Voice of America English website posts a one-sided report on Turkey

Yandas Medya

BBG Watch Commentary

VOA English website screen shot.

VOA English website screen shot.

The U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) English news website has posted Sunday a one-sided and incomplete report on the protests in Turkey and the Turkish government’s violent response to these protests.

The VOA English report failed to note that pro-government rallies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters are carefully staged with party loyalist being bussed to a gathering point while peaceful anti-government protesters face tear gas and water cannons. The report possibly also overestimated the number of pro-government rally participants and had very little information about much larger spontaneous anti-government demonstrations, their violent suppression by the police, and the specific issues behind the protests.

This kind of superficial reporting angers pro-democracy protesters and damages U.S. public diplomacy. Turkish protesters are already angry with the local mainstream Turkish media for practicing self-censorship.

It appears that VOA English service has no reporter on the ground in Turkey.

The Voice of America English Central Newsroom has been drastically scaled down in recent years by officials of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) who have been expanding the bureaucracy and technologies at the expense of programs and journalistic positions. IBB managers have been repeatedly rated in the official Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys as being some of the worst in the federal government.

Vandalized TV van on Taksim Square with an anti-NTV sign.

The Voice of America Turkish service is believed to be doing a much better job of reporting from Turkey. Its staffers have been working long hours, but they also have been deprived of adequate resources by IBB managers who have tried to shut down and down size the service numerous times.

In their FY 2013 budget proposal to Congress, IBB officials had asked for eliminating four journalistic positions in the VOA Turkish Service. Members of Congress from both parties rejected this proposal and other IBB attempts to eliminate or reduce broadcasts. But most VOA services as well as services of other BBG-managed broadcasters, including Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) are woefully underfunded, while IBB consumes the largest part of the BBG budget (about 35%). In the FY 2014 budget proposal to Congress, IBB wants to eliminate even more VOA English Central Newsroom positions.

The controversial report posted Sunday on the Voice of America English website is re-posted below:

 

Erdogan Says It Was His ‘Duty’ to Evict Protesters

VOA News

June 16, 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told hundreds of thousands of supporters it was his “duty” to evict activists from an Istanbul park.

Speaking at a rally Sunday, Erdogan said two weeks of street protests were manipulated by “terrorists.” He dismissed opposition allegations that he was behaving like a dictator and he criticized foreign media coverage of the protests.

​As he spoke, riot police in central Istanbul fired tear gas to stop protesters from regrouping in the main Taksim Square, after police forcibly drove them out of a nearby park that has been the center of protests against Erdogan’s government.

The prime minister said his patience with the demonstrators had ended. Security forces used tear gas and water cannons to clear the park on Saturday evening.

Protests against government plans to tear down the park for new construction started two weeks ago but quickly built into nationwide protests against Erdogan. The protesters accuse him of imposing his conservative Islamic views on the country.

The prime minister told protesters last week that he would put redevelopment plans for the park on hold until a court rules on them. He also said he would hold a referendum on the issue if the court rules in the government’s favor.

The following comment was left under the report:
by: deniz
June 16, 2013 3:09 PM
Huge, how many? I have counted approximately 30 thousand from the aerial pictures (I am a PHD Statistician). There were more than 1 million demonstrating against him at the same time. Are you sure you aren’t a biased journalist.
Image posted on Facebook page of Turkish actor and director Mujdat Gezen.

Image posted on Facebook page of Turkish actor and director Mujdat Gezen accusing mainstream Turkish media of self-censorship, including local partners of MSNBC and CNN.

Complaints about the VOA English website coverage of Turkey have been submitted to VOA Director David Ensor as well as members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) who have the ultimate responsibility over the broadcaster and IBB managers. BBG members, however, have encountered strong resistance from IBB management to their attempts to improve programming to countries with limited free media. IBB’s current director is Richard Lobo. He was appointed by President Obama and fully supports his discredited managers.

Russia Today reporter on Taksim Square in Istanbul

Russia Today reporter on Taksim Square in Istanbul

Al Jazeera  and Russia Today have provided far more extensive coverage of the Turkish protests than the Voice of America.

An appeal posted on Facebook by pro-democracy protesters in Turkey complained about local media censorship and called on international media to pay more attention to the suppression of demonstrations in Turkey.

Local Turkish media, with business links with the government and international media outlets such as MSNBC and CNN, were slow in reporting on the protests, drawing anger from the demonstrators.

A statement from the Turkish protest group Demokrasi also points out that international media, especially in the U.S., is not paying enough attention to the protests.

