Why the Brian Williams Story is a Teachable Moment

Wednesday, February 11th 2015

A small brushfire of criticism erupted recently over the Voice of America’s initial failure to report the story of NBC anchor Brian Williams’ admittedly false claims to have been in a helicopter that came under enemy fire in Iraq. (Williams’ disputed claims about his experiences covering Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans quickly added to the controversy.)

The Williams story broke on Feb. 4. VOA’s first report on it came four days later, on Feb. 8 (a day after BBGWatch.com, a watchdog site, chided VOA for not covering it).

Although some VOA insiders reportedly defended the agency by saying the story was a “domestic” one or that the journalist was “unknown” to foreign audiences, that defense is neither accurate nor, in fact, relevant. On the contrary, the Williams story is a perfect example of what VOA should recognize as a teachable moment.

Like our national elections every two years, some stories offer great opportunities for VOA to fulfill the most important requirements of its charter: to cover the news comprehensively; to show who Americans are and what we believe in; and to show how a democratic society based on rights such as freedom of the press is supposed to work. 

For example, mid-term and presidential elections give VOA a chance to report numerous news stories that show how our system works, how politicians must face voters and the consequences of their policies, and how a democracy responds peacefully to the will of the electorate. It’s clearly news, but it’s also instructive, and many international audiences follow the coverage for both reasons, because they can compare it to their own experiences at home.

The Williams story (and frankly, this could be said even if he was an unknown reporter in a small local market) is important because his false claims about events he witnessed as a reporter obviously conflicted with his responsibility to be truthful and credible as a journalist, which are essential requirements for maintaining trust in a free press. 

And that’s why it was a teachable moment for VOA.

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David S. Jackson

David Jackson is a veteran journalist and former U.S. government official with extensive multimedia communications experience in domestic and international markets.

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Author: David S Jackson

Dark continent? How Africa's communications revolution is eroding bad press

Sunday, July 27th 2014

By Joan Mower, Head of Development, Voice of America. John Hopkins University adjunct lecturer in Public Diplomacy. Ms. Mower will be a guest speaker at the First Monday Lunch Forum on August 4th. 

Is the news media killing American investment in Africa?

Perhaps — but the tide is turning. Africans have long complained about the media’s negative bias towards their continent, and a quick Google search of top stories out of Africa lately confirms the thesis that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Ebola, Boko Haram and ethnic violence in South Sudan and Central African Republic dominate current international coverage of the continent.

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Please contact PDC Graduate Fellow Jesselle Macatiag at jessellemacatiag@gmail.com to inquire about contributing to the Public Diplomacy Council website. 

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Author: Guest Contributor

Fighting Back Against The Big Lie

Tuesday, June 3rd 2014

There is so much going on in the news these days that stories about the crisis in Ukraine are often hard to find in the U.S. media. But for some people, Ukraine is the top story every day.

And according to them, the news is not good.

Nenad Pejic, Interim Manager of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Myroslava Gongadze, a reporter and television anchor for Voice of America’s (VOA) Ukrainian Service, and Will Stevens, director of the State Department’s Ukraine Communications Task Force, said this week that blatant propaganda has played a powerful role in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to boost his popularity at home, discredit Ukraine’s government, and justify Russia’s aggressions in the region.

Pejic, who appeared with the others in a Washington, D.C. panel discussion sponsored by the Public Diplomacy Council and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, said Russia’s disinformation efforts have included not only a media campaign but also “a political campaign, a cultural campaign, an energy campaign (and) a military campaign….”

The result has been a flood of anti-Ukraine propaganda on television, radio, and especially in social media. Stevens said the Russians have become skilled at exploiting the computer code algorithms that online search engines use so that their propaganda can be easily seen, read, and spread.

Because of that, he warned, people who watch or read Russia’s English-language RT (formerly Russia Today) television, which can be found online worldwide as well as on cable networks in the U.S. and elsewhere, and Ruptly, an RT-related “video news agency” based in Berlin, should know that they are “100 per cent government-run (and) operated” and “totally integrated with” Russia’s propaganda operations.

And the propaganda operations are “massive,” he added.

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David S. Jackson

David Jackson is a veteran journalist and former U.S. government official with extensive multimedia communications experience in domestic and international markets.

...click authors name for more info

Author: David S Jackson

Ukraine at a Crossroads

Wednesday, February 19th 2014

The most underreported crisis in the world may finally be getting the attention it deserves.

Ukraine has had a rough path since independence, especially when measured against the hopes that were raised there after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the last two decades, the country has been plagued by corruption and economic hardship as competing factions have struggled for control. Now the ideological division between those who see the best prospects for Ukraine’s future in the West, and those who prefer the view toward Moscow, has erupted into violence. Anti-government rallies that began as largely peaceful demonstrations several months ago, after President Viktor Yanukovych chose an economic bailout offer from Russia over an economic integration pact from the European Union, were attacked yesterday by police, turning Kiev’s Independence Square into a blazing battleground.

What would hearten Ukraine’s pro-democracy demonstrators the most right now would be a message of support for their fight for freedom and the rule of law, from the countries that they would like Ukraine to emulate. Instead, what they have heard so far have been balanced calls by the United States and Europe for calm, and a condemnation by the U.S. National Security Council of the “street violence and excessive use of force on either side.” (One U.S. official who has spoken out publicly for Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence has been Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. Russian intelligence is believed to have struck back by secretly taping and leaking some private and undiplomatic remarks she made to a colleague criticizing the EU.)

Obviously Ukraine’s future should be determined by Ukrainians. But since many people around the world see the U.S. as the leading advocate of freedom and democracy, we need to show support for those who want to share our values, and that support must be clear and firm not only in our private but also in our public diplomacy.

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2 people have commented on this article so far

David S. Jackson

David Jackson is a veteran journalist and former U.S. government official with extensive multimedia communications experience in domestic and international markets.

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Author: David S Jackson

The ultimate persuaders: VOA's truth seekers in the trenches

Wednesday, August 29th 2012

“Truth and personal integrity,” legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow once said, “are the ultimate persuaders of men and nations.”

So it is today at the nation’s largest and only global publicly-funded international network, the Voice of America. The sacrifices of frontline VOA journalists barely rate mention in the mainstream press --- even though these centurions of truth daily fulfill Murrow’s charge.

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Alan L. Heil Jr.

Board member

Summary: As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 125 million people in 44 languages.

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Author: Alan Heil

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