The Foreign Service Journal - April 2017
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APRIL 2017



Media Challenges:

The VOA Experience


oice of America Director Amanda

Bennett put current challenges to

open and free press into perspective dur-

ing an event, “Challenges to Media in a

Post-Truth World: The Voice of America

Experience,” held on Jan. 31 at The George

Washington University’s Institute for Pub-

lic Diplomacy & Global Communication

in Washington, D.C.

Bennett argued that we are not yet in

a post-truth world, but that challenges to

objective journalism remain enduring.

This is well understood, she said, among

VOA’s diverse workforce of reporters,

many of whom could not practice objec-

tive journalism in their country of origin

and were often the target of retribution.

Having fled after fearing for their safety,

many VOA reporters now broadcast objec-

tive journalismback to their home nations

in their native languages, providing a bal-

anced perspective in heavily polarized and

politicizedmedia landscapes.

VOA viewers, whose numbers grew by

a record 50 million in a single year from

2015 to 2016, rate its trustworthiness at 86

percent. VOA reaches a total of 236 mil-

lion viewers weekly.

“Pressure is applied by everyone, this

is nothing new in journalism,” Bennett

said. Even members of Congress have

applied pressure, she states, asking VOA,

for instance, to take a tougher line on

adversarial nations like Russia.

But VOA must be steadfast in adher-

ing to its charter, Bennett emphasized.

Signed into law more than 40 years

ago, that charter states as one of three

principles: “VOA news will be accurate,

objective, and comprehensive.”

Bennett expressed concern over out-

lets devoted to disinformation, saying she

refers to the phenomenon as “deliber-

ately false information” rather than “fake

news.” The rise of disinformation, she

said, has prompted greater concern for

objective journalism and reporting the

truth—a good thing.

In response to a question on combating

misinformation, David Ensor, Bennett’s

predecessor at VOA who was in the audi-

ence, stated: “Our experience is that the

truth is more powerful than propaganda.”

—Dmitry Filipoff,

Publications Coordinator

Lantos Human Rights

Prize Awarded to Vian



n Feb. 8, the Lantos Foundation for

Human Rights and Justice presented

the 2016 Lantos Human Rights prize to

Vian Dakhil, an Iraqi parliamentarian

who drew the world’s attention to the

genocide of the Yazidi people by ISIS

and has been dubbed its “most wanted


Ms. Dakhil’s visa was revoked follow-

ing President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive

order refusing entry to the United States

for travelers from certain countries

(including Iraq). However, following a

legal challenge which suspended the ban,

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson personally

reissued her visa on Feb. 4, allowing her

to travel to the United States and receive

the award in person.

Accepting the prize fromHouse Minor-

ity Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.),

Ms. Dakhil reminded the audience that,

althoughmuch has been done to aid the

Yazidi people, there are still more than

3,900 women and girls in captivity.

Referring to the executive order ban-

ning travelers from seven countries, Ms.

Dakhil said that Iraqi citizens have fought

and died alongside American soldiers for

many years, yet the order did not take in

to account that most Iraqis are victims

and not perpetrators of terrorism.

The Lantos Foundation for Human

Rights and Justice was founded by the

late Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holo-

caust survivor and U.S. Representative for

27 years. Previous winners include His

Holiness the Dalai Lama, Elie Weisel and

Israeli President Shimon Peres.

—Gemma Dvorak, Associate Editor

Bye-Bye, BBG


n Dec. 23, then-President Barack

Obama signed into law the National

Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year

2017 (S. 2943). One of the bill’s many

provisions that flew largely below the radar

is Section 1288, which is likely to have a

profound effect on

U.S. international

broadcasting, reports



Championed by

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair-

man Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), this provi-

sion abolishes the bipartisan Broadcasting

Board of Governors that has long overseen

government-backed, nonmilitary interna-

tional media outlets.

These include the Voice of America, the

Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free

Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and

the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

The BBG will eventually be replaced by

a five-member International Broadcasting

Advisory Board, headed by the Secretary

of State. The president will select the other