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It could not have been much worse for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). BBG is a federal agency overseeing U.S. media outreach abroad, including Voice of America (VOA) programs to Nigeria, a country fighting Boko Haram Islamist terrorists. During a visit to Nigeria by a BBG-VOA delegation, which came to promote BBG’s U.S.taxpayer-funded training for Nigerian journalists, the Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has appealed to the Voice of America to ensure a more balanced coverage of the Boko Haram insurgency by VOA’s Hausa Service. Boko Haram is an Islamist extremist group based in northeastern Nigeria. It is also active in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon.
A few days earlier, popular Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust published an open letter to President Obama in which a reader wrote that “VOA Hausa is today a shadow of its former excellent self, a mockery of what it had been. Today, VOA Hausa is everything but professional. It lacks professionalism, tact and objectivity.” The author also alleges that “in the last three to four years, during the time when BH [Boko Haram] vehemence was at its highest and severest, VOA Hausa clearly appeared to celebrate the ‘exploits’ of the insurgents.” A VOA Hausa Service editor said that these allegations were “unsubstantiated.”
Daily Trust has 620,627 Facebook followers.
Nigeria’s Daily Post reported in an article titled, “Lai Mohammed tasks VOA Hausa Service on balanced reportage of Boko Haram terrorism,” that “a statement issued by the Minister’s Special Assistant, Segun Adeyemi, quotes him as urging the international broadcaster to correct the perception that the Hausa Service of the VOA’s reporting of the war is being skewed in favour of the insurgents.”
VOA denies these accusations.
Daily Post Nigeria has 439,134 Facebook followers.
By Sylvester Ugwuanyi, Daily Post, March 8, 2016
DAILY POST (NIGERIA): “The Voice of America is very popular in Nigeria, and for many years, the Voice of America has been seen as the veritable voice of cooperation, partnership and friendship to Nigeria. I can say that in the Northern part of Nigeria in particular, the Voice of America is listened to very religiously.
“However, I must say that in recent times, there have been lots of complaints about the Voice of America from the same part. People have not been too happy about the way the insurgency has been reported in recent times,” Mohammed said.
He noted, however, that in spite of the allegations, the VOA remains the favourite channel ”for many of our brothers and sisters in the North”, particularly during the time of the insurgency, which significantly affected the capacity of the local broadcasters to reach out to the people.
“When I read the article (on the VOA coverage of Boko Haram), I said it could mean two things. One, that the Voice of America is still very relevant in Nigeria and, secondly, the perception out there is that the audience probably wants more of balancing of stories than anything,” the Minister said.
Negussie Mengesha, identified in the article as Voice of America Africa Division director, denied the allegation that the coverage of the Boko Haram insurgency by the VOA Hausa Service is slanted in favour of the insurgents.
“I think the Hausa Service is the real enemy of Boko Haram. The entire Northern Nigeria has been affected by this crazy madness and in fact we took one of our reporters and kept him for six weeks in Northern Nigeria to have first hand investigative reports and he did an excellent job,” Mr. Mengesha said.
READ FULL DAILY POST ARTICLE: Lai Mohammed tasks VOA Hausa Service on balanced reportage of Boko Haram terrorism, By Sylvester Ugwuanyi, Daily Post, March 8, 2016
VOA Africa Division director Negussie Mengesha was also quoted in the Daily Post article as saying that he was disappointed by the allegations contained in an article published by another Nigerian newspaper the Daily Trust. Mr. Mengesha may have been referring to the open letter to President Obama whose author, Audu Gagara. was highly critical of the Voice of America Hausa Service.
Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust published an open letter to President Obama from a reader Audu Gagara. The letter states that “VOA Hausa is today a shadow of its former excellent self, a mockery of what it had been. Today, VOA Hausa is everything but professional. It lacks professionalism, tact and objectivity.”
The author alleges that “in the last three to four years, during the time when BH [Boko Haram] vehemence was at its highest and severest, VOA Hausa clearly appeared to celebrate the ‘exploits’ of the insurgents.”
The Daily Post article quotes the Managing Editor of the Hausa Service, Aliyu Mustapha, as saying that the allegation of biased coverage of the insurgency by the Voice of America Hausa Service is ”unsubstantiated.”
VOA HAUSA: OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA By Bala Muhammad | Publish Date: Mar 5 2016 5:00AM
This week, a reader going by the name Audu Gagara …, worried that VOA Hausa appears to be pursuing an unwholesome agendum, writes an open letter to President Barack Obama and shared same with this column. It’s worrisome enough to appear here:
VOA HAUSA: OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA
Voice of America
Dear Mr. President:
I was born and bred in Gashu’a, a town in Yobe State, northeastern Nigeria, one of the states ravaged by Boko Haram (BH) insurgency. I grew up to find your country, the United States (US), through the Voice of America (VOA) Hausa Service, speaking to my people thrice a day – morning, afternoon, evening. As kids, we would sit with our elders as they glued themselves to their radio sets so as not to miss a word from the broadcasts. We grew up as radio listeners on our cheap Kchibo transistors; and VOA Hausa had a pride of place among its peers. Through these broadcasts, the US spoke directly to us; we were able to catch a glimpse of US’s history, diversity, ideals, principles, foreign policy and other aspects of life in your Land of Freedom. In those days, VOA Hausa was very informative and educating, as it was entertaining. It was also very professional.
