09 November 2010

Knee-Jerk Critics and Others

A recent post discussed the question of whether our editorial content is automatically suspect because VOA is financed by the U.S. government.

We know the answer is yes, for some people. But additional data, obtained from recent audience research conducted for VOA, suggests at least some of the suspicion is simply “knee-jerk” suspicion, not based on fact.

Take for example the following excerpt from a recent report on a monitoring panel asked to evaluate one of VOA’s language services:

“…despite the respondents’ high ratings for accuracy and objectivity, a minority of panelists expressed some concern about the possible influence of the U.S. Government in the broadcasts. For instance, one panelist opined that VOA tried to hide the drawbacks of American policy in its coverage of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, this same panelist went on to note that VOA’s unbiased look at the challenges faced by a Muslim–American soldier in the U.S. military made up for the shortcomings she perceived in the coverage of U.S. actions in Afghanistan and showed VOA’s concern for Muslims.”

Another audience panel was critical of a perceived bias in the way VOA reported on this year’s devastating floods in Pakistan:

“Some panelists even felt that [VOA] was using the flood as a propaganda tool to make Pakistanis -- who, according to the panelists, view the United States with anger and distrust --better like and appreciate the country.”

One of the panelists in this group admitted he would never view any VOA news item with an open mind, stating “Americans are treated with scorn and derision and we give them no moral weight.”

There is yet another group of audience members -- again, I suspect a minority -- who do not expect VOA to be objective and balanced and indicate they want it to be pro-U.S. all the time. While such comments, in my experience, usually emanate from people here in the United States, this comment came from abroad:

“It is unrealistic for VOA to be a government-owned body and claim to offer ‘balanced’ and ‘unbiased’ news coverage. VOA’s mission is to present the U.S. policies and not the opposition to these policies. Objectivity should not really be a part of the assumption or equation.”

Frankly, I don’t see how we can ever satisfy any of these critics. To those who want “gung-ho, pro-America, slam-our-adversaries all-the-time” programming, I can only say: “Forget about it. We have a Charter and we’re sticking to it. (And besides, we don’t have to bash our adversaries. They do a pretty good job of bashing themselves and all we have to do it report it.)

For those who don’t believe we can be accurate, objective and balanced, I would only ask: “Please don’t make any assumptions. Take some time to actually watch, listen to or read our content.”

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