Voice of America (VOA)

Voice of America (VOA) is a state-controlled international television network funded by the U.S. federal tax budget. It is the largest U.S. international broadcaster. VOA produces digital, TV, and radio content in 47 languages which it distributes to affiliate stations around the globe. It is primarily viewed by foreign audiences, so VOA programming has an influence on public opinion abroad regarding the United States and its people.

VOA was established in 1942, and the VOA charter (Public Laws 94-350 and 103-415) was signed into law in 1976 by President Gerald Ford.

VOA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, an independent agency of the U.S. government. Funds are appropriated annually by Congress under the budget for embassies and consulates. In 2016, VOA broadcast an estimated 1,800 hours of radio and TV programming each week to approximately 236.6 million people worldwide with about 1,050 employees and a taxpayer-funded annual budget of US$218.5 million.

Some commentators consider Voice of America to be a form of propaganda.

In response to the request of the United States Department of Justice that RT register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Russia’s Justice Ministry labeled Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as foreign agents in December 2017.

Current languages

The Voice of America website had five English language broadcasts as of 2014 (worldwide, Special English, Cambodia, Zimbabwe and Tibet). Additionally, the VOA website has versions in 46 foreign languages

  • Afan Oromo
  • Albanian
  • Amharic
  • Armenian
  • Azerbaijani
  • Bambara
  • Bangla
  • Bosnian
  • Burmese
  • Cantonese
  • Mandarin
  • Dari Persian
  • Filipino
  • French
  • Georgian
  • Haitian Creole
  • Hausa
  • Indonesian
  • Khmer
  • Kinyarwanda
  • Kirundi
  • Korean
  • Kurdish
  • Lao
  • Lingala
  • Macedonian
  • Ndebele
  • Pashto
  • Persian
  • Portuguese
  • Rohingya
  • Russian
  • Sango
  • Serbian
  • Shona
  • Somali
  • Spanish
  • Swahili
  • Thai
  • Tibetan
  • Tigrinya
  • Turkish
  • Ukrainian
  • Urdu
  • Uzbek
  • Vietnamese
  • Wolof
  • English

The number of languages varies according to the priorities of the United States government and the world situation.

History

American private shortwave broadcasting before World War II

Before World War II, all American shortwave stations were in private hands. Privately controlled shortwave networks included the National Broadcasting Company’s International Network (or White Network), which broadcast in six languages, the Columbia Broadcasting System’s Latin American international network, which consisted of 64 stations located in 18 different countries, the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation in Cincinnati, Ohio, and General Electric which owned and operated WGEO and WGEA, both based in Schenectady, New York, and KGEI in San Francisco, all of which had shortwave transmitters. Experimental programming began in the 1930s, but there were fewer than 12 transmitters in operation. In 1939, the Federal Communications Commission set the following policy:

A licensee of an international broadcast station shall render only an international broadcast service which will reflect the culture of this country and which will promote international goodwill, understanding and cooperation. Any program solely intended for, and directed to an audience in the continental United States does not meet the requirements for this service.

This policy was intended to enforce the State Department’s Good Neighbor Policy, but some broadcasters felt that it was an attempt to direct censorship.

Shortwave signals to Latin America were regarded as vital to counter Nazi propaganda around 1940. Initially, the Office of Coordination of Information sent releases to each station, but this was seen as an inefficient means of transmitting news. The director of Latin American relations at the Columbia Broadcasting System was Edmund A. Chester, and he supervised the development of CBS’s extensive “La Cadena de las Americas” radio network to improve broadcasting to South America during the 1940s.

Also included among the cultural diplomacy programming on the Columbia Broadcasting System was the musical show Viva America (1942-1949) which featured the Pan American Orchestra and the artistry of several noted musicians from both North and South America, including Alfredo Antonini, Juan Arvizu, Eva Garza, Elsa Miranda, Nestor Mesta Chaires, Miguel Sandoval, John Serry Sr., and Terig Tucci. By 1945, broadcasts of the show were carried by 114 stations on CBS’s “La Cadena de las Americas” network in 20 Latin American nations. These broadcasts proved to be highly successful in supporting President Franklin Roosevelt’s policy of Pan-Americanism throughout South America during World War II.

