BBG Watch Commentary

In an email sent out to subscribers of its English-language news service, many of whom are Americans, U.S. taxpayer-funded ($221 million in FY 2017) Voice of America (VOA) casts doubts whether the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar (formerly Burma) Rohingya Muslim minority is real and boasts about interviewing Myanmar Ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Aung Lynn gave the Voice of America his false claims and lame excuses, but VOA still gave them far more attention than they deserve from any independent news organization. It is similar to interviewing a North Korean diplomat at the UN, which VOA also had done in the past.

The subject line of VOA’s e-mail reads: “Today@VOA: Is Rohingya crisis fake news?”

Fake news?

Really? Voice of America.

Perhaps VOA director Amanda Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara and their boss, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing, and VOA English-language newsroom reporters and editors should have examined the satellite photos of burned out Rohingya villages in Myanmar. SEE: “Satellite Images Show More Than 200 Rohingya Villages Burned in Myanmar.” By SERGIO PEÇANHA and JEREMY WHITE, NEW YORK TIMES, SEPT. 18, 2017.

VOA should have known and should have pointed out that burning entire villages in response to a few attacks by a few militants and forcing the entire population to abandon them is not “fake news.” It is a fascist, Nazi or communist practice well established in history. Knowledge of history at VOA these days is poor, but this Voice of America email is truly shameful.

Voice of America Email

While it is true that VOA also presented in the same report accusations of ethnic cleansing, the overwhelming focus of the official VOA email and to some degree the VOA news report was to present the official position of the Myanmar regime, repeat its false propaganda, and to sow doubt that news reports of ethnic cleansing are accurate. These BBG/VOA executives, editors and reporters have no idea what impact hearing lies by regime officials being repeated without much challenge by the media outlet of the United States has on the victims.

The headline of the Voice of America report linked in the VOA email read: “Myanmar Ambassador Rejects Allegations of Ethnic Cleansing.” The VOA headline should have read instead: “Myanmar Ambassador Denies Obvious Evidence of Ethnic Cleansing,” or even better “Myanmar Ambassador Persists in Denying Clear Evidence of Ethnic Cleansing.”

It is truly shameful that the Voice of America, a U.S. Government-run organization funded by U.S. taxpayers, which once stood firmly on the side of the victims of human rights abuses and the truth of their plight, has developed under its current management an ambivalent attitude toward repressive regimes, be it in Burma or China. We have heard that VOA managers now require the position of the Chinese communist government to be always as fully presented as possible in any story dealing with China.

It is now Myanmar’s turn. Who knows what kind of interests BBG and VOA officials are trying to protect in China and Myanmar, be it corporate businesses run privately by BBG officials or their families, or local rebroadcasting of pre-censored VOA programs in Myanmar under some deal struck with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi whose Nobel Peace Prize seems now much less deserved. We’re not saying that outrageously false claims by corrupt Chinese government officials or human rights violators in Myanmar should be ignored. They should be properly reported on by VOA and properly challenged with the truth. What the Voice of America is doing these days is unworthy of well-informed and objective journalism.

VOA Director Amanda Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara and BBG CEO John Lansing, who is ultimately responsible for the agency’s operations costing U.S. taxpayers about $740 million annually, should take full responsibility for this and many other failures of journalistic and managerial nature at the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

BBG Watch readers in Myanmar may want to know who these BBG and VOA officials are. They have all been selected during the Obama Administration and are still in charge of the Voice of America. They have not been replaced by the Trump Administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is President Trump’s appointee, urged end to violence and spoke about the need “to address deeply troubling allegations of human rights abuses and violations.” It is obvious that Secretary Tillerson does not think these allegations are “fake news,” as the Voice of America at least strongly suggested that they might be.

The job of well-compensated BBG and VOA executives and journalists is to answer questions for international audiences, not to ask questions without providing a clear answer or to cast doubt on major human rights violations.

This is what the Voice of America said in its “Today@VOA: Is Rohingya crisis fake news?” email:

VOICE OF AMERICA: “Myanmar is the victim of fake news regarding the Rohingya, the country’s ambassador to the United States tells VOA. Nearly 390,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh, many of their villages were burned and looted after the country’s security forces responded to attacks by Rohingya militants. The United Nations calls the exodus ‘ethnic cleansing,’ but Myanmar’s ambassador blames the ‘false media’ reports on Rohingya propaganda.”

    1. There is a danger to Voice of America references to “fake news.” Audiences may assume that everything is fake news. No doubt that there are militants among the Rohingya. That’s why the audience needs a well-informed analysis from VOA, not an attempt to discredit credible reports of actual ethnic cleansing.

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