USAGM Watch Commentary by Former VOA English and VOA Foreign Language Reporters

Here We Go Again:  New Questions About Voice of America (VOA) Management Failures in Programs to Ethiopia and Other African Countries Under Longtime Leaders

One thing about the U.S. Agency for Global Media and Voice of America:  the place is the gift that keeps on giving, a source for comedic, though shocking, material of interest to taxpayers who pay for the agency’s $800 million annual operations. Yolanda López, a native of Barcelona, Spain, was appointed Acting VOA Director on January 21, 2021. Prior to the appointment, López served as Director of the VOA News Center, overseeing all editorial and content production.She joined VOA in 2015 as Latin America Division Director. Kelu Chao has served for nearly 40 years at VOA. She was VOA Mandarin service chief, East Asia division director, acting VOA director, and VOA program director prior to being named by the Biden administration in January 2021 as acting USAGM CEO. According to a press release on the USAGM official website, it is expected that President Biden will nominate a permanent CEO in the near future.

Apologists for USAGM/VOA continue to post stories about how the organization’s 1st Amendment roles are vital to keeping foreign audiences in media-deprived areas informed, while for the most part ignoring the parade of scandals at the agency.

What’s not discussed is the erosion of the agency’s audiences and management scandals, notwithstanding continuing happy talk emerging from 330 Independence Avenue (the headquarters of VOA and USAGM).

One example:  the commentary in The Hill in which Ilan Berman points to a recent survey by the Netherlands-based polling institute, GAMAAN, that the Voice of America’s Persian service “ranked dead last in popularity, garnering just 11 percent of all total daily viewers” among major Persian language media.

In the latest embarrassment at the Voice of America, a lengthy article by Nick Turse in The Intercept reports on allegations by reporter Jason Patinkin that VOA acted essentially as a propaganda outlet for the Ethiopian government.


Voice of America Is Accused of Ignoring Government Atrocities in Ethiopia

By Nick Turse. The Intercept. May 21, 2021.

Patinkin, the article notes, reported as a freelancer on “conflicts, extremism, and counterinsurgency in East Africa for major news outlets including the Washington Post, Reuters, and the Associated Press [winning] commendations for relentless reporting under a repressive regime in South Sudan and broke stories about war crimes that provoked global outrage.”

But as he “watched a brutal civil war unfold in Ethiopia this winter and spring, the coverage by his most recent employer, the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America, shocked and unnerved him.”

“Troops and paramilitaries loyal to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed were accused of killing and expelling civilians and committing gang rape, but VOA’s coverage largely favored the government, in Patinkin’s view, while ignoring its potential war crimes.”

Patinkin “complained to senior editors about bias in the news outlet’s Ethiopia coverage” until he finally decided he had had enough, using a resignation letter to call out “VOA’s pro-Abiy propaganda effort,” failure to issue corrections for “false and biased reporting,” and its airing of “pro-government propaganda while ignoring atrocities blamed on pro-government forces.” 

The Intercept article blows the doors open on an issue that the former watchdog site BBG Watch (predecessor to USAGM Watch) reported on for years:  biased content and the extent to which VOA and USAGM (formerly Broadcasting Board of Governors–BBG) managers fail to exert sufficient monitoring and controls of and over VOA online and traditional broadcasting.

ALSO READ: 2016 Report Confirmed Problem of Political Bias At Voice of America

By Dan Robinson. USAGM Watch. December 6, 2020.