THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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
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.”
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 Dakhil’s visa was revoked follow-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
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
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