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VOA boss bans note-taking at staff meeting

Friday, July 22, 2011 @ 11:07 AM ed

-Another file deleted from VOA Amharic audio archive

By Abebe Gellaw

The controversy over censorship and maladministration at the Voice of America (VOA) took a bizarre twist yesterday as the Director of Africa Division, Gwen Dillard, forbade staffers from taking notes at a meeting she held with employees at VOA Horn of Africa section, reliable sources told Addis Voice.

Ms. Dillard, who was said to be visibly nervous during the meeting, told a roomful of journalists and support staffers that she decided to take the measure as she “was quoted verbatim” in an Addis Voice investigative report, VOA censorship chief revealed. The story alleges that Ms. Dillard has emerged to be in charge of censoring the VOA Horn of Africa Section including the popular Amharic service.

The Africa Division Director warned staff members that leaking information on the internal matters of VOA again would have serious consequences. After Addis Voice named Dillard “VOA censorship chief” based on facts, she launched her own inquiry into the leaking of her censorship orders to staff members.

Leaking information to journalists is as old as journalism itself and is lawful in countries like the United States unless the information is state secret that jeopardizes national security, said a law professor. Alemayehu Gebremariam, a constitutional law attorney and professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, noted that the Whistleblower Protection Act prohibits retaliation against a federal employee for disclosing illegal or potentially illegal conduct.

“It was for the first time in my entire life that I attended a meeting where taking notes was forbidden. VOA is becoming a little police state. After so many years as a journalist, I felt like a kid being taken care of by a super-nanny,” said one of our sources. The source felt that Dillard went too far to the extent of infringing upon the basic rights of federal government employees.

“Some of us are proud of the freedom we enjoy as American citizens. I find the whole situation disturbing,” another source added.

The meeting that took close to an hour was mainly focused on the content of the Amharic service. Dillard told staff to do more people-focused programming and should cut down the number of issues and stories that focus on political affairs. But some staff members pointed out that in a country like Ethiopia, where people live under a repressive government, politics pervades all aspects of national life. Some others also raised the fact that the greater portion of VOA Amharic programs is already nonpolitical and tried to convince Gillard that coverage on politics should continue.

Dillard said that VOA would like to focus more on nonpolitical matters and gave some instances. According to her, programs and reporting focused on education, health and development would be more beneficial to listeners. As an example, she said that a schoolgirl must have a chance to talk about her interests and future aspirations. Dillard also said that training would be made available to help journalists produce such “people-focused” programs and stories.

Dillard noted that such an approach to VOA coverage was not new and had already been communicated to former Horn of Africa Chief, David Arnold, who was controversially suspended after he exposed the demands of the Meles regime to banish a list of vocal critics from VOA airwaves. Despite the fact that Arnold has been reinstated at VOA, he has been transferred to the English section. Dillard said at the meeting that a new Horn of Africa chief would start work within eight days. The new chief will be “very interesting”, she informed staffers.

“The main problem with our bosses is that they do not still get it why VOA is a trusted broadcaster in Ethiopia. They have ignored the fact that the popularity of the station is due to the fact that we broadcast uncensored news and views to a nation that has long been silenced by authoritarian rulers,” said the sources.

“If VOA decides to go down the drain to join the propaganda outlets of the Ethiopian government by censoring news and opinions, I do not think that people would be interested in its broadcasts. I am deeply concerned over this direction that can make VOA irrelevant to most Ethiopians,” the source added.

From June 21 to 28, three Broadcasting Board of Governors and four senior VOA staff members, including Arnold, visited Ethiopia, Southern Sudan and Nigeria. Though it was reported that the delegation discussed matters related to the jamming of VOA transmissions to Ethiopia, the greatest threat especially to VOA Amharic is internal censorship and information filtering. VOA Horn of Africa service has faced one of its worst crises after the suspension of David Arnold for telling the truth accurately and the deletion of news files that contained no factual errors.

One of the orders given by Dillard to the Horn of Africa section is not to broadcast any listeners’ comment on the current controversy rocking VOA. On Monday July 18, one out of hundreds of comments on the issue was aired. Addis Voice has later been informed that the July 18 audio file was deleted from VOA Amharic webpage as bosses have appeared to be too nervous to take criticisms and allegations against questionable conducts at the station that are contrary to the missions of VOA.

Ethiopian journalist Sisay Agena says he was shocked and disappointed to see the Voice of America gaining bad experience from oppressive regimes. “It is sad to know that Ethiopians are being censored by their own government as well the Voice of America, a broadcaster which had the trust of the people of Ethiopia for providing uncensored news and opinion,” he noted.