World War II

Even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government’s Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI, in Washington) had already begun providing war news and commentary to the commercial American shortwave radio stations for use on a voluntary basis through its Foreign Information Service (FIS, in New York) headed by playwright Robert E. Sherwood, the playwright who served as president Roosevelt’s speech writer and information advisor. Direct programming began a week after the United States’ entry into World War II in December 1941, with the first broadcast from the San Francisco office of the FIS via General Electric’s KGEI transmitting to the Philippines in English (other languages followed). The next step was to broadcast to Germany, which was called Stimmen aus Amerika (“Voices from America”) and was transmitted on February 1, 1942. It was introduced by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and included the pledge: “Today, and every day from now on, we will be with you from America to talk about the war… The news may be good or bad for us – We will always tell you the truth.” Roosevelt approved this broadcast, which then-Colonel William J. Donovan (COI) and Sherwood (FIS) had recommended to him. It was Sherwood who actually coined the term “The Voice of America” to describe the shortwave network that began its transmissions on February 1, from 270 Madison Avenue in New York City.

The Office of War Information, when organized in the middle of 1942, officially took over VOA’s operations. VOA reached an agreement with the British Broadcasting Corporation to share medium-wave transmitters in Britain, and expanded into Tunis in North Africa and Palermo and Bari, Italy as the Allies captured these territories. The OWI also set up the American Broadcasting Station in Europe. Asian transmissions started with one transmitter in California in 1941; services were expanded by adding transmitters in Hawaii and, after recapture, the Philippines.

By the end of the war, VOA had 39 transmitters and provided service in 40 languages. Programming was broadcast from production centers in New York and San Francisco, with more than 1,000 programs originating from New York. Programming consisted of music, news, commentary, and relays of U.S. domestic programming, in addition to specialized VOA programming.

About half of VOA’s services, including the Arabic service, were discontinued in 1945. In late 1945, VOA was transferred to the Department of State.

Cold War

In 1947, VOA started broadcasting to the Soviet citizens in Russia under the pretext of countering “more harmful instances of Soviet propaganda directed against American leaders and policies” on the part of the internal Soviet Russian-language media, according to John B. Whitton’s treatise, Cold War Propaganda. The Soviet Union responded by initiating electronic jamming of VOA broadcasts on April 24, 1949.

Charles W. Thayer headed VOA in 1948–49.

Over the next few years, the U.S. government debated the best role of Voice of America. The decision was made to use VOA broadcasts as a part of its foreign policy to fight the propaganda of the Soviet Union and other countries.

The Arabic service resumed on January 1, 1950, with a half-hour program. This program grew to 14.5 hours daily during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and was six hours a day by 1958.

In 1952, Voice of America installed a studio and relay facility aboard a converted U.S. Coast Guard cutter renamed Courier whose target audience was Soviet Union and other members of Warsaw Pact. The Courier was originally intended to become the first in a fleet of mobile, radio broadcasting ships (see offshore radio) that built upon U.S. Navy experience during WWII in using warships as floating broadcasting stations. However, the Courier eventually dropped anchor off the island of Rhodes, Greece with permission of the Greek government to avoid being branded as a pirate radio broadcasting ship. This VOA offshore station stayed on the air until the 1960s when facilities were eventually provided on land. The Courier supplied training to engineers who later worked on several of the European commercial offshore broadcasting stations of the 1950s and 1960s.

Control of VOA passed from the State Department to the U.S. Information Agency when the latter was established in 1953 to transmit worldwide, including to the countries behind the Iron Curtain and to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Starting in the 1950s, VOA broadcast American jazz on Voice of America Jazz Hour from 1955 until 2003. Hosted for most of that period by Willis Conover, the program had 30 million listeners at its peak. A program aimed at South Africa in 1956 broadcast two hours nightly, and special programs such as The Newport Jazz Festival were also transmitted. This was done in association with tours by U.S. musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, sponsored by the State Department. From August 1952 through May 1953, Billy Brown, a high school senior in Westchester County, New York, had a Monday night program in which he shared everyday happenings in Yorktown Heights, New York. Brown’s program ended due to its popularity: his “chatty narratives” attracted so much fan mail, VOA couldn’t afford the $500 a month in clerical and postage costs required to respond to listeners’ letters.

