Civil war breaks out at the International Broadcasting Bureau:

Nearly half the staff of the Voice Of America signed a petition that was sent to members of Congress [on July 6] accusing the Broadcasting Board of Governors of "dismantling the nation's radio beacon" and calling on Congress to investigate the board.

The petition also accuses the board of launching new services in the Middle East with no editorial accountability at the expense of VOA programs serving the same areas and cutting back on broadcasts to Eastern Europe and in English around the world.

The major complaints cited in the petition involve the board's new services in the Middle East—Radio Sawa, al-Hurra and Radio Farda—which the signatories say provide inadequate news coverage and do not operate under VOA's charter, which guarantees balanced reporting.

The petition accuses the board of shutting down the VOA Arabic Service and reducing resources to VOA television in the region and VOA service to Iran in favor of the new broadcasting services.

Defenders of Radio Sawa and Radio Farda have said their offerings, mainly music with some news, appeal to younger listeners. But the VOA editor said reaching educated people, the leaders and activists in a community, is just as important.

Both Radio Sawa and al-Hurra have not reported important breaking news stories, according to the petition, including, in the case of Radio Sawa, the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Without taking sides in this internecine bureaucratic struggle, I note that one aspect of the conflict—the battle between the advocates of "balanced reporting" and the advocates of straightforward propaganda—is nothing new.


NEXT: Parisian Planning

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  1. I’m a little sympathetic with the VOA people, since what the region needs are trustworthy media outlets, not overbearingly propagandistic ones, and the VOA is closer to that than the new services are.

    Except that the VOA isn’t generally regarded as very trustworthy either. “[E]ducated people, … leaders and activists” in my experience tend to damn the VOA with faint praise (“well, it’s better than Radio Beijing and Soviet-era Radio Moscow…”) and listen to the BBC instead, since its mild-left slant is easy enough to ignore and the underlying reporting is top-notch.

  2. The LAT had a big story on this two years ago — someone with access to the archives should dig it up — saying that Radio Sawa
    ( http://rsawa.solutrix.com/ ) was a clever way to get the young Arab kids to listen to a little news that wasn’t anti-American and didn’t blame the imperialist jew for everything. I mean, this is not exactly the era for the hip Arab kids to be listening to Voice of America.

    The newspaper story, if I remember, had some evidence of good ratings for Sawa, as opposed to the dismal ratings for VOA’s dull newscasts. Kids liked the music on Sawa and were maybe a little better informed (if you are better informed by listening to lots of *different* propaganda).

    Why does it matter if Radio Sawa didn’t break into its music programming to announce Saddam’s capture? That can’t wait ’til the next news update? Hell, in America NBC was showing Katie Couric playing whiffleball or something while Saddam was making his first & fashionable court appearance.

    RFE & VOA, though they’ve certainly done very important work, just aren’t all that necessary in Central Europe these days. Sounds like the VOA people are more concerned with keeping their cushy jobs in Prague than with helping those still under tyranny or whatever.

  3. If the VOA folks were interested in just protecting their “cushy jobs” (what a silly and petty bit of rhetoric there) they wouldn’t risk their necks in this formal objection. I know in this day of pundits and news as entertainment it’s a near-forgotten concept, but journalism for many is a serious vocation with ethics and standards, particularly at the VOA, which you’d might realize if you take the time to do some research and get to know the groups you’re talking about.

    Journalists with the VOA long ago fought for the standard that, while VOA may serve a political agenda, it would simultaneously maintain journalistc integrity. Truth be known, that ethic and standard is ultimately in the interest of even those who see VOA’s greatest role as that of tactical measure to build pro-American sentiment abroad. Journalism standards for the journalists working their aside, VOA is only as constructive a foreign policy tool as it is trusted by the people it reaches.

  4. Yo, John, 1) if the gang in Prague isn’t running the new stations (and it sounds like they aren’t) this is all political speech andiwithout further risk as they have already lost the bigger ideological war. Now all they can do is hope some nostalgic cold-warrior arises to save them. Otherwise they’ll rot in Prague with a shrinking empire and no ego satisfaction. If they are career VOA, they are more used to the shifting winds, the usually report on it, remember?

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