Meanwhile, VOA has refused to answer some questions posed by Addis Voice in relation to the censorship scandal that has ruffled feathers up to the offices of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which is an agency of the US government that oversees its civilian international broadcasting, including the VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio and TV Martí. The mission of BBG is, “To promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multimedia communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information, and other programming about America and the world to audiences overseas.”

On Monday, July 18, Addis Voice emailed a few questions to VOA Public Relations Department. Initially we were told that the Acting Director and Executive Editor, Mr. Steve Redisch, should approve the replies. Despite the fact that we have repeatedly called the PR office to get a reply the consistent answer we have received is a short sentence: “We do not have an answer today!” Our repeated efforts to speak to VOA PR Director, Mr. David Borgida, have not materialized.




21 Responses to “VOA boss bans note-taking at staff meeting”

  1. Tizbit says:

    Wow! This is explosive. What is going on at VOA?????

  2. Mekuria says:

    What a story! This is woderful.Keep it up bro. Proud of you.

  3. Advocate says:

    Well! All the information that has come out is indicative of the fact that VOA is not ours. If these people fail us and their values, we need to boycot VOA. Let us build our own media organisation.

  4. Mary says:

    Excellent report. Wonderful job Addis Voice.

  5. dj says:

    it really amazing how VOA bureaucrats use such obsurd measures of censorship, I guess we need to expose them to congress. we need to start contacting our congressman and let them know how these folks@VOA try to bend editorial rules. We should ntsee this lightly, this is an attack against the free press. The protest infront of VOA is a good start, I guess we have to fight tyranny whereever it’s show up. I can’t believe it, this ally against terror BS is brought to this level to the extent of censureship of the news. obviously these goons have contempt to the Ethiopian diaspora, i guess we need to show them that we are tax payers and we have representatives in congress!!

  6. Kristina says:

    Well done Mr Gelaw, freedom lovers all over the world are with you. Please keep exposing dictators and their rotten friends.

  7. mechal says:

    Mr.Abebe, you made an ethiopia hero.Jamming VOA, DW, ETHSAt e.t.c. will not save Meles.Now Meles and T.P.L.f are at the collapsing stage and whether they are an anti-terror ally or anything , nobody will save him, because Mafia Eritera guy can´t so anything against ethiopia which a is great nation.

    Don´t give all ethiopian and ethiopian dispora!!!!!

  8. OMG says:

    It seems as if some type of people are chosen to do the dirty work of violating the American constitution or making the most controversial decisions that leave a dent in US history. Remember the deeds of Colin Powell, Condelliza Rice, Susan Rice, Janday Frazer, and now Gwen Dillard.

  9. OMG says:

    It is obvious that there is a renewed committment by USA and UK to stall the inevitable uprising of the people of Ethiopia. All the economic and political conditions in the country are calling for some form of change, thus threatening the power of their trusted ally (Meles Zenawi). Remember how USA managed to carry off two prominent figures in the opposition (Birtukan Midekisa and Siye Abreha) in the name of education, thereby depriving the people of any potential leader that may serve as a source of inspiration and the center of gravity around which the uprising can gather momentum. Whatever is done about VOA, both USA and UK arleady have a part in the misery and plight of the Ethiopian people.

  10. Getaw says:

    Lij Abebe:
    You are doing a wonderful job, brother. Keep it up.

    This matter is taking an interesting, I mean shockingly, twist. Is this America? I do not understand. Is Ms. Dillard saying that for Ethiopians, any kind of news we throw to them is all what they deserve? This does not happen to other international services as well as domestic services in the US. Why in the case of Ethiopia? The fact that what she is doing is illegal is beyong any doubt. I think what is needed is to expose her and shame her. She should be prosecuted for prohibiting the note-taking alone. I am smelling some lobbyists hand in this matter; as you know the meles regime has lobbyists getting big money taken from the Ethiopian people. It might be good to spread the news tentacles in that direction too. The fact that she is saying VOA should focus on Development, bla bla, strikes a no-coincidental sort of similarity with Bereket’s and Meles’s job description for a ‘good’ media.

  11. Tedla Asfaw says:

    I urge all to send your opinion to Gwen Dillard. The email and telephone contact of responsible people like Mrs. Dillard should be available to the public so that VOA knows what the main street are saying. Silencing VOA is a major issue demands the involvement of the Ethiopian Diaspora in rally as is planned on July 25 and sending opinions electronically.

    Ato Abebe should encourage Ethiopians especially those who are far from America to participate on campaign to challenge VOA bureaucrats. This Afternoon the fax machine of Mrs. Dillard was kept busy thanks to the participation of Ethiopians in ECADF and other rooms most of them from Europe.

