Sunday, July 31, 2011

VOA Answers Censorship Charge

I think Steve Redisch is being too defensive. VOA Management should have separated the US Broadcasting Board of Governors' visit to Africa from the issues surrounding the "42 page" document handed over to the BBG. It turns out it’s a transcript of coverage on VOA Amharic Service (as intrepreted and selected by the Ethiopian government) of discussions, events, meetings, congresses where subjects about human rights in the Horn have been discussed. They quote from reports about events that took place and opinions aired infront of VOA microphones from participants. I don't understand why this report is "secret"…It's not a list of complaints, although I can imagine the Ethiopian government would be happier if these ideas and opionions are not heard in their country. Bearing in mind the total hours of broadcasting to the region, if this is all the news about political opposition that is being aired, then it represents a tiny proportion of the whole output to the region.

VOA took down a report about the BBG visit on its website because the editor in chief decided that the original report was inaccurate and didn't follow the VOA Charter. Doesn't sound like censorship - more a case of an editorial difference of opinion which should have been aired internally before it went on the air.

The audience in Ethiopia seems to be huge without any local FM relays. It’s the reason the authorities jam the shortwave broadcasts, although not very effectively.

VOA Newsroom Management would be wise to openly distance themselves from the discussion between the BBG and the Ethiopian government. The BBG may, thru diplomatic negotiation, secure deals with governments to permit enhanced coverage through local FM outlets. It has worked in other countries, and it has helped make media be more open in several countries. Indonesia is a good example. But whatever they negotiate should not be on the basis of an agreement by BBG to influence the current output from VOA in any shape or form. So, if the deal was to review or reduce coverage of any thinking other than the Ethiopian government line, in return for local relays of health information, then that's a rather weak BBG negotiation strategy.

If the US government firewall and the VOA Charter has any meaning, then the BBG wouldn't get involved in any content discussions, especially on political coverage. If the Ethiopian government won't allow VOA relays on FM, then it shows weakness on behalf of that government not any reason for VOA to change the balance of its editorial content. Unlike areas where the influence of shortwave broadcasting has declined, (e.g. Russia, South Africa, and China) VOA, DW, BBC broadcasts to that the Horn command huge audiences using traditional SW technology. FM reboadcasts would simply be the icing on the cake.

As far as I know, VOA has always had an ongoing complaints procedure. Anyone is welcome to object if they feel they have been unfairly covered in a broadcast. So what's different now?

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