Throughout the Cold War, many of the targeted countries’ governments sponsored jamming of VOA broadcasts, which sometimes led critics to question the broadcasts’ actual impact. For example, in 1956, Polish People’s Republic stopped jamming VOA transmissions, but People’s Republic of Bulgaria continued to jam the signal through the 1970s. Chinese language VOA broadcasts were jammed beginning in 1956 and extending through 1976. However, after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, interviews with participants in anti-Soviet movements verified the effectiveness of VOA broadcasts in transmitting information to socialist societies. The People’s Republic of China diligently jams VOA broadcasts. Cuba has also been reported to interfere with VOA satellite transmissions to Iran from its Russian-built transmission site at Bejucal. David Jackson, former director of Voice of America, noted: “The North Korean government doesn’t jam us, but they try to keep people from listening through intimidation or worse. But people figure out ways to listen despite the odds. They’re very resourceful.”

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, VOA covered some of the era’s most important news, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech and Neil Armstrong’s 1969 first walk on the Moon. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, VOA broadcast around-the-clock in Spanish.

In the early 1980s, VOA began a $1.3 billion rebuilding program to improve broadcast with better technical capabilities. Also in the 1980s, VOA also added a television service, as well as special regional programs to Cuba, Radio Martí and TV Martí. Cuba has consistently attempted to jam such broadcasts and has vociferously protested U.S. broadcasts directed at Cuba.

In September 1980, VOA started broadcasting to Afghanistan in Dari and in Pashto in 1982. At the same time, VOA started to broadcast U.S. government editorials, clearly separated from the programming by audio cues.

In 1985, VOA Europe was created as a special service in English that was relayed via satellite to AM, FM, and cable affiliates throughout Europe. With a contemporary format including live disc jockeys, the network presented top musical hits as well as VOA news and features of local interest (such as “EuroFax”) 24 hours a day. VOA Europe was closed down without advance public notice in January 1997 as a cost-cutting measure. It was followed by VOA Express, which from July 4, 1999 revamped into VOA Music Mix. Since November 1, 2014 stations are offered VOA1 (which is a rebranding of VOA Music Mix).

In 1989, Voice of America expanded its Mandarin and Cantonese programming to reach the millions of Chinese and inform the country about the pro-democracy movement within the country, including the demonstration in Tiananmen Square.

Starting in 1990, the U.S. consolidated its international broadcasting efforts, with the establishment of the Bureau of Broadcasting.

Post–Cold War

With the breakup of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe, VOA added many additional language services to reach those areas. This decade was marked by the additions of Tibetan, Kurdish (to Iran and Iraq), Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian, and Rwanda-Rundi language services.

In 1993, the Clinton administration advised cutting funding for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as it was felt post-Cold War information and influence was not needed in Europe. This plan was not well received, and he then proposed the compromise of the International Broadcasting Act. The Broadcasting Board of Governors was established and took control from the Board for International Broadcasters which previously oversaw funding for RFE/RL.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act into law. This law established the International Broadcasting Bureau as a part of the U.S. Information Agency and created the Broadcasting Board of Governors with oversight authority. In 1998, the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act was signed into law and mandated that BBG become an independent federal agency as of October 1, 1999. This act also abolished the U.S.I.A. and merged most of its functions with those of the State Department.

In 1994, Voice of America became the first broadcast-news organization to offer continuously updated programs on the Internet.

In April 2020, the Trump administration accused Voice of America of being a mouthpiece for authoritarian regimes that “speaks for America’s adversaries,” and of “promoting propaganda” instead of “promoting freedom and democracy.”

Cuts in services

The Arabic Service was abolished in 2002 and replaced by a new radio service, called the Middle East Radio Network or Radio Sawa, with an initial budget of $22 million. Radio Sawa offered mostly Western and Middle Eastern popular songs with periodic brief news bulletins. Today, the network has expanded to television with Alhurra and to various social media and websites.

