Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tianamen Square Reminds Us Not to Turn VOA into Pravda

The LA Times reports today that as we near the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tiananmen Square, people in China are using clandestine ways to commemorate the event. In the Opinion section, Al Pessin, a Voice of America journalist who was ejected from China for his coverage of Tianamen Square warns that
You can't win respect and communicate if no one is listening, and people will stop listening if Congress transforms VOA into a Russian- or Chinese-style state broadcaster.
But, unfortunately, that's exactly what one member of Congress has suggested. Ed Royce, the Representative from California's 39 District has filed a bill that would direct Voice of America to report the news in a fashion "consistent with and promotes the broad foreign policies of the United States."

There's a word for that, Mr. Royce. It's propaganda.

Americans have long been suspicious of state-run news agencies, since they are typically propaganda tools. During the Cold War, Pravda was routinely criticized (including in the Soviet Union) for its slanting of the news to promote the interests of the USSR's Communist Party. When I see the phrase "state-run news agency," I know I'm being tipped off that what I'm reading is more or less a government-issued press release.

Mr. Pessin is right. We must not let Congress turn VOA into a state-run news agency. I think the situation would be worse than the thinks. He writes:
VOA is news broadcast by American journalists from an American perspective. But if our staff must ensure that every story supports U.S. foreign policy, we will no longer be able to tell the straight story.
In spades. Given our traditions of a free press, would any self-respecting journalist write articles based on directives from the State Department? If nothing else, the news would cease to be timely while some bureaucrat determined if it aligned with current foreign policy.

Except, I would argue one thing: if encouraging freedom of thought and speech is not a broad foreign policy of the United States, it ought to be. I have on occasion explained to foreign friends how important freedom of speech is, even when that speech attacks my own interests.

Mr. Pessin is absolutely correct when he describes the changes that Mr. Royce to Voice of America as "fundamentally not American."
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