting associate VOA director in charge of news. He co-founded with Ann Noonan the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting.

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