Category Archives: Human Rights

White House Attack on VOA Misguided and Dangerous

The White House attack on the integrity of the reporters and editors at Voice of America is unwarranted and dangerous. Its claim in its April 10, 2020 1600 Daily posting that “Journalists should report the facts, but VOVOAA has instead amplified Beijing’s propaganda” is not only false, it puts VOA journalists around the world in danger.

But first some history.

The Voice of America is indeed owned and operated by the US government. It is not a propaganda machine for whatever administration is in power. The reporters and editors have independence to find and report stories, no matter where those stories lead.

The VOA Charter was drafted in 1960 and then signed into law in 1974. Here is the concise charter:

The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts.

  1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
  2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.
  3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.

In addition, in 1994 when the US foreign policy agencies were re-arranged, a firewall under the 1994 U.S. International Broadcasting Act was built to protect VOA from direct control by any policy making agency.

The firewall prohibits interference by any U.S. government official in the objective, independent reporting of news, thereby safeguarding the ability of our journalists to develop content that reflects the highest professional standards of journalism, free of political interference.

The firewall ensures that VOA can make the final decisions on what stories to cover, and how they are covered.

The independence of VOA was re-affirmed in 2016 under the National Defense Authorization Act.

  • The Secretary of State and (Broadcast Board of Governors) Chief Executive Officer, in carrying out their functions, will respect the professional independence and integrity of the Board, its broadcasting services and the grantees.
  • The Inspector General of the State Department and Foreign Service shall respect the journalistic integrity of all the broadcasters covered by this chapter

For details go to the following”

On top of all the legal protection, there is the Code of Ethics that all VOA journalists must agree to as part of their employment. Here are some key points:


Accuracy, balance, comprehensiveness, and objectivity are the qualities audiences around the world expect of VOA. These standards are legally mandated in the VOA Charter.


VOA staff avoid imbalance or bias in their news reports. VOA does not speak for the U.S. government. VOA staff do not accept treatment or assistance from U.S. government officials or agencies that is more favorable or less favorable than that of staff of private sector news organizations.

Accuracy and Balance

    • It is essential that accuracy takes priority over speed in our reporting, programming and online/social media presence.
    • VOA rejects efforts by foreign and domestic special interest groups to use its radio and TV broadcasts, websites and social media sites as platforms for their own views. Regardless of the medium, the views of a single party must be challenged if alternative opinions are unrepresented.


    • VOA always presents a full and fair account of events
    • VOA journalists will not fabricate, distort, or dramatize an event

Context and Comprehensiveness

    • VOA staff avoid using political or other biases in their reporting, programming, websites and social media sites

Past Administrations’ attacks on VOA

In the 1980s, a political appointed ambassador complained that a VOA reporter used the term Contras when discussing the US-backed armed forces fighting the Nicaragua government in the 1980s. The ambassador said the reporter should have called them Freedom Fighters, a term more in line with the Reagan political philosophy.

In 2001, shortly after the Al Qaeda attack on the United States, VOA had the opportunity to interview the head of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. At the time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and were giving Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden sanctuary.

At the time every news organization in the world was trying to get an interview with Omar. The world wanted to know what he was thinking harboring Bin Laden and what he thought might happen in the aftermath of the Al Qaeda attack on the United States.

Omar chose VOA. For a reason.

At the time I knew the VOA Bureau Chief in Hong Kong, which was the bureau in charge of this story. I later met the reporter. They both said Omar agreed to the VOA interview because he knew most of the people of Afghanistan listened to and trusted VOA above all other news services. It was also made clear to him that his interview would not be carried in its entirety but rather would be part of a larger story.

Almost immediately the George W. Bush Administration tried to prevent the interview from getting on the air.

“We didn’t think that the American taxpayer, the Voice of America, should be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

VOA pushed back.

“We were never going to give him an open mike,” Joe O’Connell, director of external affairs for VOA told CNN.

O’Connell said parts of the interview were to be used in a five-minute report on different language broadcasts.

The move by the Bush Administration caused a led to complaints of censorship and that the moves violated the VOA Charter. In the end, the interview got out, but the reporter and many of the editors involved were reassigned in ways that each of them thought they were being punished.

The Society of Professional Journalists was part of an international effort to support the VOA frontline reporters and editors. The SPJ convention in Seattle that year passed a resolution of supportof the VOA journalists.

