Voice of America

"VOA" redirects here. For the language construct, see Verb Object Agent.
Voice of America logo
Voice of America (VOA), is the official external radio and television broadcasting service of the United States federal government. Its oversight entity is the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

VOA broadcasts by satellite and on FM, AM, and shortwave radio frequencies. Its programs are also available through the Internet in both streaming media and downloadable formats at www.VOANews.com. VOA has affiliate and contract agreements with many radio and television stations and cable networks worldwide.

Transmission Facilities

One of VOA's radio transmitter facilities was originally based on a 625-acre site in Union Township (now West Chester Township) in Butler County, Ohio, near Cincinnati. The Bethany Relay Station operated from 1944 to 1994. Other former sites include California (Dixon), Hawaii, Okinawa, Liberia, Costa Rica, and Belize.

Currently, the VOA and the IBB continue to operate shortwave radio transmitters and antenna farms at two sites in the United States, located at Delano, California and Greenville, North Carolina respectively. The Delano site is famous among radio enthusiasts for having a rare installation of a TCI HRS 12/6/1 directional curtain array antenna. Oddly enough, they do not seem to have or use FCC issued callsigns. Other radio stations on US soil are required by FCC rules to have and use callsigns.

Languages

The Voice of America currently broadcasts in 46 languages (TV marked with an asterisk):
The number of languages broadcast and the number of hours broadcast in each language vary according to the priorities of the United States Government and the world situation. In 2001, according to an International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) fact sheet, VOA broadcast in 53 languages, with 12 televised. [1]For example, in July 2007, VOA added 30 minutes to its daily Somali radio broadcast, providing a full hour of live, up-to-the-minute news and information to listeners. [2]

Overview

VOA's parent organization is the presidentially-appointed Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The BBG was established as a buffer to protect VOA and other U.S.-sponsored, non-military, international broadcasters from political interference.

History

VOA was organized in 1942 under the Office of War Information with news programs aimed at areas in Japan and the south Pacific and in Europe and North Africa under the occupation of Nazi Germany. VOA began broadcasting on February 24, 1942. In 1952, the Voice of America installed a studio and relay facility aboard a converted U.S. Coast Guard cutter renamed Courier whose target audience was Russia and its allies. The Courier was originally intended to become the first in a fleet of mobile, radio broadcasting ships (see offshore radio) that built upon U.S. Navy experience during WWII in using warships as floating broadcasting stations. However, the Courier eventually dropped anchor off the island of Rhodes, Greece with permission of the Greek government to avoid being branded as a pirate radio broadcasting ship. This VOA offshore station stayed on the air until the 1960s when facilities were eventually provided on land. The Courier supplied training to engineers who later worked on several of the European commercial offshore broadcasting stations of the 1950s and 1960s.

During the Cold War, the U.S. government placed VOA under the U.S. Information Agency to transmit worldwide, including to the countries behind the Iron Curtain and to the People's Republic of China (PRC). In the 1980s, the USIA established the WORLDNET satellite television service, and in 2004 WORLDNET was merged into VOA.

In 1947, Voice of America started broadcasting in Russian with the intent to counter more harmful instances of Soviet propaganda directed against American leaders and policies.[3] Soviet Union responded by initiating aggressive, electronic jamming of VoA broadcasts on 24 April 1949.[3]

Throughout the Cold War, many of the targeted countries' governments sponsored jamming of VOA broadcasts, which sometimes led critics to question the broadcasts' actual impact. However, after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, interviews with participants in anti-Soviet movements verified the effectiveness of VOA broadcasts in transmitting information to socialist societies. [4]. The People's Republic of China diligently jams VOA broadcasts [5](see Firedrake). Cuba has also been reported to interfere with VOA satellite transmissions to Iran from its Russian-built transmission site at Bejucal[6].

In the 1980s, VOA also added a television service, as well as special regional programs to Cuba, Radio Martí and TV Martí. Cuba has consistently attempted to jam such broadcasts and has vociferously protested U.S. broadcasts directed at Cuba.

In 1994, the Voice of America became the first [1] broadcast-news organization to offer continuously updated programs on the Internet. Content in English and 44 other languages is currently available online through a distributed network of commercial providers, using more than 20,000 servers across 71 countries. Since many listeners in Africa and other areas still receive much of their information via radio and have only limited access to computers, VOA continues to maintain regular shortwave-radio broadcasts.

Laws governing VOA-IBB's activities

Under United States law (Section 501 of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948), the Voice of America is forbidden to broadcast directly to American citizens. The original intent of this section of the legislation was to protect the American public from propaganda actions by its own government.

