BBG Watch Commentary
This week, Voice of America (VOA) English News failed to cover online riveting testimony in Congress by a Syrian defector about war crimes in Syria, his meeting with National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden, and the arrival in the U.S. of a Sudanese Christian woman who once faced a death penalty because of her religious beliefs.
Instead, during the week that also saw a North Korean threat to launch a nuclear attack on the White House and a Congressional vote in favor of new sanctions on the regime in Pyongyang, the Voice of America posted online a press release-like feature story about beer production in North Korea, a country known for starving, imprisoning and executing its citizens for the slightest criticism of the regime.
Voice of America headquarters are located in Washington, DC within walking distance of Capitol Hill and the U.S. Congress. Commenting on VOA’s failure to cover significant U.S. news and posting of news which lack balance and violate the VOA Charter, a senior congressional staffer observed:
SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER: “There’s a level of irony here… VOA claiming their journalistic integrity is under attack and then putting out stories that make their journalistic integrity seem questionable.
The staffer was referring to H.R. 4490, the bipartisan United States International Communications Reform Act to improve the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters, introduced on April 28, 2014 by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and passed unanimously by the House in a voice vote on Monday.
Some former and current VOA reporters, while supportive of management reforms, are opposed to some of the bill’s wording, fearing that VOA might become a tool of U.S. public diplomacy or even propaganda, while others, including the employees’ union, AFGE Local 1812, view these fears as exaggerated and strongly support the legislation in general while calling for revisions in the bill’s language to strengthen VOA’s journalistic integrity. Many former and current employees and other critics accuse VOA’s senior management of already destroying the organization’s reputation as a reliable source of news about the world and the United States. They are calling for the bill passage in the Senate and for President Obama’s support to save the Voice of America from its dysfunctional management.
This week brought more glaring example’s of VOA’s failures to cover news as required by its congressional Charter and information needs of its international audiences.
NEWS NOT COVERED BY VOICE OF AMERICA
The White House released its statement on “Caesar” and Syrian war crimes after business hours on Friday (5:20 PM EDT) and the Voice of America did not cover this news. But VOA also did not cover a Congressional hearing on war crimes in Syria held during the day on Thursday.
Another U.S. and international news story not covered on the VOA’s main English news website and by many of its language services was the arrival in the U.S. on Thursday of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. CNN, Fox News, New Hampshire Union Leader and other media reported that she had arrived at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Thursday night. Voice of America did not have a report on its main English news website about Meriam Ibrahim’s arrival in the U.S. A check of many, but not all, of VOA language services to Africa and other regions of the world also showed that they have not covered the Sudanese Christian woman’s arrival in the U.S.
Fox NewsMy Fox Boston–Miriam Ibrahim, her husband Daniel Wani and their two children can now live together again in the Granite State. They will soon start a new life …Meriam Ibrahim, Sudan Woman Who Faced Death Over Faith …
In-Depth–Huffington Post–Sudanese Christian woman who once faced death penalty arrives in …
Blog–CNN (blog)–Sudanese woman who faced death over faith arrives in US
“CAESAR” IN WASHINGTON NOT COVERED BY VOA
U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) English Central News, mismanaged, neglected and deprived of staff by VOA’s senior executives, has again shown its inability to reliably cover U.S. and international news when it completely ignored in its online reporting the visit this week to the Capitol Hill and the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House by “Caesar,” a former Syrian military-police photographer who defected and brought with him thousands of photographs documenting killings and torture by the Syrian regime.
While numerous U.S. and international media outlets reported in the last few days on Ceasar’s testimony in Congress on Thursday and his meeting Friday with the National Security Council officials at the White House, a search of the Voice of America main English news website and most of its foreign language websites on Saturday afternoon has shown zero VOA online reports on this news story as of 3PM EDT, August 2, 2014.
BBC News posted a news report Thursday on “Caesar’s” testimony before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Wearing dark glasses and a hood to hide his identity, he told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee what he had seen in Damascus. He described maimed bodies, people with eyes gouged out and skeletal remains, a litany of horrors that defy the imagination,” BBC reported. Syria ‘torture’ photos shown in US, By Tara McKelvey, BBC News, July 31, 2014.
Voice of America, however, was in good company. Russia’s RT, Voice of Russia, and Aljazeera also did not cover “Caesar’s” testimony in Washington this week about war crimes in Syria. That was more of a reason for VOA to cover the story for international audiences. Once again, VOA failed.
A VOA correspondent covering the U.S. Congress had no reports or tweets Thursday or Friday about “Caesar’s” Syrian war crimes testimony in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The vast majority of tweets from the VOA correspondent on those days reflected positions of President Obama and the Democratic lawmakers on the U.S. border security funding bill. There were about twice as many tweets from a VOA correspondent reflecting the Administration’s and the Democratic Party’s views on the border crisis as there were tweets reflecting the views of the Republicans during those two days. The VOA Charter, however, says that “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.”
