FreeMediaOnline.org San Francisco, CA, USA, July 24, 2011 — Leaders of the Ethiopian American community joined by free media advocates are planning a protest rally on Monday, July 25, in front of the Voice of America (VOA) building in Washington, DC amid charges of censorship of VOA news programs to Ethiopia by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). According to Voice of America broadcasters who spoke on the condition that their names not be revealed because they fear reprisals, the BBG has tried to silence VOA journalist David Arnold who encouraged reporting that upset BBG members as well as officials of the Ethiopian regime. VOA journalists have complained of their reports being removed by the management from VOA websites and of being prevented from covering important political events. In a situation reminiscent of Soviet and East European communist media controls, a high-level manager reportedly forbade VOA Africa Division journalists to take written notes during a staff meeting in which complaints about censorship were raised. The BBG is a presidentially-appointed bipartisan group which runs VOA and other government-funded U.S. international broadcasters and is supposed to promote freedom of expression and anti-censorship efforts around the world, but has been accused of negotiating with repressive regimes, terminating VOA radio and TV programs to countries that restrict media freedom, including Russia and China, and firing VOA journalists who specialize in human rights reporting. BBG and VOA managers have been putting pressure on broadcasters to limit political reporting in favor of human-interest stories as a way of persuading various regimes to allow placement of such reports on local stations and websites. Numerous government surveys have rated the BBG as one of the worst-managed federal agencies. Independent journalists fighting censorship abroad have accused the BBG of being confused about its mission.The latest charges of censorship at the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors first surfaced in investigative reports by exiled Ethiopian journalist Abbebe Gellaw who was recently a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University and a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution in California. He publishes the Ethiopian American news website Addis Voice. His website and many others are banned in Ethiopia.Addis Voice reported that BBG and VOA officials have tried to silence and punish Voice of America journalist David Arnold, the chief of the Horn to Africa Service, for disclosing the Ethiopian regime’s demands for censoring VOA broadcasts made in Addis Ababa during a recent meeting with visiting BBG members. Since his exile from Ethiopia, Mr. Gellaw’s articles and interviews have been published in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Guardian, and the Far East Review.In June 2011, three BBG members appointed by President Obama went to Ethiopia where they met with officials of the Ethiopian regime to discuss their complaints of anti-regime bias in VOA news programs. According to reports in Ethiopian American media, BBG members were presented a list of Ethiopian dissidents, political exiles and foreign critics whom the regime wants to ban from Voice of America radio broadcasts, apparently as a condition for lifting the local jamming of these programs. The names were included in a document describing the objections of the Ethiopian regime to VOA news reports. Addis Voice obtained the document and made it available online. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other media freedom organizations have accused the Ethiopian regimeof Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, in power since 1991, of imprisoning journalists, jamming Voice of America and other foreign broadcasts, and blocking many foreign and independent news websites.Ethiopian American media reported that BBG officials, who apparently wanted to keep the content of their negotiations in Addis Ababa secret, suspended the chief of the Voice of America Horn of Africa Service David Arnold from his position after he had informed his VOA colleagues about the Ethiopian regime’s demands. BBG officials accused Mr. Arnold, a highly-regarded journalist with decades of reporting experience, of engaging in misinformation but later allowed him to return to work after Ethiopian American media reports brought about a storm of criticism and raised charges of censorship. According to reports in the Ethiopian American media, it is not clear, however, whether he will keep his old job and be safe from further harassment by BBG members and their executive staff.
Phone calls, faxes and emails protesting censorship of the Voice of America news, the dismissal of VOA journalist David Arnold, and the BBG’s plan to end VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China and to fire journalists specializing in human rights reporting can be directed to the following institutions:U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman; Howard L. Berman, Ranking MemberU.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, John F. Kerry, Chairman; Richard G. Lugar, Ranking MemberCommittee to Protect Journalistsinfo@cpj.orgReporters Without Bordersclc@rsf.orgIndex on Censorshipenquiries@indexoncensorship.org