Although VOA does not broadcast domestically, Americans can access the programs through shortwave and streaming audio over the Internet.

Internal policies

The VOA Charter

To protect the integrity of VOA programming and define the organization's mission, the VOA Charter was drafted in 1960 and signed into law on July 12, 1976, by President Gerald Ford. It reads:
The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts.



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.

"Two-Source Rule"

An internal policy of VOA News to build reliability is that any story broadcast must have two independently corroborating sources or have a staff correspondent actually witnessing an event, according to former VOA correspondent Alan Heil.[7] This rule was confirmed by Ted Iliff, Associate Director for Central Programming for VOA.[8]

Broadcasting Board of Governors services

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a bipartisan panel of eight private citizens appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate (the U.S. Secretary of State is an ex officio member of the Board), is the oversight body for official U.S. international broadcasts by both federal agencies and government-funded corporations. In addition to VOA, these include the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB, which includes Radio and TV Marti) and grantee corporations: the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN, which includes Radio Sawa and Al Hurra television in Arabic); Radio Farda (in Farsi) for Iran; Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, which are aimed at the ex-communist states and countries under oppressive regimes in Asia. In recent years, VOA has expanded its television coverage to many areas of the world.

Many Voice of America announcers, such as Willis Conover, host of Jazz USA, Pat Gates, host of the Breakfast Club in the 1980s, and Judy Massa became worldwide celebrities, although not in the United States.

The Voice of America headquarters is located at 330 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC, 20237, USA.

Urdu Service

The Voice of America program Beyond the Headlines is telecast in Pakistan by GEO TV, VOA's affiliate and one of the country's most popular stations. This half-hour program features reports on politics, social issues, science, sports, culture, entertainment, and other issues of interest to Pakistanis.

A comparison of VOA-RFE-RL-RM (IBB) to other broadcasters


Enlarge picture
Output of IBB compared to other broadcasters (1950-1996).

Ethiopian VOA Crisis

In the 1980s VOA Ethiopian service was mostly used as a rare opposition voice against the marxist leader Mengistu's government. Due to Mengistu's alliance with the Soviet Union, VOA was often accused of becoming a propaganda voice supporting the militant opposition EPRP, which carried out a guerrilla insurgency against Mengistu's pro-Soviet regime.[9][10] After an alliance of various Ethiopian rebels overthrew Mengistu's regime in 1991, since EPRP and similar groups still were not able to gain power, VOA mostly became a propaganda voice against the newly formed Ethiopian government.[11] The extremeness of the bias went as far as anti-government VOA reporters wanting to fabricate a death of the Ethiopian Prime Minister.[12][13] Since the service has an audience of millions in Ethiopia, many argue that VOA plays a negative role in the polarization of Ethiopian politics. VOA also gave air time for rebel groups that are designated as terrorist organizations by the Ethiopian government. Most accused VOA of allowing terrorist organizations to spread propaganda that often helps recruit dissidents to take arms against the authorities.[14][15] As a result, some Ethiopians living in America also started to hold demonstrations against VOA.[16] Accordingly many Ethiopians wrote petitions, as well as holding more rallies against the biased and often provocative reporting of VOA's Amharic language section. [17] [18]

Currently, there are still noticeable issues being reported, and a former VOA manager once condemned the Amharic language version of VOA, calling it a "virtual takeover of the service by Ethiopia opponents."[19] Even the Tigrayan language VOA service (the language of most pro-government Ethiopians) is often controlled by pro-Eritrean government Tigrayan speakers who often spread propaganda against the Ethiopian government. Many continue to accuse VOA Ethiopian reporters, who are often exiled politicians, of utilizing "Dirty Tricks in Broadcasting", which appear objective in general but contain anti-government messages as well as interviews with anti-government militant leaders.[20]

Most recently, the Horn of Africa service of the Voice of America was condemned for censorship of news.[21] According to African Path, an Africa centered media outlet, that section of VOA concealed news that portrayed some anti-government Diaspora Ethiopian politicians in a bad light. It claimed that the age-old VOA crisis regarding its broadcasts to Ethiopia has not diminished. [22][23]

Programming

Voice of America's central newsroom has hundreds of journalists and dozens of full-time domestic and overseas correspondents, who are employees of the U.S. government or paid contractors. They are augmented by hundreds of contract correspondents and part-time "stringers" throughout the world, who file in English or in one of the VOA's 44 other radio broadcast languages, 25 of which are also broadcast on television.

In late 2005, VOA shifted some of its central-news operation to Hong Kong where contracted writers work from a "virtual" office with counterparts on the overnight shift in Washington, D.C.