In that resolution the SPJ stated (in part):

WHEREAS the Society of Professional Journalists believes truth is best revealed in the light of contesting opinions.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society commend VOA for its editorial integrity in this matter, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Society salute the courage of VOA’s news executives who risked the displeasure of their own government in the service of their mission to inform, and that it find VOA’s practice in this case an exemplar of the most fundamental principles of democracy, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Society condemn the efforts that were made to prevent VOA from carrying out its mission of responsible, objective and comprehensive reporting,

The SPJ – and journalism groups around the world – stood up for the VOA to protect it from government interference in its reporting. As a result, the VOA has withstood the winds of political control over the years. It remains a news organization widely respected around the world for its independence and fair and accurate reporting.

And now, the VOA is once again being attacked by an administration that wants a propaganda arm rather than a real news organization.

The Trump Administration attack on the VOA in its 1600 Daily commentary on the White House website is uncalled for and dangerous.

The claim that the VOA speaks for America’s adversaries is just plain wrong. The VOA reported on not only how the government addressed the issue but also how dissidents were being harassed by the Chinese government for revealing information about COVID-19 that the government did not want released.

Some examples:

The attack is dangerous because it opens VOA and its journalists to unwarranted attacks.

If the administration tries to make VOA nothing put a public relations arm of the US government – as it implies it wants under this attack – then that would make the journalists agents of the US government and subject to espionage laws and other “agents of foreign power” acts in other countries. It would also make the journalists targets of mobs with “nationalistic” feelings who want to attack any soft target directly related to the US government.

One of the strong points of VOA has been its proven independence from US government political control. When ever it does a news story, listeners around the world know that the story is fair, accurate and not dictated by a political master.

To be clear, there are times when VOA does broadcast something that is the official position of the US government. At those times the statement is clearly identified as the position of the US government. Think of it as an editorial. Divorced from the news gathering arm of the organization.

In addition, the White House statement is playing to a US domestic audience that does not know much (if anything) about the importance VOA plays in providing accurate news to countries with controlled media. Also, they are unaware of how, by being fair and balanced in its coverage, the VOA represents the best of American ideals. Think of it…Here is a US-government news organization airing stories that are often critical of the US government. (Try doing that in China, Russia, Nicaragua, etc.)

The White House statement shows brazen politics and unbelievable ignorance in its statement about the VOA.

Fortunately, the VOA is finding all sorts of support.

And, hopefully, soon the Society of Professional Journalists.



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Filed under Censorship, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

London-Based Chinese Journalist Defends Chinese Repression

No big surprise. A reporter for the official Chinese media defends the repressive actions of the Chinese government against a BBC reporter and an independent candidate for office in China.

The World According to a CCTV Journalist Based in London

The BBC event that sparked this reporter’s tirade is BBC stopped from visiting China independent candidate (Screen capture below.)



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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of access, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Criminal Defamation Laws Hit Press Freedom

The growing use of criminal defamation laws around the world add to the general decline in press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a great program called Critics are not Criminals. This is a worthy effort that deserves the support of not only all journalists but all civil libertarians.

The latest case is in Honduras. A reporter looked into an alleged corrupt local police chief. Television reporter Ariel Armando D’Vicente now faces three years in prison with an additional three-year ban on working as a journalist.

Unfortunately for too many journalists, they get hammered by the use of criminal defamation laws. A recent study by CPJ and Thomson Reuters Foundation showed the use of these laws has grown in the Americas.

When governments and individuals use the defamation/libel laws to exact criminal penalties, freedom of the press is hurt.

A basic rule in the United States is that truth is an absolute defense against libel or defamation. Yet in much of the rest of the world, even if everything said in an article is true, if the subject of the article can prove anyone thinks less of that person, he/she can sue AND get the reporter tossed in jail. (See: Different libel laws cause grief around the world.)

For reporters working around the world, knowledge of these laws is vital, especially freelancers. While reporters for major news organizations may be able to get legal help from the parent organization, a freelance caught up in these bad laws could be left hanging.

And, it is important to remember, this law does not only apply to journalists. A person having a bad experience in a country and saying so on Yelp or Facebook could lead to charges being filed. And satire is definitely a problem. Just ask the producers and writers of The Simpsons:

The government of Brazil sued the producers of the The Simpsons often. In a 2002 episode the Simpsons were in Brazil.  The family was robbed, eaten by snake, kidnapped and abused by monkeys. The Brazilian government sued. And the response of the Simpson team: More jokes about Brazil. And more lawsuits. None were successful — at least in the USA.