On May 16, 2004; Worldnet, a satellite television service, was merged into the VOA network.

Radio programs in Russian ended in July 2008. In September 2008, VOA eliminated the Hindi language service after 53 years. Broadcasts in Ukrainian, Serbian, Macedonian and Bosnian also ended. These reductions were part of American efforts to concentrate more resources to broadcast to the Muslim world.

In September 2010, VOA began its radio broadcasts in Sudan. As U.S. interests in South Sudan have grown, there is a desire to provide people with free information.

In 2013, VOA ended foreign language transmissions on shortwave and medium wave to Albania, Georgia, Iran and Latin America; as well as English language broadcasts to the Middle East and Afghanistan. The movement was done due to budget cuts.

On July 1, 2014, VOA cut most of its shortwave transmissions in English to Asia. Shortwave broadcasts in Azerbaijani, Bengali, Khmer, Kurdish, Lao, and Uzbek were dropped too. On August 11, 2014, the Greek service ended after 72 years on air.

Agencies

Voice of America has been a part of several agencies. From its founding in 1942 to 1945, it was part of the Office of War Information, and then from 1945 to 1953 as a function of the State Department. VOA was placed under the U.S. Information Agency in 1953. When the USIA was abolished in 1999, VOA was placed under the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG, which is an autonomous U.S. government agency, with bipartisan membership. The Secretary of State has a seat on the BBG. The BBG was established as a buffer to protect VOA and other U.S.-sponsored, non-military, international broadcasters from political interference. It replaced the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB) that oversaw the funding and operation of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a branch of VOA.

Laws

Smith–Mundt Act

From 1948 until its amendment in 2013, Voice of America was forbidden to broadcast directly to American citizens under § 501 of the Smith–Mundt Act. The act was amended as a result of the passing of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013. The intent of the legislation in 1948 was to protect the American public from propaganda actions by their own government and to have no competition with private American companies. The amendment had the intent of adapting to the Internet and allow American citizens to request access to VOA content.

Internal policies

VOA charter

Under the Eisenhower administration in 1959, VOA Director Henry Loomis commissioned a formal statement of principles to protect the integrity of VOA programming and define the organization’s mission, and was issued by Director George V. Allen as a directive in 1960 and was endorsed in 1962 by USIA director Edward R. Murrow. The principles were signed into law on July 12, 1976, by President Gerald Ford. It reads:

The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts. 1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive. 2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions. 3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.

“Firewall”

The Voice of America Firewall was put in place with the 1976 VOA Charter and laws passed in 1994 and 2016 as a way of ensuring the integrity of VOA’s journalism. This policy fights against propaganda and promotes unbiased and objective journalistic standards in the agency. The charter is one part of this firewall and the other laws assist in ensuring high standards of journalism.

“Two-source rule”

According to former VOA correspondent Alan Heil, the internal policy of VOA News is that any story broadcast must have two independently corroborating sources or have a staff correspondent actually witness an event.

Newsroom

Voice of America’s central newsroom has hundreds of journalists and dozens of full-time domestic and overseas correspondents, who are employees of the U.S. government or paid contractors. They are augmented by hundreds of contract correspondents and stringers throughout the world, who file in English or in one of VOA’s other radio and television broadcast languages.

In late 2005, VOA shifted some of its central-news operation to Hong Kong where contracted writers worked from a “virtual” office with counterparts on the overnight shift in Washington, D.C., but this operation was shut down in early 2008.

Shortwave frequencies

By December 2014, the number of transmitters and frequencies used by VOA had been greatly reduced. VOA still uses shortwave transmissions to cover some areas of Africa and Asia. Shortwave broadcasts still take place in these languages: Afaan Oromoo, Amharic, Bambara, Cantonese, Chinese, English, Indonesian, Korean and Swahili.

