Voice of America (VOA) With-in the Eritrean Context

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AUGUST 5, 2014 |

The Voice of America (VOA) is the “Official” spokesman of the United States government in the arena of international shortwave radio. But despite its popularity throughout the world and the millions of dollars of public funds that compromise its yearly budget, the Voice is little-known and even less understood by Americans. Why? Because it was designed to manipulate world public opinion, including Eritreans, to that of its sponsor – the State Department.

By Amanuel Biedemariam,

WHEN listening to the Voice of America (VOA) Tigrigna, one must ask why there is a need for such a program. Why does the US spend tremendous resources on broadcasters, technical experts, directors, editors, and expensive equipment to reach Eritrea? What does the US gain from its Tigrigna program directed for Eritrea?

What is the advantage or disadvantage to Eritrea?

These types of questions are what every Eritrean must ask when consuming information provided by outlets like Deutsche-Welle, BBC, and in this case, the VOA. 

The VOA’s mission is to distribute information and news from an American perspective to pursue US interests. The VOA extends the State Department’s public diplomacy efforts designed to promote US policies and agendas worldwide.

Recently introduced bill by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, co-sponsored by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), with the overwhelming support of both houses intends to change the mission statement of VOA to,

“Support US public diplomacy efforts.”

The bill intends to change the governance structure and the status of the “reporters” to “agents” that forward US agendas and do away with traditional reporting. The VOA has many branches like Radio Free Europe. Under the legislation, the idea is to reorganize VOA into a single organization called “The Freedom News Network.”

Competition with Russia’s RT News, CCTV, and others is the pretext to change the mission. Critiques of the bill are decrying the new approach as un-American because it changes the VOA into a propaganda outlet. It also turns the VOA journalists into propaganda agents. They are doing away with traditional reporting altogether. How will these changes affect journalism in the US? How will these changes affect the broadcasting and approach to Eritrea?

The US State Department’s position on Eritrea and the overall US Eritrean policies have been consistently hostile. As a branch of the State Department, the VOA propagated US policies. Hence, whatever changes US Congress makes, the plan will not change.

If the VOA is a branch of the State Department that pursues hostile policies, how will the new bill influence the Tigrigna broadcast into Eritrea? What will the Tigrigna broadcast look like in the future? How has it traditionally been broadcasted into Eritrea, etc.?

To get some basic understanding or perspective, one needs to look at how the VOA Tigrigna is structured, how it is funded, the message it consistently sends, the issues it tries to tackle, the personalities-interviewed, and the make-up of the hosts, etc.

THE HOSTS

The “reporters” of VOA are made up of Tigrigna-speaking individuals from Eritrea and Ethiopia. Because of that, the information the VOA provides is neutral. However, the issues discussed are overwhelmingly anti-Eritrean because most of them are pro TPLF. The focus of the VOA is Eritrea.

That means that the VOA accords ownership and platform of Eritrean issues to TPLF and the avowed enemies. The new bill will give VOA cart-blanch to magnify the propaganda to the highest level possible.

THE GUESTS

Who are the guests, what are their interests? What are the criteria used to qualify the guests, etc.? These are vital questions. It could lead to answers as to what are the agendas, objectives of the messages. What information is the VOA providing? What are the results they want to get?

We can determine their objectives by the guests interviewed, news, information they provided in the past, and the history of US Eritrea relations. It is, therefore, relatively easy to conclude what the intended objectives are. Since the current US Eritrea policy is regime change, the VOA directs everything towards demonizing Eritrea and regime change!

The VOA Tigrigna is a medium that intends to disseminate US interest-based news. The broadcasting is Tigrigna, and the guests are Tigrigna speakers from Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is a rarity for American officials or non-naturalized nationals to interview with VOA to address Eritrea-related matters. The last time that happened was when the VOA interviewed three diplomats that advocated for the warming of relations between Eritrea and the US.

The daily news VOA provides is limited, nominal, not far-reaching, or extensive. The focus of the programming is talk programs. They focus on controversial issues to divide the people. Furthermore, most of the guests they bring have no constituency in Eritrea or the Diaspora.

