BBG Watch Commentary
Here is a perfect example of a U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) news report, highlighting the views of the new Taliban chief in Afghanistan, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, that has minimal balance and does not include any reaction from the Afghan government. The Voice of America is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) $777 million (FY 2017 Budget Request) federal board and agency.
It is not clear at all from the VOA report to whom and where the Taliban leader made these charges. In the past, the Voice of America has reported on communications it received directly from the Taliban, also without providing sufficient balance or context.
It could be argued that the quote in the VOA report from the U.S. military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland in Kabul, provides some balance to numerous charges against the U.S.
“He has been really behind issuing a lot of fairly bloody fatwas (decrees) and justifications for the use of suicide bombers and targeting of civilians… again he does not have a tremendous amount of experience with it (leadership), but he clearly is still a dangerous man particularly based on a lot of the ideology he was putting out,” the VOA report quotes the U.S. military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland in Kabul.
But the short quote in the VOA report does not answer the numerous and specific accusations against the U.S. made by the Taliban leader, as reported by VOA. It is also not clear from the VOA report when Brig. Gen. Cleveland made his statement and whether he was reacting specifically to the accusations made by the Taliban leader.
“Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada made the remarks Saturday in connection with the annual Eid festival, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan,” VOA reported. Where his statement was made, to whom, and under exactly what circumstances is also completely missing from the VOA report. How public was his statement? Did VOA made it public?
“Hibatullah also condemned as a ‘supporter of the occupiers’ the U.S.-backed Afghan government of President Ashram Ghani,” Voice of America reported. VOA quotes the Taliban chief as saying, “Your support and siding with invaders is like the work of those abhorrent faces who in our past history supported the Britons and the Soviets,” but VOA offers no response from the Afghan government.
Under its VOA Charter, which says that “VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive” and “VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively,” VOA reporters and editors had an obligation to seek direct responses to the Taliban chief’s charges from U.S. and Afghan officials.
VOA should also clarify the mystery how it obtained the Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada’s statement and why it gave it such extensive billing without much balance or similarly extensive direct responses from the U.S. and Afghan governments.
Since VOA has decided to give such big publicity to Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada’s accusations, it should have also reached out for comments not only to U.S. and Afghani officials but also to independent U.S., Afghani, and Pakistani experts.
The Voice of America also posted what it calls a “courtesy photo” of the new Taliban leader. The caption under the VOA-posted photo says: “A photo circulated by the Taliban of new leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada.” Perhaps VOA could explain how it obtained the photo and the statement. Was the Taliban leader’s statement emailed to VOA and repeated almost word for word?
The Taliban leader could not have asked for better publicity without anyone doing much to counter his tirade against the United States and the Afghan government in this Voice of America report paid by U.S. taxpayers. We’re not saying that the Voice of America should not have reported on the latest accusations and threats from the Taliban leader, but VOA should have done a much better job of reporting them objectively, comprehensively and with balance, as required by the VOA Charter.
The VOA report is not open for comments.
Voice of America
As copied from the VOA website July 5, 2016, 12:35 PM ET.
July 02, 2016 7:43 AM
ISLAMABAD—The new Taliban chief has called for the United States to end its “occupation” of Afghanistan, saying the Islamist insurgency is determined to “salvage” the country from the claw of the infidel occupation and mischief.”
Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada made the remarks Saturday in connection with the annual Eid festival, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
“You will not be able to frustrate the determination of our (the Afghans) Jihadic struggle, by your resorting to extending the time of presence of your soldiers or of increasing military rule of engagement in Afghanistan,” he said.
Hibatullah was referring to President Barack Obama’s decision to increase airstrikes against the Taliban and to deploy of U.S. soldiers to the battlefield when necessary to help Afghan forces defeat the insurgents.
“You [the United States] are facing up not a group or faction but a nation. You are not going to be a winner [God willing]. So it is rational if you come with a reasonable policy for solution [of the issue] instead of the use of force,” he asserted.
Hibatullah took control of the insurgent group just days after a U.S. drone strike on May 21 killed Taliban leader Mullah Akthar Mansoor in neighboring Pakistan.
Under its new leadership, the Islamist insurgency has intensified battlefield attacks and suicide bombings against officials and security forces of the U.S.-backed Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani.
The latest such attack took place in Kabul Thursday when a twin suicide car bombing on a police convoy killed nearly 40 recruits and officers, and wounded dozens more.
U.S. officials have anticipated more violence in Afghanistan since the Taliban leadership transition.
Hibatullah, who was deputy to Mansoor before being elevated to the highest post, does not have a military background but is believed to be behind the Taliban-led bloodshed in Afghanistan using his years of religious influence in the group, according to the U.S. military’s initial assessment.
“He has been really behind issuing a lot of fairly bloody fatwas (decrees) and justifications for the use of suicide bombers and targeting of civilians… again he does not have a tremendous amount of experience with it (leadership), but he clearly is still a dangerous man particularly based on a lot of the ideology he was putting out,” said the U.S. military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland in Kabul.
Hibatullah also condemned as a “supporter of the occupiers” the U.S.-backed Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani.
“Your support and siding with invaders is like the work of those abhorrent faces who in our past history supported the Britons and the Soviets,” he lamented.