SIDEBAR: Where 2016 Consultant Report Recommendations Missed The Mark
USAGM Watch Commentary
EDITOR’S NOTE: A USAGM staffer reacts to key aspects of the Executive Summary of the 2016 consultant report solicited by and submitted to former VOA director Amanda Bennett. The full report, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, has not been found and produced by the agency despite repeated requests by journalists.
Bias in News [from 2016 Consultant Report]
“The perception of biased coverage is real among multiple VOA reporters and editors. Biased coverage threatens the credibility of the overwhelming majority of VOA journalists who strive for fairness, balance and accuracy. It’s vital that VOA leadership take visible steps to communicate that bias is unacceptable and that the integrity of VOA reporting is sacrosanct.”
USAGM Staffer: It’s not enough to acknowledge there is “bias” and say it needs to be dealt with. If you can’t name the TYPE of bias that exists, how can you expect VOA management to take “visible steps” to fix it? The most serious bias problem that VOA has had for years has been the left wing/liberal bias of its almost exclusively liberal-minded journalists in favor of Democrats and against Republicans and conservatives. There is no reference to that problem in this summary. As a result, the anti-bias “training” that Bennett ordered her staff to take in the following years was worthless, because (based on what I witnessed) the training course did not not involve any study of the MANY examples of pervasive liberal bias in VOA’s actual reporting. The course merely looked at bias as a general problem that journalists should try to avoid. So, trainees who didn’t think there was anything wrong with their own liberal bias, and who were not confronted during the course with EXAMPLES of that bias, would not have been inclined to change the way they did their jobs in the slightest. And as you can see from VOA’s reporting on U.S. politics this past election year, that’s exactly what happened.
Recommendations on bias from 2016 Consultant Report
❏ Create a safe avenue for staffers to report bias concerns without fear of reprisal.
Regularly remind staffers about the responsibility to report perceived bias. Put division
directors on notice that that they will be held accountable for bias in their services.
USAGM Staffer: The English News Center has NOT been held accountable at all for its liberal bias, because it has flagrantly continued and flaunted that bias for the past 4 years. Also, there are NO safe avenues for staffers to report liberal bias, because News Center managers have shown themselves, in their regular emails to staff, to be of one ideological mindset, and to be defiant in the face of criticism from Trump and Michael Pack, rather than being humble in the face of criticism, looking in the mirror, and soliciting constructive criticism from their peers. When staffers see this kind of messaging from their newsroom leaders, HOW can they have faith that their legitimate concerns will be considered seriously? On the contrary, they would be rightly concerned about being ridiculed and ostracized for going against the party line.
❏ Consider more frequent content audits to determine if bias is evident.
USAGM Staffer: I don’t know of any such audits that have been conducted in the past 4 years.
❏ In communications about bias, clarify the difference between bias and aggressive
accountability reporting. Tough, authoritatively sourced coverage that calls out abuses
of power is not biased
USAGM Staffer: Wrong. Even aggressive accountability reporting NEEDS to fairly reflect the views of the people who are alleged to have abused their power (and perhaps even the views of their supporters), as distasteful as those views might be to the journalists doing the reporting. The ethical requirement for a journalist to eschew bias isn’t thrown out the window just because you as a VOA journalist, and many other like-minded people, want to “go after” a person in power.