 

URGENT–DEAR FRIENDS, PLEASE SHARE! Citizens of the world, the law-abiding, peaceful & democratic people of Turkey are crying out via social media for help against the current (right now!) brutal attack from police & lies from govt officials. Local media is not telling the truth & int’l media is by & large silent, esp. in the USA. Ordinary people, including women & children, are being hit with tear gas & water cannons … massive injuries, & police hindering rescue & care. Doctors & lawyers helping them are being arrested! All legal channels for advocacy within Turkey are closed! Bravely they are still standing & marching tonight. Please stand up with them for freedom & share! Contact your leaders & media outlets! YOU can make a difference! | Demokrasi.Org

7 Comments

  1. melville says:

    As a journalist with 28 years of experience, I can’t see how anyone could construe this report as being one-sided. It’s got Erdogan saying what he has to say and the specific issues that have brought the protesters out in the streets are right there for anyone with open eyes to see. We work with the information that is given to us and work hard to balance out the story. I’m no mouthpiece for the BBG, but this is one time the BBG Watch blog is way way off base.

  2. BBGWatcher says:

    Perhaps it was not done intentionally, but the story is one-sided or at least incomplete. It would certainly offend anybody who is protesting in Turkey against the government for giving far more attention to Tayyip Erdogan and his claims without much attempt to challenge them with well known facts and other information that was and is available. VOA story shows that writers in Washington have a limited understanding what is happening on the ground in Turkey. They took Erdogan’s claims almost at face value.

    We suspect that what VOA did in this case was to poorly summarize wire reports. Why VOA English Service did not send a staff correspondent and a staff video journalist to Turkey to cover such a major news story that was unfolding for many weeks while Al Jazeera and Russia Today reporters are there all over the place? Is there not enough money or did the management think that this was not a major news event. It certainly was and still is a major news story that Voice of America is apparently incapable of fully covering.

  3. melville says:

    Poorly summarize wire reports? I genuinely resent that. I wrote that report.. I’ve got 40 seconds to write about a very complicated issue with several sides.The news at that moment was Erdogan and his speech. I’ve got no choice but to summarize.and I’ll put up my brief radio story against anything you’d hear on any commercial network anywhere in the English-speaking world. Not only would you find my story balanced and unbiased, but you’ll find it has more details than nearly any comparable broadcast news story given the same time constraints. If you’ve got a problem with VOA not putting a reporter on the ground in Turkey, complain about that and not about the CN file.

  4. BBGWatcher says:

    You may have put the finger on the problem. 40 seconds to tell the Turks what is happening in their country in such a dramatic moment is hardly enough. Such a summary may be fine for English speakers in the U.S., but not in Turkey and in other countries without free media. It did not reflect the drama of the events and all the nuances because it could not in 40 seconds and without on the ground presence. And, in our opinion, it leaned toward reflecting the official position, which is what happens if you do not have your own reporter on the scene.

    Where was a Voice of America correspondent report in English on what was happening on that important day in Turkey? There was none. VOA English did not bother to send its correspondent to Turkey. A full wire report would have been better because AP and Reuters had their people on the ground in Turkey. But, of course, VOA should have had its own correspondent there. There is no excuse for not sending one.

  5. melville says:

    I certainly don’t disagree with you. We should have a correspondent on the ground wherever a major news story is taking place. There’s no way VOA will survive if people cannot rely on it in times of global crises. I only thought your criticism about out coverage of Turkey was misdirected because I’m just a rank and file newsroom worker and in no way responsible for any management decisions — good or bad.

  6. BBGWatcher says:

    It is a management failure and not a fault of rank and file employees who are working hard and with great dedication for the worst managed federal agency, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) official Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys. Employees works hard under very difficult conditions because they believe in BBG’s mission, but they can’t overcome years of neglect and mismanagement.

    It was a management decision NOT to send a correspondent to Turkey while IBB managers and their consultants travel around the world and IBB consumes the largest portion of the BBG budget.

  7. Vilnius says:

    One thing to remember is that “balance” does not necessarily have to occur in each and every report, but should be able to be seen across a range of reports over time.

    Unfortunately, even the news professionals in VOA’s Newsroom often don’t get this. They will fall over themselves to inject “balance” in a report when what is important is that broader scope — is an organization’s reporting generally balanced, over a period of hours, days, weeks?

    And of course, “balance” can be abused by those in the policy section of VOA who may put pressure on news professionals to over-balance a particular story, or force a certain initial account of a development to contain so much “balance” that it reads (and sounds) stilted, indeed as if it was written with a policy person standing over the writer’s shoulder.

    In this case, BBGWatch overreached in criticism of this item. Also — decisions on whether and when to send correspondents are based on a range of factors.

    But all too often in VOA’s news operation, newswriters (veterans as well as newcomers) operate in fear of what might happen if they don’t balance every single aspect of a story.

    Excellent examples of this involve reporting on the U.S. Congress. There are editors in VOA who believe that if a story contains the voices of two Republicans, then the story must be balanced with two Democrats. How absurd. Yet this has happened time and again. It’s shortsighted and junvenile.

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