Many of the radio and television broadcasts are available through VOA's website at [2]

Controversy

National sovereignty

The Cuban government and allied critics have suggested that the U.S. government violates national sovereignty by broadcasting and operating in their countries.[24] This argument is made despite open attempts of the Cuban government to jam VOA broadcasts[25][26][27], as well as its use of equally powerful shortwave transmissions of English-language political broadcasts and communiques directed at the United States. Time interval signals identical to those used by Radio Havana Cuba have also been detected in coded numbers station broadcasts that are allegedly linked to espionage activity in the U.S.[28].

Paying for appearances

Recently, news media have reported that VOA has for years been paying mainstream media journalists to appear on VOA shows. According to El Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald, these include: David Lightman, the Hartford Courant's Washington bureau chief; Tom DeFrank, head of the New York Daily News' Washington office; Helle Dale, a former director of the opinion pages of the Washington Times; and Georgie Anne Geyer, a nationally syndicated columnist.[29]

In response, spokesmen for the Broadcasting Board of Governors told the newspaper El Nuevo Herald that such payments do not pose a conflict of interest. "For decades, for many years, some of the most respectable journalists in the country have received payments to participate in programs of the Voice of America," one of the spokesmen, Larry Hart, told El Nuevo Herald.[29]

Mullah Omar interview

In late September 2001, VOA aired a report that contained brief excerpts of an interview with then Taliban leader Mullah Omar Mohammad, along with segments from President Bush's post-9/11 speech to Congress, an expert in Islam from Georgetown University, and comments by the foreign minister of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. State Department officials including Richard Armitage and others argued that the report amounted to giving terrorists a platform to express their views. In response, reporters and editors argued for VOA's editorial independence from its governors. The VOA received praise from press organizations for its protests, and the following year in 2002, it won the University of Oregon's Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.

Abdul Malik Rigi interview

On April 2, 2007, Abdul Malik Rigi, the head of Jundullah, a group identified internationally as "terrorist organization" appeared on Voice of America. VOA introduced Rigi as "the leader of popular Iranian resistance movement". This incident resulted in public condemnation by Iranian-American communities in the U.S.[30][31][32][33]

See also

References

1. ^ International Broadcasting Board (IBB) Fact Sheet, Voice of America , 1942-2002 ; The World's Source for News [3]
2. ^ VOA Press Release, VOA Expands Broadcasts to Somalia, at [4]
3. ^ Cold War Propaganda by John B. Whitton, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Jan., 1951), pp. 151–153
4. ^ Conference Report, Cold War Impact of VOA Broadcasts, Hoover Institution and the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Oct. 13-16, 2004
5. ^ www.iarums-r1.org/iarums/prcdragon.pdf
6. ^ [5]
7. ^ Columbia University Press. Interview with Alan Heil, author of Voice of America [6]
8. ^ George Washington University Center for the Study of Globalization. Whose News? Implications of the Global Media Panel discussion, held April 5, 2005. [7]
9. ^ EPRP and VOA journalism issues & dillemas
10. ^ # Sheckler, Annette C, Evidence of Things Unseen: Secrets Revealed at the Voice of America Horn of Africa Journal, Vol. XVI, Dec.1998, pp. 31-51.
11. ^ EPRP vs. EPRDF
12. ^ VOA issues and bias reportings
13. ^ problems in reporting on Ethiopia by VOA
14. ^ VOA accused of assisting a terrorist organization by giving air time for covert recruiting
15. ^ VOA faces impartiality issues
16. ^ Ethiopians in US criticize VOA Amharic service of stirring conflict
17. ^ PETITION ON VOA'S AMHARIC PROGRAM
18. ^ Protesters in US rally against VOA Amharic broadcasts
19. ^ former VOA management team says VOA took over by opponents
20. ^ # Sheckler, Annette C, Evidence of Things Unseen: Secrets Revealed at the Voice of America Horn of Africa Journal, Vol. XVI, Dec.1998, pp. 31-51.
21. ^ VOA and censorship issues on its coverage of Ethiopia
22. ^ Ethiopian VOA crisis is said to continue
23. ^ former VOA manager denounces VOA on partiality
24. ^ Karen Wald. "Cuba Battles for Sovereignty of the Airwaves", Latin America Press. 
25. ^ [8]
26. ^ [9]
27. ^ [10]
28. ^ Miami New Times, Espionage Is In The Air, February 8, 2001
29. ^ Casey Woods. "Report: U.S. paid many other journalists", Miami Herald. 
30. ^ [11]
31. ^ [12]
32. ^ [13] (in Persian)
33. ^ [14]

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