    The campaign to bring this issue to paltalk rooms was a success and I urge all to email, fax and call on the weekend. Here is the information. Fax, 202-205-2803, tel, 202-203-4020, email gdillard@ibb.gov

  12. SELAMAWIT SOLOMON says:

    Abebe Gelaw -
    Wonderful investigative report based on fact as usual -you will be loved by all freedom and democracy loving people round the world as you will be feared by dictators and their collaborators -Keep up the Superb job brother And Thank you for being a voice for millions of voiceless Ethiopians

  13. Hagos says:

    Ms Dillard- Zenwi Berket does she think VOA should report like ETV, Walta, Demate Wayane and like Girma Gebu of Tigary VOA reporter which only report about wordea health, TPLF soil and water conservation e.t.c.????

    Don´t gave up Ethiopians!! Long live ethiopia , down with Meles- berket Eritra bloody , which don´t have nethier ethiopa nor eritera identity!!!!

  14. Chew says:

    It is incredible that VOA has lost confidence in itself. A big gov’t institution like VOA was supposed to be transparent and accountable. How come it takes them ages to answer a few quesions that need answers. What is the Public Relations Dep’t waiting for? Accusations of censorship and mismanagement is very serious. So where are the answers.

  15. Aliu says:

    VOA is running for cover. Isn’t censorship illegal in the US? So many people call from Ethiopia to make their voices heard from Ethiopia. They pay hundreds of birr for a single phone all. If VOA deliberately censors these muffled voices, then where is the so-called mission of “spreading freedom and democracy!’

  16. ermias says:

    Thank you Abebe for your hard work . You are the first Ethiopian journalist to investigate based on fact.

  17. Zizi says:

    I was a good fan of VOA Amharic. If the station will not correct the mistakes, I will surely bocott it. I am certain that the people of Ethiopia will also deny it to give their ears.

  18. Birhanu Demeke says:

    First of all I would like to say thank you so much for your patriotic and accurate journalistic activities which you have been doing so far and do sincerely wish to keep it up.

    Secondly I would like to suggest the following:

    1,If the aforementioned information about the VOA Africa division in general and its Amharic service in particular is true then who ever is behind that one is attempting to destroy the reputation of the VOA,and the motive is clear ,therefore all pro-democracy forces both at home and in the diaspora should form a united front to legally challenge the matter in a court of law,those VOA Amharic service journalists and others too should join the move so that they may provide a detailed testimony to the court which it may concern.
    2,Help spread the news about what is happening behind close doors with in VOA Africa Amharic service to all the people of the USA including to president Barak.H.Obama ,Human right watch,Amnesty international,the UNHCHR,the EU, the world over and to CPJ too.
    3, Organize public demonstration against the VOA for its intention and act of trying to be an extended media organ for the number one enemy of the Ethiopian people (TPLF)
    4,Do whatever it takes to strengthen other alternative media out lets.

    Thank You!

    God Bless Ethiopia! & all Ethiopians!

  19. Birhanu Demeke says:

    First of all I would like to say thank you so much for your patriotic and accurate journalistic activities which you have been doing so far and do sincerely wish you to keep it up.

    Secondly I would like to suggest the following:

    1,If the aforementioned information about the VOA Africa division in general and its Amharic service in particular is true then who ever is behind that one is attempting to destroy the reputation of the VOA,and the motive is clear ,therefore all pro-democracy forces both at home and in the diaspora should form a united front to legally challenge the matter in a court of law,those VOA Amharic service journalists and others too should join the move so that they may provide a detailed testimony to the court which it may concern.
    2,Help spread the news about what is happening behind close doors with in VOA Africa Amharic service to all the people of the USA including to president Barak.H.Obama ,Human right watch,Amnesty international,the UNHCHR,the EU, the world over and to CPJ too.
    3, Organize public demonstration against the VOA for its intention and act of trying to be an extended media organ for the number one enemy of the Ethiopian people (TPLF)
    4,Do whatever it takes to strengthen other alternative media out lets.

    Thank You!

    God Bless Ethiopia! & all Ethiopians!

  20. getu says:

    I CAN’T EVER IMAGIN THAT VOA,A PERFECT IMAGE OF BEING A RIGHT MEDIA,IS FOLLOWING THE FOOT STEPS OF AN AFRICAN DICTATORS MEDIA. I AFRAID VOA IS GOING TO BE ENA2(ETHIOPIAN NEWS AGENCY2). PLEASE KEEP THE TRADITION! LISTION TO HILARY CLINTON,AMERICA ALWAYS STADS WITH THE PEOPLE! KEEP THE PEOPLE’S VOICE ALIVE!!!BRING VOA BACK TO ITS WONDERFUL TRADITION!!!

  21. Al Befekadu says:

    I am proud of journalist Abebe Gellaw of ESAT who exposed PM Meles Zenawi. Truth be told a leader of a country that does not feed its people due to corrupt leadership is not qualified to make a presentation about food. Why is the USA not hearing the cries of the Ethiopian people????


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