BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Watch has scored a double win at the embattled U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) international broadcaster when executives in charge made journalistic changes in response to criticism and suggestions from our independent watch dog website run by former and current VOA journalists and other volunteers.

Some of us have linked these changes to the arrival of new Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) director and CEO Andy Lack, although we were not able to determine whether he was directly involved in this case or whether VOA executives simply became fearful that he would not tolerate continuing violations of the VOA Charter and made the changes on their own. We know that they would not have done it before in response to criticism from BBG Watch, which VOA Director David Ensor dismissed in a supposedly humorous holiday skit as a work of “fiction,” lampooned two former senior VOA correspondents, and compared our website to Jehovah’s Witnesses religious magazine The Watchtower.

As it is, even with these welcome editorial policy changes, the Voice of America is still in violation of its Charter because it fails to post countervailing editorials in response to highly controversial opinion articles appearing on its website. VOA likewise fails to offer a wide range of editorial opinions on Iran, Israel, and U.S. policy in the Middle East.

BBG Watch reported that a recent column on VOA English News,, website bashed Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without any counterpoint challenge or any adequate explanation as to whom the writer represents, her employment status with VOA or whether U.S. taxpayers are paying for such content. The VOA column accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “eagerness to milk the Paris tragedy,” calling it unseemly.”

BBG Watch also reported that there was no disclaimer of any kind on the Voice of America website that these were only the writer’s subjective, value-laden personal views. The lack of such a disclaimer or even a clear “personal opinion” label (non-native English speakers may not know various meanings of the word “column”) may easily lead many foreign audiences to believe that the author is speaking with some authority on behalf of the Voice of America, the Obama Administration and Americans in general, a BBG Watch commentary noted.

SEE: Voice of America bashing Israel and Netanyahu, BBG Watch, January 14, 2015

We are happy to report today that after our criticism and suggestions, Barbara Slavin’s latest article on the Voice of America website, “Opinion: Iran Talks Give US More Options,” now carries an “Opinion” label and the following disclaimer: “The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Voice of America.”

Barbara Slavin Reports on VOAHowever, Barbara Slavin’s photo with a caption, “Barbara Slavin Reports,” still appears at the bottom of her article and confuses international audiences as to whether she is an independent outside commentator or a news reporter for the Voice of America.

We also pointed out in our previous commentary:

As things stand now, international audiences are getting from Voice of America only one columnist and only one highly subjective viewpoint on issues dealing with Iran and Israel. Readers frequently have time to read only one webpage.
In November 2014 alone, we found four columns on the VOA English website by Ms. Slavin dealing with Iran and U.S. policy toward Iran, and not a single one on the site by anybody else discussing Iran. That looks to us like an exclusive platform for Ms. Slavin–an opinion monopoly on Iran for her on the Voice of America main English news website. Why should one individual in the entire United States be the author of all or nearly all the columns dealing with Iran on the VOA site?

Voice of America executives have not yet done anything to present exclusive commentaries from many American newsmakers or experts who would most certainly vehemently disagree with Ms. Slavin’s often extreme views. If the Voice of America continues to offer Ms. Slavin an exclusive opinion platform, it should also invite frequent writers for such conservative U.S. magazines as Commentary or National Review to also comment on the same issues and to post their opinion pieces next to hers. This is what the VOA Charter clearly requires the Voice of America must do. Otherwise, VOA should just stick to providing balanced news analyses written by its own experienced staff reporters, to unrehearsed discussion programs with independent experts or interviews with such experts in which their views can be challenged or balanced.

Still, the Voice of America has made a first step toward making itself compliant with the VOA Charter. We do not know whether this can be attributed directly to Andy Lack, but his arrival certainly did not hurt. We hope there will be many more such editorial changes and management reforms at the Voice of America under his leadership.

Good job so far, more is needed, and more to come, we hope.

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