BBG Watch Commentary
The U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), a federal government entity of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has hosted a Panel on Young Muslims in America and issued a press release that included a number of unsupported statements and opinions designed to prove that the media pays more attention to Muslim terrorists than it should and that Muslim terrorists are not frequent mosque goers and thus not motivated by religion.
The VOA press release appears to create an impression that religious fanaticism is not a major factor in Islamist terrorism, but media bias, on the other hand, is and should be treated as a big issue. The VOA panel did not include representatives of diverse groups and views. It was remarkably one-sided in an apparent violation of the VOA Charter.
An earlier VOA video attempted to show equivalency between Islamist terrorist attacks and the 2015 Charleston church shooting in which a non-Muslim white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof is accused of killing nine people. Former BBG Governor, American broadcaster and journalist Blanquita Cullum, called the VOA video on Islamist terrorism “flawed and dangerous.”
SEE: Voice of America quotes: a Muslim terrorist ‘all over the media’ – a terror attack by a Westerner doesn’t have the same media impact, BBG Watch, July 1, 2016
We believe that Saudi journalist and TV host Nadine Al-Budair who recently criticized the “hypocrites” who say that the terrorists did not come from and are not associated with their Muslim communities or their religion offered a perfect counter to the one-sided Voice of America panel and press release.
Nadine Al-Budair showed what honest journalism could accomplish in challenging false statements and false narratives which have creeped into some VOA programs and remain unchallenged in violation of the VOA Charter.
“After the abominable Brussels bombings, it’s time for us to feel shame and to stop acting as if the terrorists are a rarity,” Nadine Al-Budair said, in an address that aired on the Saudi Rotana Khalijiyah TV on April 3. “Why do we shed our own conscience?” she asked. “Don’t these perpetrators emerge from our environment?”
Liberal Saudi journalist Nadine Al-Budair, who lives in Qatar, also penned an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai in which she wondered how Muslims would have acted if Christians had blown themselves up in their midst or tried to force their faith on them. She called on the Muslim world to be introspective and enact reforms, instead of condemning Western attitudes towards it.
The following are excerpts from the article  as posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a nonprofit press monitoring translating and analysis organization with headquarters in Washington, DC, While MEMRI is pro-Israel and has been criticized for portraying the Arab and Muslim world in a negative light, the video and the following translation appear to be accurate.
Nadine Al-Budair (image: Alraimedia.com)
“Imagine a Western youth coming here and carrying out a suicide mission in one of our public squares in the name of the Cross. Imagine that two skyscrapers had collapsed in some Arab capital, and that an extremist Christian group, donning millennium-old garb, had emerged to take responsibility for the event, while stressing its determination to revive Christian teachings or some Christian rulings, according to its understanding, to live like in the time [of Jesus] and his disciples, and to implement certain edicts of Christian scholars…
 Al-Rai (Kuwait), December 15, 2015.
READ MORE: Saudi Writer Asks How Muslims Would Act If Christian Terrorists Blew Themselves Up In Their Midst, MEMRI, February 25, 2016
SEE VIDEO: Saudi TV Host Nadine Al-Budair: The Terrorists Emerged from Our Schools and Universities, MEMRITVVideos, YouTube, April 7, 2016
As of July 1, the Voice of America press release on the Panel on Young Muslims in America, which was posted on June 29, is showing only six “Likes” and two “Shares.” Nadine Al-Budair’s video on YouTube is showing 203,603 views. If the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors is truly committed to achieving impact for the $777 million the agency gets in U.S. taxpayers’ dollars, it should question VOA director Amanda Bennett and BBG CEO and director John Lansing about the VOA panel and the VOA press release. We believe that the VOA panel and the press release will have a negative impact in the Muslim world. The BBG would do much better if it hired Arab journalists like Nadine Al-Budair.
We re-post below the VOA press release, the VOA Charter, and the VOA Journalistic Code. This portion of the VOA Journalistic Code is especially worth noting with regard to the VOA press release:
VOA JOURNALISTIC CODE: “VOA is alert to, and rejects, efforts by special interest groups, foreign or domestic, to use its broadcasts as a platform for their own views. This applies to all programs and program segments, including opinion or press roundups, programs discussing letters, listener comments, or call-in shows. In the case of call-ins, views of a single party must be challenged by the interviewer if alternative opinions are unrepresented.”
VOICE OF AMERICA PRESS RELEASE
Moderator Akmal Dawi (L) with panelists (from L to R) Oya Rose Aktas, Mohamed Hussein, Morsal Mohamad and Othman Altalib
What is it like to be a young Muslim in America?
“It definitely is a struggle — not only being a Muslim, not only being a Muslim American — being Somali, being black, being young — there’re a lot of identities that you have to reconcile,” said Mohamed Hussein of the Somali American Youth Foundation in Virginia, one of the panelists in a discussion broadcast by the Voice of America on Tuesday from the Newseum in Washington.