VOA Radiogram

VOA Radiogram was an experimental Voice of America program starting in March 2013 which transmitted digital text and images via shortwave radiograms. There were 220 editions of the program, transmitted each weekend from the Edward R. Murrow transmitting station. The audio tones that comprised the bulk of each 30 minute program were transmitted via an analog transmitter, and could be decoded using a basic AM shortwave receiver with freely downloadable software of the Fldigi family. This software is available for Windows, Apple (OSX), Linux, and FreeBSD systems.

Broadcasts can also be decoded using the free TIVAR app from the Google Play store using any Android device.

The mode used most often on VOA Radiogram, for both text and images, was MFSK32, but other modes were also occasionally transmitted.

The final edition of VOA Radiogram was transmitted during the weekend of June 17–18, 2017, a week before the retirement of the program producer from VOA. An offer to continue the broadcasts on a contract basis was declined, so a follow-on show called Shortwave Radiogram began transmission on June 25, 2017 from the WRMI transmitting site in Okeechobee, Florida.

Transmission facilities

One of VOA’s radio transmitter facilities was originally based on a 625-acre (2.53 km2) site in Union Township (now West Chester Township) in Butler County, Ohio, near Cincinnati. The site is now a recreational park with a lake, lodge, dog park, and Voice of America museum. The Bethany Relay Station operated from 1944 to 1994. Other former sites include California (Dixon, Delano), Hawaii, Okinawa, (Monrovia) Liberia, Costa Rica, Belize, and at least two in Greece.

Between 1983 and 1990, VOA made significant upgrades to transmission facilities in Botswana, Morocco, Thailand, Kuwait, and Sao Tome.

Currently, VOA and USAGM continue to operate shortwave radio transmitters and antenna farms at International Broadcasting Bureau Greenville Transmitting Station in the United States, close to Greenville, North Carolina, “Site B.” They do not use FCC-issued callsigns, since the FCC does not regulate communications by other federal government agencies. (The FCC regulates broadcasting by private companies and other businesses, state governments, nonprofit organizations [NPOs] and non-government organizations [NGOs], and private individuals.) The IBB also operates a transmission facility on São Tomé and (Tinang) Concepcion, Tarlac, Philippines for VOA.

Comparing VOA-RFE-RL-RM to other broadcasters

In 1996, the U.S.’s international radio output consisted of 992 hours per week by VOA, 667 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and 162 by Radio Marti.

Controversy

Mullah Omar interview

In late September 2001, VOA aired a report that contained brief excerpts of an interview with then Taliban leader Mullah Omar Mohammad, along with segments from President Bush’s post-9/11 speech to Congress, an expert in Islam from Georgetown University, and comments by the foreign minister of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. State Department officials including Richard Armitage and others argued that the report amounted to giving terrorists a platform to express their views. In response, reporters and editors argued for the VOA’s editorial independence from its governors. VOA received praise from press organizations for its protests, and the following year in 2002, it won the University of Oregon’s Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.

Abdul Malik Rigi interview

On April 2, 2007, Abdul Malik Rigi, the leader of Jundullah, a militant group with possible links to al-Qaeda, appeared on Voice of America’s Persian language service. VOA introduced Rigi as “the leader of popular Iranian resistance movement.” The interview resulted in public condemnation by the Iranian-American community, as well as the Iranian government. Jundullah is a militant organization that has been linked to numerous attacks on civilians, such as the 2009 Zahedan explosion.

Tibetan protester interview

In February 2013, a documentary released by China Central Television interviewed a Tibetan self-immolator who failed to kill himself. The interviewee said he was motivated by Voice of America’s broadcasts of commemorations of people who committed suicide in political self-immolation. VOA denied any allegations of instigating self-immolations and demanded that the Chinese station retract its report.

Trump presidency concerns

After the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, several tweets by Voice of America (one of which was later removed) seemed to support the widely criticized statements by White House press secretary Sean Spicer about the crowd size and biased media coverage. This first raised concerns over possible attempts by Trump to politicize the state-funded agency. This amplified already growing propaganda concerns over the provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, signed into law by Barack Obama, which replaced the board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors with a CEO appointed by the president. Trump sent two of his political aides, Matthew Ciepielowski and Matthew Schuck, to the agency to aid its current CEO during the transition to the Trump administration. Criticism was raised over Trump’s choice of aides; Schuck was a staff writer for right-wing website The Daily Surge until April 2015, while Ciepielowski was a field director at the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. VOA officials responded with assurances that they would not become “Trump TV”. BBG head John F. Lansing told NPR that it would be illegal for the administration to tell VOA what to broadcast, while VOA director Amanda Bennett stressed that while “government-funded”, the agency is not “government-run”.

