08 December 2009

Give ‘Em Hell, VOA

During the 1948 U.S. election campaign, President Harry Truman, a Democrat, was delivering a speech in which he criticized the opposition Republicans. A supporter yelled out: "Give 'em Hell, Harry!” Mr. Truman replied, "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell."

This pretty much sums up the reason why some foreign officials, usually in repressive countries lacking a free press, routinely complain about Western coverage of events in such countries. And it explains why VOA, contrary to the claims of critics who accuse it of engaging in propaganda, doesn’t need to do more than deliver the news accurately, objectively and comprehensively to its worldwide audiences.

Take Iran, for example. In recent addresses, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i has lashed out sharply at the United States and western media like VOA. In one speech, he put it this way: “The priority is what today they call the soft war; meaning a war using cultural tools, infiltration, lies, rumor mongering. They use advanced tools that exist today, communication tools that did not exist 10, 15, 30 years ago.”

In fact, the advanced tools he mentions are being used by Iranians themselves to counter the media restrictions that exist in Iran. While foreign journalists in Iran were barred from going out and watching the protests that took place on Students Day this week, Iranians used the Internet to send video to the outside world for use by broadcasters like VOA. They disseminated news about anti-government protests via Facebook and Twitter. They used cellphones to take pictures and send them. Authorities tried to slow down Internet service and curtail mobile phone service to curb the flow of information. But the effort was unsuccessful.

State television in Iran carried no reports on the actual protests. Western news organizations had to rely on the contributions of amateur “citizen journalists” to get as complete a picture as possible of what is happening inside Iran.

We believe all people have the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers – just as it says in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We don’t believe they should be harassed, detained, arrested, charged and imprisoned for seeking to exercise this right.

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