Reforming International Broadcasting


AUGUST 13, 2014

Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

My name is Jim Malone. I’m the National Correspondent in the Central Newsroom and I’ve worked as a journalist at the Voice of America for
the past 31 years.

VOA’s first broadcast was in German, but the sentiment was uniquely American: “The news may be good or bad for us. We shall tell you the truth.”

More than seven decades later, through the crucibles of the Cold War, Vietnam, Watergate and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, VOA’s commitment to credible news remains its life blood and an essential part of attracting a worldwide audience of more than 160 million.

Unfortunately, the future of VOA’s journalistic credibility is now in question as Congress moves to reform U.S. international broadcasting.

In recent weeks, scores of VOA journalists and broadcasters from Central News, the English Division and many of the language services have come together, concerned about the recently passed House bill, H.R. 4490.

We believe that requiring VOA journalists and broadcasters to not only report on, but promote, U.S. foreign policy would undermine our news credibility with overseas audiences, as would taking direction from the CIA and the Pentagon.

Restricting VOA to domestic news and policy would bring to a close decades of credible, compelling, on-the-scene news and analysis from around the world.

VOA is no stranger to criticism over the years.

As one notable visitor once put it:

“I know that there are those who are always critical of the Voice, but I believe that over the years, faced with this very difficult challenge…you have been able to tell our story in a way which makes it believable and credible. And that is what I hope you will continue
to do in the future.”

The date was February 26, 1962. The place was the VOA auditorium in this building. And the speaker was President John F. Kennedy.

VOA journalists welcome thoughtful, rational reform, but not at the cost of losing our journalistic credibility. VOA can and must do better. But it doesn’t need a new mission.

We respectfully ask that this board do what it can to safeguard VOA’s journalistic credibility and the VOA Charter in whatever legislation finally emerges from Congress.

Let’s keep VOA the Voice, not a government mouthpiece.

Thank you.

We would like to thank Mr. Gary Thomas for sending us the transcript of Mr. Malone’s remarks to the BBG Board.


BBG Watch Commentary

We do not know why highly respected Voice of America (VOA) journalist Jim Malone, author of many excellent and balanced analyses of the U.S political system, believes that the bipartisan reform bill H.R. 4490 would require VOA to take any direction in news reporting from the CIA or the Pentagon, but he apparently does. He did not mention the White House, the State Department, the U.S. Congress, or U.S. taxpayers. He also did not mention the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and the Voice of America executives who are now giving directions to VOA journalists and who have destroyed VOA’s news reporting capability, and employee morale.

Unfortunately, senior VOA correspondents with the greatest job security did not protest in public during the last few years as the VOA English Newsroom was being decimated, VOA language broadcasts and radio transmissions were being cut, and VOA was posting dozens of news reports on the British royal family while ignoring significant U.S. news stories and other reporting required by the VOA Charter. There were no protests in front of the VOA building in Washington, DC. against mismanagement. The senior management has employed intimidation tactics, but we wish senior VOA correspondents had shown more courage and fought harder against mismanagement.

We do not disagree with some of the points made by Mr. Malone, although the CIA and the Pentagon comment seems somewhat questionable as is the historical reference to VOA’s alleged journalistic freedom during World War II when VOA, while not reporting false news, was very much under the political control of the U.S. administration (it did not report news critical of the Soviet Union), as it also was for many years after the war. These facts should be stated in the name of journalistic credibility and objectivity.

VOA’s senior journalists should remember that for many years the Voice of America operated under the United States Information Agency (USIA), a public diplomacy arm of the State Department, even while VOA already had its own Charter. Would the new agency proposed in the bill be any different from the former USIA? To us, it appears much weaker and less able to interfere with VOA’s news credibility, but critics of the bill present it as much more threatening. In our view, nothing is as much threatening for VOA’s news credibility, reputation and effectiveness as the current mismanagement, lack of leadership, and lack of Congressional and public support for VOA’s mission.

It is now up to the White House and the Congress to resolve these issues. But where were senior Voice of America English correspondents, including those serving overseas on Foreign Service appointments, when VOA news reporting and international outreach were rapidly declining under mismanagement by the agency officials who are accountable only to themselves? We should thank Congress for at least trying to sort out this mess. The process is not perfect. Mr. Malone was right to voice his concerns. We wish he and some of his colleagues would have done it much earlier when VOA’s credibility and effectiveness were being internally destroyed.

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