WASHINGTON: Voice of America staffers are expressing outrage over the new crop of overseas US media ventures, claiming they substitute pop music and slanted news segments for honest diplomatic dialog.
"At a time when the ability of the United States to speak to the world in a clear, effective, credible voice is more crucial than ever, the United States is broadcasting less news, information, and analysis to fewer countries for fewer hours in fewer languages," read a petition sent to Congress earlier this month.
Signed by 450 VOA staffers, the petition requests a Congressional investigation into the decisions of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the government-backed agency that oversees America's foreign broadcasting. The staffers claim the BBG intends to dismantle the 60-year-old VOA - a primary US voice during WWII and the Cold War - for more commercially successful, US-friendly ventures.
The specific ventures referred to include Radio Sawa, whose blend of local and US pop music has achieved great popularity in the Middle East over the past two years, and Alhurra Satellite Television, which hopes to compete with Al Jazeera, the Arabic news channel.
VOA's charter is strict about editorial objectivity, something critics claim the new ventures not only lack, but ignore, damaging American credibility.
The BBG has called the accusations erroneous. Sources close to its leadership characterized the complaints as sour grapes over dwindling VOA budgets.
"Sawa airs 48 newscasts each broadcast day; its millions of listeners are never more than 20 minutes from the next news segment," BBG chairman Kenneth Tomlinson wrote in a statement. "Alhurra, the Arabic-language satellite TV network, broadcasts 10 minutes of news at the top of every hour 18 hours per day."
Tomlinson said US international broadcasting should be praised for bringing US ideas about objective media to a worldwide audience.
"VOA's challenge - like that of all our journalistic organizations - is to use the latest technology and broadcast techniques to reach the largest possible audiences for maximum impact," wrote BBG member Norman Pattiz in a letter to USA Today.