Yet, the VOA promotes issues these fringe elements champion as the main issues with a large following. It is done to set the agenda and undermine Eritrea’s priorities.

They do this by coupling guests. They pair an Eritrean with some credibility and those with limited constituency (sometimes Tigrayans) with negative views of Eritrea. The VOA elevates the issues The State Departments advocates through the fringe elements and gives it a platform that it cannot get elsewhere.

After the programming, airs reactions are encouraged, and the responses are recorded. The VOA then provides selected comments and makes it public to fan the controversy. 

In this arrangement, the VOA controls the message while the participants relinquish control of their voices in a lopsided process that only favors the VOA.

Eritreans know how the VOA operates in the Diaspora and its intentions, and they know exactly what these fringe elements are up to. But for those not aware, the messages could be misleading and lead to some confusion.

For example, While in Asmara, in March of 2013, the VOA aired a program that featured a Tigrayan priest and excommunicated Eritrean priest from Medhanie Alem Tewahdo Church in Washington DC to talk about Eritrean refugees in the US. The VOA presented them as men of faith concerned about Eritreans.

The excommunicated Eritrea is a staunch anti-Eritrean who runs a politically charged, controversial, and incendiary weekly radio program from DC. He and another priest from the church are at the forefront of the campaigns agaist Eritrea and the Orthodox Church in Eritrea.

I know the priest because, before he became anti-Eritrean, my wife used to be a member of his church. I also worshiped in the church. He performed my wedding services.

To the listeners in Eritrea, his responses could appear humanitarian and genuinely concerned about the individuals he claims to be helping. However, he was advertising; if you come here, I will help you. In other words, encourage youth flight. This is how the VOA introduces subtle, subliminal, and sometimes direct messages to the youth.

The statements of the ex-priest are consistent with US State Department’s plan that focuses on the Eritrean youth.

By interviewing the excommunicated priest, the VOA undermined the Orthodox Church in Eritrea and disrespected Eritreans in the Diaspora that base their faith following the synod of the Orthodox Church in Eritrea. One can look at many issues, but the VOA’s methodology is consistent no matter the subject. It is to try to light a fire wherever possible.

MOVING FORWARD

In the West, the iron-dome of information has proved to be impenetrable. It is impossible to get access to unbiased agenda-free information—the US-designed information distribution to forward messages based on their agendas to gain outcomes they want. The notion of a free press, freedom of expression is ridiculous. It exists only within outlined parameters.

Eritreans had seen and experienced a lot about local and national news networks that ignored their cry for coverage when they pleaded for justice against unfair US Eritrea policies that undermined the very existence of their nation.

However, the few anti-Eritrea campaigners get more coverage and make them look as if they represent the entire community.

Fortunately, the internet is an alternative information exchange platform balancing the playground. The world is beginning to gain additional sources of information because competing information sources provide alternative and diverse perspectives. That is nullifying previously Western-dominated news outlets that continually attempted to frame issues from their perspective.

If there is one thing Africa can learn from the new information outlets, it is to see and apply some of the methodologies that RT and others use to combat Western-based propaganda. They have learned to defuse, fight it, and turn it into an advantage to benefit their people and enhance and promote their images.

That means they must dedicate considerable resources to developing the infrastructures and human resources capacities to compete in this global war of information. It is of utmost importance to understand that they must increase their efforts to combat outside western propaganda.

The Western media, such as the VOA, BBC, and others, know how to use local sources to spew their propaganda. We must understand their roles. It is a brain or talent drain. In the case of Eritrea, they take out Eritrean youth trained by the ministry of information and use them to spew propaganda against Eritrea.

CONCLUSION

The VOA disseminates information that reflects the US policy. Unless the US changes its Eritrea policy, the VOA will push its agenda.

The Eritrean people must always understand the base from which information emanates. They must also exercise tremendous caution when consuming news and information from Western outlets like the VOA.

They must also exercise Self-Reliance, learn from Eritrean history. It is a historical fact that Eritrea’s resilience and self-reliance brought about Dimitsi-Hafash that sustained Eritrea through tough times. That is history worth nurturing at the highest of levels!

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