Is Voice of America Pro Islamic Republic of Iran?
Republished: July 16, 2013
Is VOA pro IRI?
On January 6, 2013, Wall Street Journal published an article entitled "At Voice of America, Complaints About Its Iranian Coverage," with a subtitle of "A Persian-language service is accused of tailoring its programs to avoid offending the regime. The VOA denies it".
At Voice of America, Complaints About Its Iranian Coverage (WSJ)
And VOA management has responded to the article.
No Evidence of Iranian Nuclear Weapons or VOA Bias (WSJ)
In the past, similar accusations were made against VOA by Mr. Kenneth Timmerman.
Timmerman: VOA’s duplicitous broadcasts (WT)
Ever since Mr. Kaveh Basmenji has become the executive editor at VOA, Mr. Timmerman's accusations against VOA as a whole have stopped, but particular programs of VOA-Persian are still being targeted as pro Islamic Republic by other authors.
Is there any truth to these accusations against VOA?
The truth of the matter is that some senior managers at VOA, to present themselves as unbiased, try to position VOA reporters, anchors and editors as if they have no political partisanship. In a society like the U.S., where the overwhelming majority of ordinary citizens choose the Democratic or Republican Party affiliations, how can one expect a politically informed individual like a reporter and even editors and managers of a news agency to have no political preferences? This is different from being unbiased in one's reporting. In fact, to be unbiased in reporting is best achieved when the audience is aware of the political inclinations of the reporter. The false notion of being unbiased is the reason for all the misunderstandings and subsequent allegations against VOA in the press.
If editors show themselves as having no political affiliation but subtly remove news articles when they think the implications of the news may offend some pressure groups, that is not honest reporting. Such misunderstanding of unbiased reporting has the worst impact on the news coverage of areas like Iran where contentious political and ideological groups exist.
The incorrect notion of unbiased reporting has led to the hiring of Kaveh Basmenji and his deputies at VOA. A good example of selective reporting is Kaveh Basmenji's own report of first decade of the 21st Century created for BBC; i.e. when he gets to year 2009, he "forgets" to mention Iran's Green Movement. Please watch his report and judge for yourself.
Kaveh Basmenji forgets Green Movement! (Iranscope Blog)
I have written about my own experiences at VOA.
Results of 8 Years of Work at VOA
Frankly when dealing with countries like Iran, the informed reporters definitely have political preferences and it is best that editors and managers of VOA publish their own political views in many fine Iranian political web sites that are available today. This way their audience can see the depth of their knowledge or lack thereof and judge them accordingly. Not only will such transparency make VOA production more unbiased, but this is the only way to be truthful to the VOA audience. In other words, those who obviously lean towards specific political lines, whether in VOA management or editorial roles, would no longer subtly push their preferences as if they have no political affiliations.
Voice of America: Rumors and Realities
There are so many rumors about Voice of America (VOA) and discerning the truth is very difficult. VOA is a news agency that was formed at the time of World War II and its goal was to provide accurate news and promote democratic values for its listeners in the countries that were under the fascist rule. About 70 years have passed since those days. The news that was available to the people in countries under dictatorship has changed. For example, the amount and content of news in the Soviet Union in the past or today in Communist China is not the same as what was available in Hitler’s Germany. Or the news and analysis available in the press of Islamic Republic of Iran's Radio, TV and on the internal Internet is different from the news that was available 70 years ago in the dictatorial countries. This is why VOA cannot work the same way as ordinary news agencies that work in various countries and puts the news that are not available in the targeted countries in its focus which is not necessarily the same for all countries.
Considering the above reality the strategy of the Persian Service of VOA is defined. In the Charter of VOA it is said that accurate and balanced reporting in addition to promoting democratic values is the duty of this media; but, for the TV viewers, web readers and radio listeners who have access to a lot of news through the official news sources of Iran in this Information Age, the need is to focus on those news that are not available to them. Therefore, not only the news but also the analysis that is offered on VOA are works that are not broadcasted in the Iranian press, or else there would be no need for the democratic countries to help with news broadcasting for Iranians. This is why many areas for which news broadcasting in their language existed in the past, with the democratic changes and the growth of independent media in those regions, the programs of VOA have ceased broadcasting.
Basically there are two erroneous viewpoints about the strategy of Voice of America expressed in the Iran-related circles abroad:
1. The first viewpoint is brought up by those who believe the people inside Iran need the kind of news and programs that are desired by the Iranian immigrants. As it has been discussed the needs of Iranian immigrants is different from the needs of Iranians inside Iran.
Useless Iranian Conferences Abroad (Ghandchi)
In the recent years when the number of Iranian immigrants has increased, the media that have the immigrants in their focus have grown abroad and the publishers of such media are well known. Basically immigrants want to live better in the United States and other countries where they have immigrated to and they also want better relations between the U.S. and Iran regardless of whether Iran's political regime is to their liking or not, because they want to be able to travel easily to Iran and comfortably have trade relations with their home country. Of course, just like many Iranian exiles they are worried about the prospects of war with Iran although emphasizing on human rights conditions for the relations of the two countries will not cause a war. Nonetheless, seeking human rights conditions for the establishing of relations between the two countries is not that important for the immigrants. This does not mean that the immigrants support dictatorship in Iran and have no interest in observation of human rights in Iran, but the priority for the immigrants is to improve their own life in the U.S. and other countries and one cannot blame them for that.
