USAGM Watch Commentary by Former VOA English and Foreign Language Reporters
As sources underscore, to gain a thorough understanding of the complex politics and emotions in the Ethiopia conflict requires some thorough reading.
But it’s clear that for years, questions have been raised about VOA’s reporting on Ethiopia and Horn of Africa affairs in general. As with so many of the stories emerging from VOA, there’s a mountain under that molehill.
It’s not yet clear what, if anything, the Biden administration is going to do about the latest VOA Ethiopia coverage controversy and the hornet’s nest that the agency’s current senior management represents. The record so far points to continuing attempts by VOA and USAGM senior executives to cover up problems, rather than deal forthrightly with them.
When Biden transition officials were briefed on the extent of mismanagement in the agency in the early days of 2021, they were according to one source with knowledge, “white-faced”.
Articles such as the one by The Intercept are few and far between, but point to the magnitude of the cleanup operation that’s required at this agency which likes to promote itself as a government-funded CNN.
READ: PROPAGANDA MACHINE
By Nick Turse. The Intercept. May 21, 2021.
Here is a typical social media response to acting Voice of America Director Yolanda López who was appointed to her current position on January 21, 2021 by acting U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Kelu Chao. Many Ethiopians have accused the Voice of America Amharic Service of supporting the Ethiopian government and censoring news of genocide. Multiple similar messages have been posted on social media, many of them under López’s tweets.
The Intercept article by Nick Turse focused on allegations by former Voice of America reporter Jason Patinkin that VOA acted essentially as a propaganda outlet for the Ethiopian government. As USAGM Watch and other media reported earlier, Patinkin “complained to senior editors about bias in the news outlet’s Ethiopia coverage” until he finally decided he had had enough, using a resignation letter to call out “VOA’s pro-Abiy propaganda effort,” failure to issue corrections for “false and biased reporting,” and its airing of “pro-government propaganda while ignoring atrocities blamed on pro-government forces.”
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
In an e-mail sent to staff on June 3, López downplayed charges of biased Voice of America Ethiopia coverage:
Many of you are following the conflict taking place in Ethiopia and the Tigray region. There have been some media inquiries about it and I’d like to share with you my statement on VOA’s firm commitment to fact-based news reporting on this issue:
VOA does its best to cover the situation in Ethiopia and the Tigray region fairly and accurately. There are strong feelings in the region about the conflict, and we hear from partisans of all sides. Our goal is objective journalism.
When we receive complaints, we investigate and take actions, if necessary, against journalists whose coverage has violated our principles of producing accurate, balanced and comprehensive reporting, with this or any other story. However, we do not comment on specific personnel matters.
We attempt to independently verify information. Our broadcasts in the Amharic, Afan Oromoo, and Tigrigna languages serve nearly 12 million people per week, because audiences recognize that our reporting is free of political interference. We take that major responsibility seriously, not only during this time of conflict in the Horn of Africa, but in covering news around the world.
This strikes us as more happy talk and excuses typical of the current senior VOA and USAGM management. There is no sign of any acceptance of responsibility. The Intercept article cited not just Jason Patinkin’s charges, but also about a dozen 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. Patinkin has a completely different view of the VOA and USAGM management’s responses than Yolanda López who was in charge of the VOA newsroom under former VOA Director Amanda Bennett and was elevated to her current job by Kelu Chao.
It took them seven months, but VOA’s Central Division (i.e., English language) which maintains an East Africa bureau has FINALLY produced a report on the Tigray war from Ethiopia. Every other news org worth its salt did so months ago. However… https://t.co/ccTBy3lGCP— Jason Patinkin (@JasonPatinkin) June 4, 2021