24 November 2008

Honoring Press Freedom Fighters

This week in New York City, the Committee to Protect Journalists will honor five journalists with its 2008 International Press Freedom Awards. They are two journalists from Afghanistan and one each from Cuba, Iraq and Uganda. A special award is also being given to a media lawyer from Zimbabwe.

The two journalists from Afghanistan are Danish Karokhel and Farida Nekzad, the director and deputy director of Pajhwok Afghan News, Afghanistan's leading independent news agency.

Award recipient Bilal Hussein of Iraq is a photographer for the Associated Press who was jailed by the U.S. military for two years without charges.

The Cuban award recipient is independent journalist Maseda Gutierrez who is in prison in Cuba for writing about issues ignored by the official state press.

The Ugandan recipient is Andrew Mwenda, founder and managing editor of The Independent newsmagazine in Uganda. He has faced repeated government harassment.

Mwenda was quoted in a recent VOA report as saying: “You can be sure that no matter what the state may do, whether they threaten to jail us, to torture us, or even to kill us, we strongly believe that we would rather die yesterday, defending the cause of freedom of expression, than live for the next one-thousand years acquiescing to tyranny.”

In addition to the five press freedom awards, the committee is also honoring media and human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from Zimbabwe. Mtetwa has defended numerous journalists against charges brought by President Robert Mugabe's government.

We here at the News Blog congratulate them all. You can read more about the International Press Freedom Awards at the Committee to Protect Journalists website.

10 November 2008

The Death of a Former VOA Director

Henry Loomis, who died Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Florida, at the age of 89, was director of the Voice of America from 1958 to 1965. His VOA career is worth remembering for two important reasons.

For one, he was largely responsible for the creation of VOA’s enormously popular Special English programs, the shows which have helped millions worldwide learn English.

According to his widow, Jacqueline, Loomis wanted to make English easier to understand by VOA’s foreign audiences. He asked Barry Zorthian, VOA’s program manager at the time, to devise a way of reaching an audience with a limited knowledge of the language.

The result was called Special English and it embraced two changes from VOA’s standard procedures: the news was delivered at the slow pace and the vocabulary was limited to 1,500 words.

Mrs. Loomis writes, “University critics said it would never work; American embassies abroad demanded the program be taken off the air. With the support of Mr. Loomis, the program stayed on the air, and soon, hundreds of letters of praise came in to VOA every month from pleased foreign listeners.”

The second reason worth remembering Loomis is this: he was a man of principle who understood VOA news could only be credible if it was free of political interference. It was under his guidance that the VOA Charter was drafted.

Loomis said: “It is my hope, it is my belief that the Charter, like the Constitution, is so fundamental and so represents the realities of the world and the moral principles that undergird this nation, that the Charter will endure for the life of the Voice.”

The final version of the Charter, initially known as a directive, was approved by President Eisenhower shortly before he left office. It eventually became law in 1976.

As we have noted here many times before, the Charter is our audience’s guarantee that the news we report is accurate, objective and comprehensive as well as independent.

Loomis’s belief in the principles embodied in the Charter led to a sharp confrontation with President Johnson during the Vietnam War. The President had ordered American intervention in Laos and wanted it kept out of the news. Loomis thought otherwise and quit as VOA director.

03 November 2008

U.S. Presidential Election Coverage

It’s almost over. The 2008 U.S. Presidential election campaign ends Tuesday as American voters go to the polls to decide who will be the next occupant of the White House.

VOA has, in recent months, devoted considerable resources to telling audiences worldwide on the air and on the web this most American of stories.

And we know already there is considerable global interest in the outcome.

For one, history will be made. As VOA National Political Correspondent Jim Malone has written:

No matter who wins Tuesday, election history will be made. Senator Obama is poised to become the first African-American president, while Senator McCain would be the oldest candidate to win a first term as president. In addition, a Republican victory would usher in the country's first woman vice president, Sarah Palin.

But international interest goes beyond just that. There have been a number of online polls asking non-U.S. citizens who they would vote for.

Of course, non-U.S. citizens can’t vote for real.

But everyone around the world can follow the actual voting results closely by staying with VOA. In addition to special broadcasts in English and VOA’s other languages, there will be comprehensive, multimedia coverage at VOA’s new community interactive website, USAVotes2008.com.

Visitors will be able to track returns on the site’s U.S. map, reflecting the popular and electoral counts as well as the balance of power in Congress. USAVotes2008.com also offers blogs and a live T2A (Talk2America) online chat beginning at 0000 UTC. Users can also find USAVotes2008.com and VOA updates on Twitter.

“The presidential contest of 2008 has riveted people around the world from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe,” said VOA Director Danforth Austin. “Because we broadcast in English and vernacular languages, VOA has the unique ability to deliver news and information about the election, the democratic process and the people of the United States,” he said, adding, “We'll be using every technology possible to reach people with the results of this race.”

We hope you will join us. And when it's all over, we'd like to hear your thoughts on how well we did.