On April 10, 2020, the White House published an article in its daily newsletter critical of VOA coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Emails revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request showed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) press official Michawn Rich had sent a memo to agency employees stating in part, “as a rule, do not send up [interview] requests for Greta Van Susteren or anyone affiliated with Voice of America,” referencing the White House story. On April 30, the Washington Post reported Vice President Mike Pence’s office “threatened to retaliate against a reporter who revealed that Pence’s office had told journalists they would need masks for Pence’s visit to the Mayo Clinic — a requirement Pence himself did not follow.”

On June 3, 2020, the Senate confirmed Michael Pack, a maker of conservative documentaries and close ally of Steve Bannon, to serve as head of the United States Agency for Global Media, which oversees VOA. Subsequently, Director Bennet and deputy director Sandy Sugawara resigned from VOA. CNN reported on June 16 that plans for a leadership shakeup at VOA were being discussed, including the possibility that controversial former White House aide Sebastian Gorka would be given a leadership role at VOA. On June 17, the heads of VOA’s Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Open Technology Fund were all fired, their boards were dissolved and external communications from VOA employees made to require approval from senior agency personnel in what one source described as an “unprecedented” move, while Jeffrey Shapiro, like Pack a Bannon ally, was rumored to be in line to head the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Four former members of the advisory boards subsequently filed suit challenging Pack’s standing to fire them. On July 9, NPR reported VOA would not renew the work visas of dozens of non-resident reporters, many of whom could face repercussions in their home countries. In late July, four contracters and the head of VOA’s Urdu lanaguage service were suspended after a video featuring extensive clips from a Muslim-American voter conference, including a campaign message from Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, was determined not to meet editorial standards and taken down.

On August 12, 2020, USAGM chief financial officer Grant Turner and general counsel David Kligerman were removed from their positions and stripped of their security clearances, reportedly for their opposition to what Turner called “gross mismanagement,” along with four other senior agency officials. Politico reported on August 13 that Trump administration official and former shock jock Frank Wuco had been hired as a USAGM senior advisor, responsible for auditing the agency’s office of policy and research. As a radio host, Wuco issued insults and groundless claims against former US President Barack Obama, CIA Director John O. Brennan and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. VOA’s Twitter account during this period featured stories favorable to Vice President Mike Pence and White House advisor Ivanka Trump.

In response to Pack’s August 27 interview with The Federalist website in which he “joked…about deporting his own employees and forcing them to adopt unsafe workplace practices that could expose them to COVID-19” and “said the agency was ripe for espionage and possibly rife with spies,” a group of VOA journalists sent a letter to VOA Acting Director Elez Biberaj complaining that his “comments and decisions ‘endanger the personal security of VOA reporters at home and abroad, as well as threatening to harm U.S. national security objectives.'” VOA’s response was that that “it would not respond directly to the letter because it was ‘improper’ and ‘failed to follow procedure.’ Instead, the leadership of USAGM and VOA ‘are handling the choice of complaint transmission as an administrative issue,’ which suggested that the journalists could face sanctions for their letter,” according to the Washington Post. In the same story, the Post reported that VOA Spanish-language service White House correspondent’s Brigo Segovia’s interview with an official about the administration’s response to Pack’s personnel and other moves had been censored and his own access to VOA’s computer system restricted.

