His Master's Voice?
JUST THE FACTS
David S. Jackson
Sanford Ungar's allegation of politicization at the Voice of America (VOA) ("Pitch Imperfect," May/June 2005) is filled with errors and unsupportable accusations. He charges, for example, that employees have "tried to fend off directives from VOA director David Jackson and other political appointees, who have suggested that the network report more favorably on the actions of the Bush administration in Iraq and the Middle East." This is simply not true. Anyone who watches, listens to, or reads the VOA's reporting can see that our balanced, objective, and comprehensive reporting fully lives up to our congressionally approved charter. If I had made such demands, it would be easy to prove. The reason Ungar cites no supporting memos or statements is that there are none.
Ungar goes on to say that editors "have repeatedly been asked to develop 'positive stories' emphasizing U.S. success stories in Iraq, rather than report car bombings and terrorist attacks." Again, not true. What I have done with regard to our Iraq coverage is the same thing most editors with correspondents in Iraq have done: pushed our people to go beyond the wire-service stories to tell our audiences what else is going on in Iraq. As a result, our coverage has included the daily bombings as well as -- not instead of -- more in-depth, enterprising stories.
Ungar also charges that VOA editors were "instructed to remove from the VOA Web site photographs of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison." That is also not true. Here are the facts: after two weeks of the VOA's covering that story and posting (and broadcasting) the photos that were being leaked, I became concerned about the effect of such sexual content on intended listeners, viewers, or readers whose cultures are even more sensitive than ours to such material. I issued the following guidelines: all of the photos we had used would remain on our Web sites, and those photos could be used in future broadcasts and Web postings as needed, but no new photos should be broadcast or posted on-line unless cleared in advance. As it turned out, many other news organizations issued similar guidelines at about the same time, all apparently motivated by similar concerns.