Whenever the news get particularly heated, whether because of events like those in recent days in places like Iraq or Tibet, passions are invariably inflamed. And inevitably, VOA, like other news organizations, gets an assortment of audience communications, some of which are, how shall we put it, less-than-complimentary?
Here are excerpts from three e-mails:
1. “Excuse me... but at some point the VOA has got to stop being the propaganda pawn it has become. For example, who amongst us do you actually speak for? Who amongst we voters gave you your agenda? Who designated you the 'voice' that represents America abroad?”
2. “News reporting on par with any state-sponsored organ in the world.”
3. “The VOA has been a reliable source of news since 1942? Is this a comedy show that you people at the VOA put on every day? The news that the VOA has put out since 1942… has been nothing but stuff that your staff make up… The news that the VOA broadcasts to the world daily is something that is dreamed up by…the White House…”
All of these messages perpetuate the misconception that VOA is just some sort of US government mouthpiece.
Yes it is true that VOA is financed by the US government. But look at VOA’s Journalistic Code. The Code says specifically: “VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government.”
Similarly, the notion that the White House (or any government agency) tells VOA what to say is false. As the VOA Charter says, “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society…”
Yes, VOA offers news about the United States and US government policies. But so do other international broadcasters. Why? The answer is obvious: the United States is a global power with global interests that no responsible news organization, American or non-American, can ignore. Our research also shows many of our audiences want to hear about American culture, life, history, youth and more.
Of course, our audiences don’t need to read the Charter or the Code to know that VOA offers reliable and authoritative news --- that is, credible news. Independent research shows that VOA audiences around the world consistently rate what they hear and see from us as "trustworthy" or "very trustworthy." And when a crisis erupts in their country or region, they often turn to us first to find out what's really going on. Meeting such high expectations is a huge responsibility, and one we take seriously.
One more point: we at VOA are advocates of the free exchange of ideas and opinions. That is in fact very much the reason we exist and why we welcome calls, e-mails and letters from our audiences, whether favorable or unfavorable. It is also why we routinely seek out multiple and opposing points of view and include them in programs and reports on important issues.
Bizarrely, we do from time to time come under fire for being inclusive – usually from those who would have VOA adopt an advocacy position on a particular issue.
But we believe strongly that our responsibility is to inform audiences about all significant points of view and let them make up their own minds.
It is not our job to tell the people in our audiences what position to take or what to believe. When we say, “we report and you decide,” we mean it.