Guo Wengui interview

On April 19, 2017, VOA interviewed the Chinese real estate tycoon Guo Wengui in a live broadcast. The whole interview was scheduled for 3 hours. After Guo Wengui alleged to own evidence of corruption among the members of the Politburo Standing Committee of China, the highest political authority of China, the interview was abruptly cut off, after only one hour and seventeen minutes of broadcasting. Guo’s allegations involved Fu Zhenhua and Wang Qishan, the latter being a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the leader of the massive anti-graft movement. It was reported that Beijing warned VOA’s representatives not to interview Guo for his “unsubstantiated allegations”. Four members of the U.S. Congress requested the Office of Inspector General to conduct an investigation into this interruption on August 27, 2017. The OIG investigation concluded that the decision to curtail the Guo interview was based solely on journalistic best practices rather than any pressure from the Chinese government.

Another investigation, by Mark Feldstein, Chair of Broadcast Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park and a journalist with decades of experiences as an award-winning television investigative reporter, concluded that “The failure to comply with leadership’s instructions during the Guo interview “was a colossal and unprecedented violation of journalistic professionalism and broadcast industry standards.” The report also said that “There had been a grossly negligent approach” to pre-interview vetting and failure to “corroborate the authenticity of Guo’s evidence or interview other sources” in violation of industry standards. The interview team apparently “demonstrated greater loyalty to its source than to its employer — at the expense of basic journalistic standards of accuracy, verification, and fairness,” the Feldstein report concluded.

The VOA and the Cold War

The VOA started its operations during the Cold War and that is when its influence first started as well. Foy Kohler, the director of VOA during the Cold War, strongly believed that the VOA was serving its purpose, which he identified as aiding in the fight against communism. He argued that the numbers of listeners they were getting such as 194,000 regular listeners in Sweden, and 2.1 million regular listeners in France, was an indication of a positive impact. As further evidence, he noted that the VOA received 30,000 letters a month from listeners all over the world, and hundreds of thousands of requests for broadcasting schedules. There was an analysis done of some of those letters sent in 1952 and 1953 while Kohler was still director. The study found that letter writing could be an indicator of successful, actionable persuasion. It was also found that broadcasts in different countries were having different effects. In one country, regular listeners adopted and practiced American values presented by the broadcast. Age was also a factor: younger and older audiences tended to like different types of programs no matter the country. Kohler used all of this as evidence to claim that the VOA helped to grow and strengthen the free world. It also influenced the UN in their decision to condemn communist actions in Korea, and was a major factor in the decline of communism in the “free world, including key countries such as Italy and France. In Italy, the VOA did not just bring an end to communism, but it caused the country to Americanize. The VOA also had an impact behind the Iron Curtain. Practically all defectors during Kohler’s time claimed the VOA helped in their decision to defect. Another indication of impact, according to Kohler, was the Soviet response. Kohler argued that the soviets responded because the VOA was having an impact. Based on Soviet responses, it can be presumed that the most effective programs were ones that compared the lives of those behind and outside the iron curtain, questions on the practice of slave labor, as well as lies and errors in Stalin’s version of Marxism.

DEEWA Radio’s impact

DEEWA Radio, of the VOA, airs in Pakistan. Although some listeners are suspicious that the program is promoting an American agenda, others claim to be experiencing a positive effect. Some listeners feel that the programs are giving a voice to the voiceless, leading them to a sense of empowerment.

VOA in Kurdistan and Iran

VOA’s service in Iran has had a negative impact on Kurds and Kurdistan according to the publication, Kurdish Life. They claim that the VOA has exacerbated the conflict between the Talabani and the Barzani. They further claim that the VOA is covering up wrongful imprisonments, wrongful arrests, and the building of extremist mosques. According to the same publication, Kurds are being turned into fanatics, and a new generation of terrorists is forming because of the VOA. They claim the VOA is doing this to help PUK.

VOA and Latin America

There is evidence to suggest that the people who listen to the Latin American service are being influenced, but not in the way the VOA wants. Instead of understanding and adopting the American way of life, listeners are parroting values and beliefs that do not mesh with their lives. However, others have adopted a negative view of America, because they think that the VOA is propaganda.

VOA and China

A study was done on Chinese students in America. It found that through the VOA, they disapproved of the actions of the Chinese government. Another study was done on Chinese scholars in America, and found that the VOA had an effect on their political beliefs. Their political beliefs did not change in relation to China, though, as they did not tend to believe the VOA’s reports on China. 

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