USAGM Watch Commentary by Former VOA English and VOA Foreign Language Reporters
Voice of America central English newsroom and VOA language services have in recent years been the focus of a number of scandals under the watch of current acting U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) CEO Kelu Chao. From 2016 to mid-2020, Chao was one of the two top aides of former VOA Director Amanda Bennett seen in this 2016 VOA photograph with Chao (middle) and the then agency head John Lansing.
In 2018, as reported by the former BBG Watch, 15 staffers in VOA’s Hausa service which broadcasts to Nigeria and Hausa speakers elsewhere in West Africa were fired after the agency determined they had accepted bribes.
The story was picked up widely by Nigerian and other media, as reported in The Observer forcing VOA to “use a network of contractors and part-time contributors, all of whom will receive ethics training.”
In VOA’s French to Africa service, during the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, a video that contained pro-Biden content was allowed to remain online for nearly two weeks before finally being taken down and edited.
Internal emails obtained by BBG Watch showed that Africa division managers described this as a “tolerable mistake”.
By the way, in the end, sources report that no action was taken against the person involved despite cautions to staff about the need “be very careful [e]specially when covering elections in the USA or elsewhere” and reminding that “[VOA’s] charter and journalistic code don’t allow us to take sides.”
The latest scandal is described in an article by Nick Turse in The Intercept reports on allegations by reporter Jason Patinkin that VOA acted essentially as a propaganda outlet for the Ethiopian government.
Patinkin has new tweets and retweets in which he and another former Voice of America journalist make various allegations against Acting VOA Director Yolanda López who was in charge of the VOA newsroom under Amanda Bennett and was elevated to her current job by Chao. Former VOA reporter Ayen Grace Bior tweeted, “It is a crisis of bad management that starts at the very top.”
“I’m not indicating that action will be taken in the future or has been taken in the past,” @VOADirector wrote to @JasonPatinkin. “I can continue assuring you that we are taking this issue very seriously…” Staff at VOA say otherwise. More: https://t.co/ZBtbz2jVkT https://t.co/mL7zu8FoYB— Nick Turse (@nickturse) May 23, 2021
For those who don’t understand the context, @VOADirector is deflecting. @VOAStearns and @SoLaurenceGreen have weaponized this. I was at VOA for almost 6 years. I know what it looks like when careerist management protect their bad record instead of the staff they oversee. https://t.co/Zh7VEy1FNs— Ayen Grace Bior (@ayen_grace) May 22, 2021
VOA Director Yolanda Lopez has failed to stop a pro-Ethiopia govt wartime propaganda campaign, and now is trying to cover her tracks with a story that was only published after I said I was quitting in protest of VOA’s biased Ethiopia coverage. https://t.co/s5mCc8KD2p— Jason Patinkin (@JasonPatinkin) May 22, 2021
Thinking about my former @VOAAfrica colleagues who have, for years, fought to change things internally and at great risk to themselves. Make no mistake, this is a systemic problem that goes beyond the Horn service. It is a crisis of bad management that starts at the very top. https://t.co/wdDbo2ZkPm— Ayen Grace Bior (@ayen_grace) May 22, 2021
It would be one thing if The Intercept article covered only complaints by Patinkin about VOA coverage of Ethiopia. Also cited are no fewer than 12 other “current and former VOA service chiefs, reporters, and staffers, as well as outside experts [describing] violations of basic journalistic standards in VOA’s coverage of Ethiopia stretching back decades.
Acting USAGM CEO Kelu Chao previously held the position of the VOA Program Director for many years.