At any rates, with the increase in the number of immigrants in the U.S. the political and ideological trends that express the interests of this group of Iranians try to influence the programs of VOA. For example, it is claimed that unbiased and balanced journalism means to deliver apolitical news content or not to relay the kind of news that may displease the pressure groups. These impressions are totally erroneous. Reporters generally are very informed people and if a reporter has no political tendencies it shows that s/he not much aware. If we know a reporter is pro-monarchy and we listen to her report, we can better recognize if her report is scientific journalism or not. Those who try to show reporters of a media outlet have no political position to assume their reports as unbiased are deceiving themselves and others. Being unbiased does not mean a reporter or analyst is not pro-monarchy or pro-mojahedin or pro-reformists. The conscious presence of such reporters and analysts, if they are informed, would be a guarantee to get access to the kind of news that are really newsworthy. In fact, those who go to radio, TV and web sites of media like VOA are looking for these kinds of news and analysis and they are smart enough to make their own judgment to evaluate such reports and do not need a censorship authority to prevent offending different groups, this is not a kindergarten.
2. The second erroneous viewpoint about the media strategy comes from some of the Iranian supporters of U.S. neo cons. They think VOA has to make a revolution in Iran and like to sit in this media's TV studios and issue revolutionary directives. For example, they think if the relations with Iran is good, such permission is not given to them whereas if the relations are bad, they can get such permission from VOA. Thus they think Islamic Republic lobbyists are their barrier to this goal, which according to them have infiltrated VOA. Their mistake is that they are mistaking VOA for a political party. VOA reporters just like any other citizens of a free country can be supporters or members of any political party but their news work is to offer scientific journalism and promoting democracy within the VOA Charter which has clearly defined it. In other words, even at the time of the war of Allies with Fascist Germany the duty of VOA was delivering the news, and not to be a replacement for a political party or to execute guerrilla warfare action against Hitler.
Let's take a look at the rumors that have been repeated about Ali Sajjadi, the former VOA Senior Managing Editor. Some of the neo cons have written that Mr. Sajjadi's father is one of those mullahs who work for Iran's Supreme Leader and they have also fabricated a story about the reporting of the death of Neda Agha Soltan as if Ali Sajjadi had blocked the announcement of that news and as if this is another reason that he is according to them an "agent of Islamic Republic." As far as Mr. Sajjadi's father I really do not know why these people do not have any shame to attack the family of someone whose views they oppose and this way they have exceeded Islamic Republic of Iran. I beg them to prove their claims so that the one who lies to be revealed. And as far as the news about Neda's death, Mr. Sajjadi had done his work according to the principles of journalism basing his report on two independent sources and there was nothing wrong with his work and all the accusations are total lie. But the reality about the work of Mr. Sajjadi is something else.
Ali Sajjadi is one of the most knowledgeable editors that not only I have met in the last 8 years at VOA but he is one of the most knowledgeable editors I have ever seen in all my life. Not only he is a very capable and hardworking individual but when he was the chief editor and in charge of VOA news, the most accurate news and topics that were really newsworthy would broadcast on VOA TV. When two years ago this responsibility was passed on to someone else, the quality of the news of VOA TV was dropped although many of the knowledgeable reporters continued to deliver quality work. But why that division was taken away from Mr. Sajjadi? The reason was that he was too strict. Mr. Sajjadi is very knowledgeable and very hardworking and he feels so much responsibility that he would not allow even a minor worthless work to pass through the pipes. This is why he is very strict that the people who work for him sometimes would not even find time to recuperate and may work for years without finding time to do even a little personal study. In such conditions, those whose strength for work is not much or their knowledge is low cannot continue and generally these people have more time to spread rumors and say these kind of words instead of spending time in their free time to study and work harder and since they neither spend time to do research nor do they have the knowledge to do anything worthwhile, they spend their efforts to destroy the image of Mr. Ali Sajjadi by lies and rumors.
In one of the sites of Iranian immigrants in the US it is claimed that the person who occupied the place of Mr. Sajjadi for a year and a half was a strong journalist. But how could that be true? That individual when reporting on the achievements of the first decade of 21st Century, at the year 2009, forgot even to mention Iran's Green Movement!
Kaveh Basmenji forgets Green Movement! (Iranscope Blog)
Also when it is claimed that person has taught journalism to all in the VOA, that is another surprise! Journalism especially in a political news organization is about knowledge of politics, economy and history of Iran and the world, not just spelling and writing style which copy editors work to improve. In this age of the Internet, the works of news and analysis of different individuals are accessible to the public. The readers can read the writings of different individuals and judge their news and theoretical value and then evaluate if the individual with that much political knowledge can claim to be an experienced editor for this kind of news work. Media outlets such as VOA should not be seen as equal to the media of Iranian immigrants abroad. They each have their own duty and need to respect each other*.
Also when Mr. Sajjadi was managing editor of VOA, he cooperated will all political lines, from Neo cons to Reformists, from Monarchists to Reformers, from Leftists to National Front. And they all participated in VOA TV programs but his criteria were to choose the individuals who had something to say and he had the knowledge to recognize it. Just filling the programs' time with productions that may be of interest to Iranian immigrants but have nothing to offer to Iranians inside Iran was not the goal. Most of the Iranian publications abroad especially those in English are useful for Iranian immigrants and their content are not of much value for Iranians inside Iran. When Mr. Sajjadi was the managing editor of VOA the content of this media outlet did not comprise of such news. Also it is true that entertainment programs are also needed for a TV media but again it is important to note that what is needed to be offered are the type of programs that are not accessible inside Iran.
Finally I should note that I have not had any contact with Mr. Sajjadi for months and the reason I wrote all these lines is because I saw comments below my articles in Iran global site where Ali Sajjadi was insulted and I was asked why I do not write about his role in VOA. I thought maybe some people spread all these rumors about him because of being uninformed and this is why I wrote these explanations. Of course, thousand words of mine are not a cure for those who do the disinformation purposefully, but maybe those who spread the rumors unconsciously against this respectable Iranian individual whose heart beats for Iran would stop to continue their attacks.
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