Unfortunately, Mr. President, VOA Hausa is today a shadow of its former excellent self, a mockery of what it had been. Today, VOA Hausa is everything but professional. It lacks professionalism, tact and objectivity. Its inefficiency and ineffectiveness became more glaring, and in a most striking manner, from the early days of the BH insurgency. It is on this that I would like to draw Your Excellency’s attention.
I choose to write this open letter to you because this issue is very important to me and, perhaps, it may be of interest to you too, considering the tremendous effort you are exerting in trying to cultivate the friendship of Muslim peoples all over the world. There is a dangerous trend going on at VOA Hausa, perhaps US’s strongest connection with Hausa-speaking Muslim communities in Africa and, as I mentioned earlier, this worrisome trend began with the rise of BH.
To begin with, in the last three to four years, during the time when BH vehemence was at its highest and severest, VOA Hausa clearly appeared to celebrate the ‘exploits’ of the insurgents. In fact, its reporting of events seemed to exaggerate BH’s ‘successes’ and to downplay our military’s accomplishments. VOA Hausa would trumpet the group’s attacks, often inaccurately, and would usually amplify and repeat the group’s messages throughout the day. From the way things have unfolded in the last few years, the insurgent group may be said to have as ‘friends’ VOA Hausa, apparently basking in satisfaction on how well their ‘successes’ were being reported, nay celebrated, by the station. The style of the coverage of the Chibok Girls kidnapping, for example, left a lot to be desired as VOA Hausa showed a lack of empathy and compassion.
While we all know that that these poor girls are still missing, VOA Hausa’s monotonous coverage does not inform listeners on how the girls’ parents are coping, for example, or how the communities affected are resettling. One may have to tune in to other stations to learn that some of the girls who managed to escape that horrific nightmare are doing well at the American University in Nigeria, Yola, and in the US, so near you Mr. President. One would have thought VOA Hausa would celebrate US’s successful diplomacy in this matter, unless of course IT IS THE US ITSELF that dictates otherwise. The US may perhaps be doing several great things to counter BH and similar groups, but VOA Hausa appears to have no shred of interest in reporting such laudable efforts. For instance, about two weeks ago a team from the US Institute of Peace visited Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and, a few days later, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it would support Sokoto and Adamawa States in empowering their youths. Surprisingly, and to the best of my knowledge, neither of these stories was reported by VOA Hausa.
Mr, President, isn’t it ironic that one has to tune in to VOA Hausa’s rival stations such as the BBC, DW and RFI to know what the US is doing to help us defeat insurgency and empower our people? It then strikes me that perhaps VOA Hausa is out to undermine the very good work you are doing; or else why wouldn’t they highlight the good work the US and the whole world are doing in combatting terrorism? Why does VOA Hausa only concentrate on reporting the activities of this particular Nigerian insurgent group? Is there a hidden agenda? Is the US speaking from both sides of the mouth? Is it running with both the hound and the hare?
To us, VOA Hausa has become the perfect platform for BH to spread its message of terror. The station seems to be succeeding in giving BH some form of legitimacy, and appears to be an intimate friend of the insurgents – this much was admitted by a leading personality of the station who confidently stated that they are “a friend” to BH during a presentation on “Combating Boko Haram” at the American Foreign Service Association Conference Centre in Washington, DC, on 10th August, 2015.
In addition to all this, Mr. President, the low quality of VOA Hausa Service is first-class. In this age of technological advancement, the station appears to be stuck in 19th Century journalism. Its reports are often late and are usually direct translations from the English without context or depth. It is painful that the platform which many of us grew up adoring has today become a joke; a place where mediocrity thrives and where amateur and untrained broadcasters with limited understanding of the language are perhaps being used to promote some personal agenda.
Furthermore, it appears that there are multiple voices on the platform which indicate lack of focus and direction. Recently, VOA Hausa launched a TV platform but, like its radio counterpart, it totally lacks creativity, vision and direction. After watching its programmes for some time, one would begin to ask oneself, “Do American taxpayers enjoy paying for something without returns?”
Couldn’t VOA Hausa, for example, take a cue from PBS, another US media entity, whose recent special report “Poverty, Corruption Fuels Boko Haram” (which aired in November 2015) was an excellent piece of journalism and was well received? Yet, as far as I know, VOA Hausa has not seen it fit to translate and broadcast that particularly well-researched report which, if it were rendered in Hausa, would make tremendous impact based on content, quality and professionalism. And we are NOT even asking for something original – just copy and paste, translate some good report.
Alas! Mr. President, Nigeria is in the era of combating both terrorism and corruption, and you have openly pledged to support our country on both fronts when our president visited you last July. We believe a lot of good that can be achieved through a positive VOA Hausa which used to be a household name across Hausa-speaking communities in Africa. But we are very worried that the station seems to be giving too much undeserved publicity to Boko Haram with no commensurate empathy for victims, our military or even your own country’s assistance. Mr. President, the US doesn’t have too many friends, and VOA Hausa seems to be subtracting the ones that you do have. Perhaps their action is sanctioned by higher authority – but perhaps not; that it’s only a failure of supervision and control. If it’s the latter, we bring it to your attention. Bring VOA Hausa to order.
READ ORIGINAL DAILY TRUST ARTICLE: VOA HAUSA: OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA By Bala Muhammad | Publish Date: Mar 5 2016 5:00AM, Daily Trust
Ms. Joan Mower, Director, Development and International Media Training for the Broadcasting Board of Governors