“Being Young and Muslim in America” was moderated by the VOA Afghanistan Service’s digital managing editor, Akmal Dawi in the wake of the carnage in Orlando that has left lingering questions about how young Muslims are assimilating into the American mainstream. “We’ve heard from pundits, we’ve heard from experts, we’ve heard from political figures about what Muslim Millennials feel, think, need and want,” said VOA Director Amanda Bennett. “Through this panel discussion with these Muslim Millennials themselves, we were able to understand the tensions they feel and the hopes they have.”
“When a Muslim does something like that [i.e., carryout a mass shooting like the recent attack in Orlando], it’s all over the media. But when a Westerner does the same thing, it doesn’t have the same impact,” said Morsal Mohamad, president of the Afghan Students Association at The George Washington University.
“A lot of these people who give a bad name to Islam don’t even come to the mosque,” said Mohamed Hussein, executive director of the Somali American Youth Foundation, who also appeared on the panel.
“I think that oftentimes people try to split it [i.e., the Muslim community] into moderate Muslims and conservative Muslims, but there is a lot of diversity past that. And I think that that’s one of the nuances that gets lost in discussions about Islam in the U.S.,” said Oya Rose Aktas, a recent college graduate of Turkish background living in Washington, D.C.
“I also think that focusing on cyber radicalization kind of loses sight of the bigger picture,” Aktas added. “You have to focus more on community groups; you need to focus more on human interactions; you need to focus more on making sure that people are living fulfilling, satisfying lives outside of the Internet.”
Othman Altalib, a board member at the ADAMS Center, one of the largest Muslim organizations in the United States, said that most U.S. Muslim groups have not been able to effectively counter the Islamic State’s appeal to disaffected youth. “Let’s get our youth involved in the community,” he said. “We should lead by example,” added Mohamad, citing the need for Millennial Muslims and Muslim leaders in the United States to serve as “examples to follow.”
Hussein noted that the U.S. Muslim community is diverse and that each person brings a different experience based on his or her country of origin. He said mosques and Muslim community centers engage worshipers in conversations about democracy in America, and added that they approach voting as the best way to express free will and preserve freedoms. “We don’t tell them who to vote for,” he said.
“Our common American experience is what unites all of us living in this country,” said Akbar Ayazi, director of VOA’s South and Central Asia Division. “No matter what god we believe, what faith we follow; no matter what background we have, no matter where we come from — we have one thing in common and that’s our humanity. We all pursue the same ideal, which is the American dream.”
The event was streamed live on multiple VOA language platforms, reaching audiences around the world. More than 67,000 people watched on the VOA Central News Facebook page alone. In addition, #YoungMuslimVOA trended on Twitter throughout the broadcast.
Through its eight services on radio, television and the Internet, VOA’s South and Central Asia Division broadcasts news and information about America and the world to regions that are vulnerable to extremism and terrorism. The division’s Afghanistan Service reaches roughly 40 percent of the country’s adult population with programming in Dari and Pashto. The Azerbaijani Service reaches audiences in Azerbaijan and neighboring provinces in Iran. The Bangla Service serves Bangladesh and the Bangla-speaking Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura as well as several Arab and Muslim countries. VOA Deewa broadcasts to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, where more than 50 million Pashtuns live. The Urdu Service serves Pakistan and diaspora communities. The Kurdish Service reaches more than 30 million Kurds living in the Middle East and Eurasia. Turkish Service programming is vital to a nation where press freedom increasingly is restricted. The Uzbek Service reaches audiences in Uzbekistan, Central Asia and Afghanistan. And the newly established Extremism Watch Desk also supports VOA’s mission by enhancing the agency’s in-depth coverage of extremism around the world.
To protect the integrity of VOA programming and define the organization’s mission, the VOA Charter was drafted in 1960 and later signed into law on July 12, 1976, by President Gerald Ford. It reads:
The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts:
- VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
- 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.
- 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)
For more information on the Charter, visit our VOA history page about the 1960s and 1970s.
Since 1942, the Voice of America has built a global reputation as a consistently reliable source of news and information. Accuracy, balance, comprehensiveness, and objectivity are attributes audiences around the world have come to expect of VOA broadcasters and their product. These standards are legally mandated in the VOA Charter (Public Laws 94-350 and 103-415). Because of them, VOA has become an inspiration and information lifeline to nations and peoples around the world.
Adhering to the principles outlined in the Charter, VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government. They accept no treatment or assistance from U.S. government officials or agencies that is more favorable or less favorable than that granted to staff of private-sector news agencies. Furthermore, VOA professionals, careful to preserve the integrity of their organization, strive for excellence and avoid imbalance or bias in their broadcasts.
