BBG Watch Media Commentary
When Voice of America (VOA) reporter and/or commentator Barbara Slavin (it’s still not exactly clear what her role is at the Voice of America is and how she is employed) accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a VOA “Column” of “eagerness to milk the Paris tragedy,” calling it “unseemly,” BBG Watch pointed out that many foreign audiences may believe that the author is speaking with some authority on behalf of the Voice of America, the Obama Administration and Americans in general.
BBG Watch also pointed out that the Voice of America did not post any “columns” defending Prime Minister Netanyahu.
SEE: Voice of America bashing Israel and Netanyahu, BBG Watch Editorial, January 14, 2015
In response to BBG Watch criticism, some of the newer articles by Ms. Slavin on the Voice of America main news website are now labeled “Opinion” rather than “Column.” BBG Watch pointed out that the full meaning of the word “Column” may be and most likely is unfamiliar to some foreign readers for whom English is a second language.
After our our observations were posted, some of Ms. Slavin’s newer “Opinion” articles even started to carry the following disclaimer: “The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Voice of America.” This is also what BBG Watch had suggested.
But there are still no “Opinion” articles on the Voice of America website with countervailing views posted next to Ms. Slavin’s highly subjective and controversial commentaries.
Is there no one in charge of VOA’s editorial policies and standards?
Ms. Slavin’s newest “Opinion” article, “Opinion: Effort to Thwart Iran Deal Won’t Have Intended Effect,” which includes more criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, does not have the disclaimer that “The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Voice of America.” International audiences may very well again assume that this newest article by Ms. Slavin does indeed reflect the position of Voice of America, and perhaps also the position of the Obama Administration and the majority of Americans.
But does it?
It is not clear whether the recently adopted disclaimer was omitted on purpose or whether this is yet another example of lack of leadership and confusion that reins supreme at the Voice of America under its current management.
We in fact have nothing against Ms. Slavin expressing her strong views, although we would also like to see on the Voice of America website strong views expressed by others, including supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu and critics of Iran, of whom there is no shortage in the United States. They can hardly be described as marginal.
The VOA Charter requires that such views be also expressed if Ms. Slavin’s views are to be prominently featured. The VOA Charter is being ignored by the current Voice of America leadership.
What we also object to most of all is international audiences being confused by Voice of America’s editorial practices and standards.
Ms. Slavin seems to have a virtual monopoly on VOA commentaries dealing with Iran and Israel.
Many current and former Voice of America reporters who take the VOA Charter seriously have asked this question.
A former senior VOA correspondent observed that “there is no information immediately at the top of each piece identifying [Ms. Slavin’s] relationships with VOA.”
The reader must wait until the end where it’s explained that, in Slavin’s case, she is a “senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. . .” as well as a “regular commentator” for VOA, NPR, PBS, and C-SPAN.
But her photo posted at the bottom has a caption: “Barbara Slavin Reports.” The word “Reports” is in a bold red font.
Is Ms. Slavin a Voice of America reporter or a paid or unpaid commentator for the Voice of America?
Is she both?
Again, whom exactly does she represent?
On whose behalf is she writing her “Opinion” articles?
What is her relationship with VOA?
How come critics of the Obama Administration foreign policy, critics of Iran and strong supporters of Israel do not have a similar special relationship with VOA?
Ms. Slavin embraces most of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy positions, whether it’s vis-a-vis Israel, Iran or Cuba. She presents them well, but some might say that too enthusiastically, which may make them appear even more vulnerable to outside criticism than they already are.
This is, however, not a commentary on Ms. Slavin’s views or the Obama Administration.
But by prominently featuring her columns and not extending the same treatment (exclusive “Opinion” articles on the U.S. taxpayer-funded VOA website) to others who would vehemently disagree with her and/or the Obama Administration, the Voice of America is moving closer and closer to Russia’s RT practice of posting only opinion articles that strongly support Russia’s government led by President Putin. (RT also does this with abundance in its news reports, but even RT has been more careful than VOA in how it labels its opinion pieces.)
Again, this is not Ms. Slavin’s fault. This is a practice adopted by the Voice of America senior management, which is solely responsible for misleading VOA audiences and ignoring the VOA Charter.
This confusion between reporting and opinion and the lack of countervailing viewpoints in the same article or at least on the same web page, is not what Congress intended for the Voice of America. It is not what the VOA Charter demands from the Voice of America.
VOA is not a commercial media entity which does not take taxpayers’ money and can write its own rules.
While she should not be criticized simply for expressing her views (which is different from criticizing her views), this is what Ms. Slavin wrote in her latest article without any disclaimers as to whose opinions she is reflecting, and with no other article with opposing opinions posted next to hers.
Determined to prevent President Barack Obama from accepting a “bad” deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems bent on destroying chances for a reasonable one that could prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for at least another decade and open the door to diplomacy on other pressing regional issues. …
That appears to be Netanyahu’s goal.
Again, we have nothing against Ms. Slavin expressing her views, even in VOA programs, if she does this from the outside as an independent commentator.
But right now, her role at the Voice of America is completely unclear, as seen even from some of the comments from readers of the VOA website in the United States and abroad posted below some of her recent articles. They are also confused as to whom Ms. Slavin is representing and blame VOA. They should be blaming the Voice of America senior management.
“Alan G. from: North Carolina
January 15, 2015 04:34
How is this column objective? It is embarrassing that VOA published this. Journalism has gone so downhill.
Thomas Rodrick from: Amherst, NY
January 16, 2015 03:06
This is outrageous. Do American taxpayers pay for this content? It is anti-American.
by: Samuel Prime from: Canada
February 18, 2015 12:10 AM
Bibi Netanyahu is doing the correct thing because he sees that Obama admin policy has evolved into to a containment policy on Iran’s nuclear program, contrary to what Obama said at the outset. Furthermore, the deadlines and talks proved to be gimmicks in view of their being over a decade in the making and they keep getting extended endlessly. Israel cannot trust a leader who is distrusted by most Americans.”
by: Iranfail from: USA
February 17, 2015 7:34 PM
Two previous failed sessions died not because Congress was browbeating Obama, but because Khamenei and Rouhani consistently held to the position that Iran would not give up its enrichment capacity. There is no reason a state like Iran needs enrichment capacity simply to make fuel when every other nation of the same size simply buys its fuel, such as Canada.”
Another comment raised a question of bias:
by: JM from: USA
February 17, 2015 2:52 PM
“Hey Barbra u curiously leave out the reasons why Bibi & most of Israel feel threatened by Iran. With their daily threats to WIPE Israel OUT, & Having fomented multiple bands of lethal terrorists @ its borders, with masses of rockets at their ready; Iran is well advanced into their clearly articulated diabolical m.o. The US has already failed in preventing the second worst rough state on the planet namely N. Korea from going nuclear. Israel will not stand by as the worst one jauntily tries slipping by as well.
Slavenly or not, ducking Barbs or absorbing them, by way of bombs or bombast, BIBI will not be snookered by imbeciles of VOA’s ilk, into submission!”
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:
1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
2. 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.
3. 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)