BBG Watch Commentary
People in the United States and abroad who have signed up for the Voice of America (VOA) e-mail news bulletin, and thus allowed themselves to be propagandized to by highly partisan and poorly-informed management of the U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlet, may have been surprised that VOA journalists, editors, and even VOA director are not sure whether individuals who seize maritime vessels at sea by force and keep their crews captive under the threat of death should be called pirates or “desperate fishermen” whom the VOA report tried to present inaccurately and misleadingly as fighters for social and economic justice.
The VOA management’s e-mail news bulletin had a link to a VOA report, which in turn was highlighted in a Facebook post by VOA Director Amanda Bennett who wrote:
Amanda Bennett (amandabennettvoa) “One of the men who seized an oil tanker off the Somali coast this week tells VOA he’s not a pirate. VOA’s Somali service spoke to one of the hijackers Tuesday, a day after men boarded and seized the ship about 30 kilometers off the Somali coast, then anchored off Alula, a town in Somalia’s Puntland region.”
The VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, requires the Voice of America to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.” The U.S. government’s position on piracy is quite clear, but it was not at all reflected in the VOA report, which instead tries to turn the incident into a social and economic struggle for justice issue, as dubious as it is.
The report is also misleading in attempting to present the pirates’ claim to be aggrieved fishermen as something new. According to one British expert on piracy in Somalia, these pirates have all along claimed that they are fishermen or members of other groups fighting for social and economic justice. Similar claims have been made by terrorists and others who murder or take innocent civilians as hostages. They almost never call themselves terrorists but freedom fighters or religious fighters.
Since the Voice of America and its director have failed to do their job according to the VOA Charter in this and many other instances in recent past, while the top boss of the federal agency, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John F. Lansing (he must have seen the VOA news highlights e-mail and Ms. Bennett’s Facebook post) has failed to provide proper leadership and oversight, here is the unequivocal message to any “desperate fishermen” in Somalia, which we found on the U.S. State Department’s website: You are pirates and the United States is firmly among the nations that will pursue you and bring you to justice despite of what you may have read in the VOA report. Most Americans also do not see you as revolutionaries but as pirates and common criminals. This State Department policy was drafted during the Obama administration. President Trump most certainly will not give you any slack.
The United States Response to Piracy off the Coast of Somalia Fighting piracy is a vital element of the United States’ strategic objectives in Somalia, which are to help this stressed nation to regain stability, eliminate terrorism, and respond to the humanitarian needs of its people. United States actions, taken in concert with those of other concerned countries, are consistent with its traditional interest in ensuring freedom of navigation and safety of the seas, and in protecting American citizens and ensuring access to essential resources.
This VOA report as misleading and as embarrassing as it is, is not as bad as some of the other recent VOA reports. This one at least has some semblance of balance even if the main message is still dangerously confusing, while other VOA reports did not have any balance at all and some VOA reports even romanticized a Chechen-American terrorist who was one of the Boston bombers, and a Turkish ISIS jihadist. Some of these other VOA reports were also highlighted by the VOA director in Facebook posts and e-mails to staff as being worthy of emulation.
Equal time and more than equal time for pirates and for terrorists is as bad as it gets at this U.S. taxpayer-funded federal government operation (VOA’s FY 2017 budget is $224 million; BBG’s entire budget including VOA is $777.8 million).
We found this comment under VOA director Amanda Bennett’s Facebook post, which otherwise received very little following or engagement. Dan Robinson is a former VOA senior White House correspondent, a former VOA foreign correspondent, and a former VOA foreign language service director.
Dan Robinson VOA, of course, is trying its best to be seen as some kind of major news breaking organization, in the process funneling all sorts of items out via its English and language pages, to give the impression that it is just like other non-government media, as well as being some new fountain source of “investigative” reporting. Giving voice to one of those involved in the hijacking is quite interesting. Let’s suppose for sake of argument that this person was in the past, or might be in future following the ship incident, involved in an action the outcome of which caused death or serious injury to a hostage or hostages. So, VOA would then have provided a platform for that person, who in theory could conceivably be targeted by a U.S. military action at a future date, or be the subject of prosecution. In their frantic and often shortsighted push to burnish VOA’s tarnished reputation, BBG/VOA managers have encouraged a process (if one can call it that) in which language services attempt to portray themselves as mini-investigative agencies, when in fact they have neither the historical basis nor the resources that would be required to compete in the actual very intense space of investigative journalism.
The featured “Desperate fisherman?” image is from a Voice of America e-email with highlights of VOA news reporting.
The “Somali pirates are really aggrieved fishermen” angle was debunked long ago. In the beginning, circa 2007, local fishermen may have signed on with the raiders, but the sad fact is that the situation is one of organized crime. The weaponry and boats are well beyond the means of “simple fishermen,” supplied instead by crime bosses, many living in Kenya who profit richly from the sale of captured ships, cargo and ransoms paid by the shipping lines. One phone call to Interpol could have explained all this. VOA has followed this story only intermittently over the years and is well over its head. It once reported that piracy off the Horn of Africa may even be a good thing because it allows depleted fishing stocks to rebuilt. The Obama State Department went nuts. Pathetic.
One more point. VOA’s new senior managers might be excused for their ignorance on this issue, but people in the Horn are well aware of the pirate’s links to organized crime. While VOA’s intention in running this article may have been to show itself as enterprising, instead it will come across as wildly naive. Not a good thing for an organization trying to build a reputation as a trusted news source.
We disagree that senior BBG and VOA executives (directors, deputy directors) can be excused for not realizing the serious problems with the VOA “desperate Somali fishermen” report. Anyone with any kind of U.S. foreign policy experience should see that what is presented in the VOA report is exactly the opposite of what the U.S. government has been saying and doing for years and that its message could lead to U.S. lives being lost. To highlight such a report, which the BBG/VOA management did, is beyond excusable.
Here is another comment. It was posted under the VOA report and is worth sharing.
March 15, 2017 10:01 AM
Excuse me for observing this, but why would VOA pursue a phone interview with someone who is obviously a terrorist, though denying they are a “pirate”? Don’t you think this could encourage others with like-minded tendencies? Foolish move by VOA.
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