A Google search for “VOA” and “Caesar” in July and the first two days in August produced a VOA Spanish Service feature report about the “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” movie. VOA claims to have a large audience on affiliate stations in Latin America, but critics say that its placement program not just in Latin America but around the world is often subject to external and self-censorship and on many stations and websites consists of feature stories without hard news.
Caesar is a chimpanzee and leader of the apes in the movie.
El Nacional.comVoz de América–Una nación de simios genéticamente evolucionados liderados porCaesar es amenazada por un grupo de humanos sobrevivientes del …
In addition to reporting by BBC, Fox News, Daily Beast, ABC News, Kuwait News Agency, Hindustan Times, Journal of Turkish Weekly and many others, “Caesar’s” testimony in Congress was a front page story Friday in The Wall Street Journal, Syrian Defector’s Photos Could Trigger War-Crimes Charges: U.S., Allies Reviewing Material Provided by Man Code-Named Caesar; Lawmakers Stunned at Hearing, By JESS BRAVIN and MICHAEL R. CRITTENDEN, The Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2014.
STRANGE VOA COVERAGE OF NORTH KOREA
U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America, led by VOA Director David Ensor, VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch and a large number of senior advisors, strategic planners, program directors and coordinators, has shown no interest in “Caesar” and the Syrian war crimes story this week, or the arrival of the Sudanese Christian woman in the U.S. after facing a death penalty in Sudan, but VOA also missed many other significant news stories in recent months and years.
BBG Watch has learned that the senior management announced this week yet another reorganization of the decimated VOA English newsroom. VOA reporters are highly skeptical of these plans and point to the lack of leadership and good management as the cause of VOA being far behind other international media in audience engagement through social media, news stories missed, and reporting that embarrasses VOA as a news organization. An anonymous VOA journalist urged top executives in a satyrical “Dear John Letter from VOA Girl” to resign. This week also brought the story that managers at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which include VOA executives, have the worst internal communication skills in the federal government and the agency is one of the worst places for government employment. Execs with worst communication skills in charge of U.S. world media outreach at BBG, BBG Watch, August 1, 2014.
VOA’s main news website had no reports Monday at all on the U.S. House of Representatives passage of bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, to strengthen sanctions against North Korea, but on Tuesday, a day after North Korea threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the White House, VOA posted a feature story about North Korean beer, “Czech Know-how Brewing in N. Korea – VOA English News Report,” that read like a press release written in Pyongyang.
When VOA does cover congressional news, the results do not always seem to be in compliance with the VOA Charter, which says that “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).”
On Monday, VOA posted a news report on the House passage of H.R. 4490, the U.S. International Communications Reform Act of 2014. The VOA report quoted members of Congress who support the bill and two outside critics of the bill, but failed to quote or even mention its outside supporters, including current and former VOA journalists, human rights activists, and U.S. ethnic community leaders who wrote a letter to President Obama in support of the reform legislation. “House Passes Bill To Overhaul US International Broadcasting — Voice of America take lacks balance,” BBG Watch, July 28, 2014.
Former VOA Deputy Director Alan Heil on House broadcasting bill: if this bill becomes law, VOA’s worldwide following would plummet.
— Cindy Saine (@cindysaine) July 29, 2014
A senior Congressional staffer in the House Foreign Affairs Committee made this comment on the lack of balance in some VOA English News reports and VOA’s repeated failures to fulfill its other Charter obligations:
SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER: “There’s a level of irony here… VOA claiming their journalistic integrity is under attack and then putting out stories that make their journalistic integrity seem questionable. Very disappointing.”
EXTENSIVE COVERAGE OF “CAESAR” BY OTHER MEDIA
The Voice of America ignored both the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with Caesar on Thursday, July 31, a statement by Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce and a statement by Deputy NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes’ and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Jake Sullivan’s meeting Friday, August 1, with the Syrian Defector “Caesar.”
— Foreign Affairs Cmte (@HouseForeign) August 1, 2014
Statement by Deputy NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Jake Sullivan’s Meeting with the Syrian Defector “Caesar”
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 1, 2014
Statement by Deputy NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Jake Sullivan’s Meeting with the Syrian Defector “Caesar”
Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Jake Sullivan met today with former Syrian military police photographer “Caesar,” who defected from the Assad regime with thousands of photographs of brutalized bodies, suggestive of torture and killing on an industrial scale by the Assad regime.
Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Sullivan thanked “Caesar” for his personal and moral courage in bearing witness to the Assad regime’s atrocities, which represent an assault on human dignity. The images that “Caesar” has shared with the world paint a picture of unimaginable suffering – gouged eyes, abrasions in the silhouette of metal chains, and the emaciated corpses of men, women, and children – and offer some of the most heart wrenching evidence of the unconscionable tactics Bashar al-Assad employs to cling to power.
Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Sullivan told “Caesar” that he has done a service not only to the Syrian people, but to the world, in bringing this evidence to light. The United States remains deeply disturbed that because Russia and China vetoed a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that was supported by every other member of the United Nations Security Council, the perpetrators cannot be held to account in the ICC. Nevertheless, the United States will continue working through other avenues with our international partners to pursue accountability for the perpetrators of these crimes against the Syrian people.
The United States is deeply concerned for the many thousands of Syrians who remain imprisoned within Syria. More broadly, the United States will continue to be the largest international donor to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis faced by the Syrian people. We are also providing increased support for the moderate Syrian opposition, which is fighting both the Assad regime and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Finally, we will continue our efforts to achieve a negotiated political resolution to the Syrian conflict that leads to Assad’s departure and finally ends the nightmare facing the Syrian people.
Syrian Army Defector, “Caesar,” Briefs Committee, Shows Photographs Documenting Atrocities by Assad Regime — Chairman Royce Opening Statement
Briefer smuggled 50,000 photos out of Syria, shares story, photos in public for first time
Washington, D.C. – Today at 9:30 a.m., U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, convened a briefing entitled, “Assad’s Killing Machine Exposed: Implications for U.S. Policy.” The Committee is being briefed by “Caesar,” a Syrian Army defector who was witness to and a documenter of Bashar al-Assad’s lethal brutality. This briefing is the first public setting in which “Caesar” has shared his story.
“Caesar,” who is appearing in disguise at the briefing, has smuggled out of Syria more than 50,000 photographs that document the torture and execution of more than 10,000 dissidents.
During the briefing “Caesar” is showing Committee Members a number of those photographs, some of which are available HERE.
***Please note these are VERY GRAPHIC images.
Below is Chairman Royce’s statement as prepared for delivery at the briefing:
Today, we examine evidence of horrific atrocities committed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad against the Syrian people.
The Syria crisis is now in its fourth year. This is a crisis created and sustained by Bashar al-Assad, who responded to peaceful demands by Syrians for their universal rights with unspeakable violence – even against children. In doing so, he has placed his own grip on power above the very survival of millions.
The conflict has created unimaginable human suffering. According to international statistics, 11 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid – which Assad has blocked in many areas. His “Kneel or Starve” campaigns are just one example of his brutality.
Others include – targeted killings, mass graves, ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, widespread torture, aerial bombardment of residential areas with conventional and chemical weapons, and the extermination of entire families.
Assad’s brutality, as we know, is underwritten by robust military and other support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Syria is a humanitarian crisis, but a strategic challenge too, as Assad has pulled the entire region into violent chaos.
Today, the Committee will view images of horrendous violence, carried out on an industrial scale. It is no coincidence that these photos were shown at the Holocaust Museum earlier this week. We will see evidence of the Assad regime’s killing of at least 10,000 political dissidents between 2011 and 2013. The killing continues today.
In April, this Committee unanimously condemned Assad’s atrocities, passing H. Res. 520. We also passed a resolution authored by Mr. Smith, which called for the establishment of a tribunal to hold accountable the perpetrators of war crimes in Syria. Pure and simple, these photos cry out for justice.
We are honored to be joined by four excellent witnesses, including “Caesar,” a defector from the Syrian army, who risked his life to collect and smuggle out of Syria over 50,000 photos of political dissidents tortured and killed by the regime after the protests began. I offer you a special thank you for speaking to our Committee today.
One cannot see images like these and not ask, “what can be done?” Answering that isn’t easy. Mr. Engel was an early supporter of more aggressive action on Syria, when it wasn’t popular. I’m not sure that’s changed much, but as Committee Members, we are charged with confronting these difficult issues, which are moral issues too. I appreciate our Members attending this briefing, a vivid and depressing reminder that while action can be costly, so too can inaction.