The Voice of America pursues its mission today in a world conflict-ridden and unstable in the post Cold War era. Broadcasting accurate, balanced and complete information to the people of the world, and particularly to those who are denied access to accurate news, serves the national interest and is a powerful source of inspiration and hope for all those who believe in freedom and democracy.
All staff who report, manage, edit, and prepare programming at VOA in both central and language services therefore subscribe to these principles:
VOA news and programming must be rigorously sourced and verified. VOA normally requires a minimum of two independent (non-VOA) sources before any newswriter, background writer, political affairs writer, correspondent, or stringer may broadcast information as fact in any language.
The only exceptions to the double-source requirement are facts directly confirmed by a VOA journalist, or significant news drawn from an official announcement of a nation or an organization. In those rare instances when a secondary source offers exclusive significant news (e.g., a verified news agency exclusive interview with a chief of state or prominent newsmaker), this story is attributed to the originating agency by name.
Accuracy and Balance
Accuracy and balance are paramount, and together, they are VOA’s highest priority. Accuracy always comes before speed in VOA central service and language programming. VOA has a legal obligation to present a comprehensive description of events, reporting an issue in a reliable and unbiased way. Though funded by the U.S. government, VOA airs all relevant facts and opinions on important news events and issues. VOA corrects errors or omissions in its own broadcasts at the earliest opportunity.
VOA is alert to, and rejects, efforts by special interest groups, foreign or domestic, to use its broadcasts as a platform for their own views. This applies to all programs and program segments, including opinion or press roundups, programs discussing letters, listener comments, or call-in shows. In the case of call-ins, views of a single party must be challenged by the interviewer if alternative opinions are unrepresented. In interviews, points of possible discussion are submitted in advance if requested by an interviewee of stature (e.g., a chief of state). However, VOA journalists always retain the right and responsibility to pursue newsworthy angles, including entirely fresh lines of questioning, during such interviews.
Whenever VOA reports a charge or accusation made by an individual or a group against another, or presents one side of a controversial issue, a response and/or balancing information will be included in the first use of a news item or feature containing that material. If the balancing information cannot be obtained by the program deadline, or the subject of the charge declines to comment, that will be made clear in VOA’s account, and the balancing material will be broadcast as soon as it is available.
VOA has, in the words of the Founding Fathers, “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” VOA is required to present a full and fair account of events. VOA broadcasters evaluate information solely on its merits, rejecting incitements to violence, sensationalism, personal value judgments, or misleading emphases. Attributions are specific and complete.
VOA journalists (including correspondents, news and language stringers, political affairs writers, and program hosts) avoid at all times the use of unattributed pejorative terms or labels to describe persons or organizations, except when the individuals and groups use those labels to describe themselves or their activities.
In news, features, and current affairs programming, VOA broadcasters will meticulously avoid fabricating, distorting, or dramatizing an event. If sound at an event illustrates the reporter’s account of that event and is edited for time, the remaining sound effect reflects what occurred in an accurate and balanced way. If there is a risk of misleading the audience, no use will be made of sound effects not actually recorded at the event being described.
Context and Comprehensiveness
VOA presents a comprehensive account of America and the world, and puts events in context. That means constant vigilance to reflect America’s, and the world’s, political, geographical, cultural, ethnic, religious, and social diversity. VOA programming represents the broadcast team’s best effort to seek out and present a comprehensive account of the event or trend being reported.
VOA broadcasters will avoid using announcing or interviewing techniques that add political coloration or bias to their reportage or current affairs programming. Music will not be used to make editorial statements. VOA journalists and all those preparing news and feature programming avoid any action or statement that might convey the appearance of partisanship.
When performing official duties, VOA broadcasters leave their personal political views behind. The accuracy, quality, and credibility of the Voice of America are its most important assets, and they rest on listeners’ perception of VOA as an objective source of world, regional, and U.S. news and information. To that end, all VOA journalists will:
- Always travel on regular, non-diplomatic passports, and rely no more and no less than private-sector correspondents on U.S. missions abroad for support, as set out in the guidelines for VOA correspondents.
- Assist managers whose duty is to ensure that no VOA employee, contract employee, or stringer works for any other U.S. government agency, any official media of another state, or any international organization, without specific VOA authorization.
- Adhere strictly to copyright laws and agency regulations and always credit the source when quoting, paraphrasing, or excerpting from other broadcasting organizations, books, periodicals or any print media.
- In addition to these journalistic standards and principles, VOA employees recognize that their conduct both on and off the job can reflect on the work of the Voice of America community. They adhere to the highest standards of journalistic professionalism and integrity. They work to foster teamwork, goodwill, and civil discourse in the workplace and with their colleagues everywhere in the world, all to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Voice of America.