JUL 31, 2014
Wall Street Journal – Jul 31, 2014Caesar, a former Syrian military-police photographer, testified Thursday before a House committee about his job documenting thousands of corpses at a Damascus hospital, many of which were mutilated or showed other signs of torture. The images are being …Fox News – Jul 31, 2014WASHINGTON – EDITOR’S NOTE: The images linked in this story are of extremely graphic photographs of Syrian torture victims, which should be considered before viewing. ASyrian defector who goes only by the name “Caesar” delivered dramatic and …Daily Beast – Jul 31, 2014The regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad is holding 150,000 civilians in custody, all of whom are at risk of being tortured or killed by the state, the Syrian defector known as “Caesar” told Congress on Thursday. According to a senior State Department …National Journal – Jul 31, 2014The photos shown Thursday were just a small portion of the roughly 50,000 that “Caesar,” who uses the pseudonym in order to protect his safety, handed over to the Syrian opposition. Caesar, wearing a disguise at the hearing so he could not be identified, …BBC News – Jul 31, 2014A forensic photographer smuggled images of Syrians killed and tortured by, he says, those working for Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. The photographer, using the pseudonym of Caesar, spoke publicly for the first time on Capitol Hill. Wearing dark …Washington Times – Jul 31, 2014“What is going on in Syria is genocidal massacre,” the defector, known as “Caesar,” said through an interpreter. “He [Mr. Assad] destroyed the country and killed his own people with no mercy.” The photographs, which Caesar took and collected in his role as a …ABC News – Jul 31, 2014Codenamed “Caesar,” the man appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in disguise, his face concealed by a blue hooded raincoat, hat and glasses. Before defecting from Syria last year, he smuggled out 55,000 photos showing more than …Journal of Turkish Weekly – 11 hours agoThe defected Syrian military photographer responsible for leaking troves of photographs indicating large-scale torture and abuse by the Syrian government met with senior Obama administration officials Friday. Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin …Talk Radio News Service – Jul 31, 2014(TRNS) – Appearing before Congress under the alias “Caesar,” a Syrian military defector revealed thousands of photographs to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday morning documenting the Assad regime’s flagrant torture and execution of more …Yahoo News – Jul 31, 2014“I had the job of taking pictures of all the deaths … before and after the revolution,” explained the man known only as Caesar, who appeared in heavy disguise before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was required to download the photos and store …Al-Monitor – Jul 31, 2014The anonymous military photographer known as “Caesar” appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee cloaked in a blue hoodie alongside several advocates of greater US involvement in Syria’s 3-year-old civil war. He told lawmakers that 150,000 …Wall Street Journal – Jul 31, 2014Syria has termed Caesar’s photographs as fabrications, saying many of the dead shown in them were civilians and soldiers killed by terrorist groups. It has called Caesar a fugitive lacking credibility and said the photos represent a campaign by the nation’s …Stillwater News Press – 6 hours agoCaesar – a pseudonym – was a photographer in the criminal and forensics department of the Syrian military police. “My job on a daily basis was just regular accidents, burnings, drownings, routine things,” he recently told a group gathered at the Holocaust …Kuwait News Agency – 11 hours agoMeehan said Rhodes and Sullivan “thanked “Caesar” for his personal and moral courage in bearing witness to the Assad regime’s atrocities, which represent an assault on human dignity,” and told him he “has done a service not only to the Syrian people, but …Hindustan Times – Aug 1, 2014“I had the job of taking pictures of all the deaths… before and after the revolution,” explained the man known only as Caesar, who appeared in heavy disguise before the House foreign affairs committee to brief them on the war. He was required to download …NCR-Iran.org (press release) – 9 hours agoTwo senior white house officials met on Thursday with former Syrian military police photographer “Caesar,” who defected from the Bashar al- Assad regime with thousands of photographs of brutalized bodies, suggestive of torture and killing on an industrial …Ya Libnan – Jul 31, 2014WASHINGTON , DC – A Syrian defector who goes only by the name “Caesar” delivered dramatic and disturbing testimony Thursday to a congressional committee about the Assad regime’s atrocities, sharing with lawmakers just a few of the thousands of …Whitehouse.gov (press release) – 20 hours agoDeputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Jake Sullivan met today with former Syrian military police photographer “Caesar,” who defected from the Assad regime with thousands of photographs of …myCentralOregon.com – 22 hours agoThe Syrian known as “Caesar,” who wore a disguise to protect his identity, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that “What is going on in Syria is a genocidal massacre.” He said his images of thousands of dead men, women and children were the result …Gulf Times – Jul 31, 2014Caesar said he had sent a letter to US President Barack Obama, urging him: “Please don’t forget those still in jail, including children. Please make sure they get released and don’t get tortured.” He maintained some 150,000 people were still in Syrian jails, …Syracuse University News – Jul 31, 2014The photos were smuggled out of Syria by a Syrian army defector code-named “Caesar.” Now under protection, Caesar spoke to the committee in disguise, and to protect his identity, the briefing was not webcast or televised. “Over the past three and a half …National Journal – Jul 31, 2014WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee today held a briefing on atrocities in Syria and heard testimony from a Syrian army defector who goes by “Caesar” to protect his identity. “Caesar” smuggled 55,000 photos of an estimated nearly …PJ Media – Jul 31, 2014Going by the name “Caesar,” the defector smuggled more than 50,000 images of torture and starvation out of Syria, capturing killings that began soon after people started staging peaceful demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011.Getty Images – Jul 31, 2014WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 31: Syrian Army defector “Caesar,” (in a blue hooded jacket) who has smuggled out of Syria more than 50,000 photographs that document the torture and execution of more than 10,000 dissidents, listens to an interpreter during a …