For some fun:


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Filed under Harassment, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Chinese Foreign Minister Shows Contempt For Free Press

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi decided that any questions about China’s human rights record is not something he likes being asked. Likewise, he figures no one else should be asked about it either.

An old friend, Frank Ching in Hong Kong reported about a little dust up during a joint press conference Yi had with Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Stephane Dion.

Seems a reporter asked Dion aobut China’s human right’s record. Yi jumped in, preventing Dion from answering the question. Yi then proceeded to give the usual lies about how people in China enjoy all sorts of human rights, he then added no one but the Chinese people have a right to talk about the situation in the Middle Kingdom.

Yi then began berating the Canadian reporter for daring to ask a question about human rights in China.

  • “Do you understand China?
  • “Have you been to China?
  • “Do you know that China is now the world’s second-biggest economy, with US$8,000 per capita?”

Frank hits the nail on the head: “If that is the way China behaves when it is the world’s second-biggest economy, what is one to expect when it becomes No. 1?”

He is also right when he wrote:

The media’s response should be to keep peppering him with questions everywhere he travels about China’s treatment of human rights advocates, the Hong Kong booksellers, the imprisonment of the Canadian missionary Kevin Garratt and the South China Sea.

Since these are the questions Wang doesn’t like to hear, these are the questions that should be asked.

Over and over again until they get a proper airing.

The problem is that only reporters who never hope to get to China are the ones who can ask those questions.

Journalists already in China who push as Frank urges will find out their visas are suddenly “out of order” or will not be renewed when they expire. Journalists outside China who ask these kinds of questions will find they will not be able to get a visa to visit China, even as a tourist. And forget about being on any agreed-to list of journalists to cover any event that involves the Chinese government any where in the world.

Frank looks into the big picture of the Chinese attitude that it has the right to impose its form of press repression around the world. (Think China’s application for the 2022 Olympics.)

What minister’s outburst over human rights in China tells us


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Workers Rising Up in China

Despite all the rhetoric from the Communist Party that it has the the best interest of “the workers” at heart, it is clear workers have a different idea.

The most public image of workers rising up against the despotic rule of a communist party is the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s.

With the fall of the communist parties in Europe (more or less), the few remaining communist-run countries have kept a close eye on workers’ organizations.

One of the things that scares dictators about workers working in unison is the whole idea of self-determination. If workers can unify into a collective to get better pay and working conditions, why not form alliances to get better government? Likewise, if workers are allowed to elect their own leaders in the workplace, why not work for the right to elect local, regional and national political leaders.

Yep, unions are a real subversive factor. Especially against dictators and oligarchs.

Many thanks to CNN for assembling this great multi-media presentation of workers in China standing up for their rights and iron-heel steps being taken by the Beijing leadership to keep the workers under control.

China on strike

From the intro:

China’s workers have driven the explosive growth of its economy in recent decades. Now, with record numbers of strikes across the country, the government views them as an existential threat, and it may just be right.

The economic slowdown and subsequent forced layoffs have changed Beijing’s biggest fear of 900 million angry farmers to 500 million angry (or laid off) workers. The danger as Beijing sees it is that even workers whose jobs remain, will see other workers tossed out. The employed workers could start thinking they might be next.

The government in China holds onto only one real claim to power. Long ago it promised the people of China economic well being through economic reform. All that Beijing demanded is that no one talks about political reform.

Now the economic protection is falling apart. And, the leaders in Beijing may be getting a bit nervous about the stability of the ground beneath their feet.

Look at the numbers:

  • 2,726 Strikes or work related demonstrations in 2015
  • 74 Strikes or work related demonstrations per day
  • 1.6 million jobs cut from state-owned industries

These are not happy numbers for the Beijing leadership. It is no wonder there is a massive clamp down against news outlets and the Internet.

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The Real Meaning of “Hurt Feelings of The Chinese People”

One of the oddest phrases I have ever heard is: [Person/Organization/Country] hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.

I never thought the Chinese people were so sensitive, so I knew it was the Chinese government trying to speak for the Chinese people. However, as David Bandurski at China Media Project in Hong Kong points out, if you substitute “Zhao Family”, the stand-in for the power elite for “the people”, you will understand the phrase.


The bottom line is that anything that challenges the leadership of the Communist Party in China “hurts the feelings of the Chinese people.” How else could the little island state of Saint Lucia (population: 184,000) hurt the feelings of 1.4 billion Chinese? (And that does not even count all the Chinese-Americans, Chinese-Canadians, etc.

Many thanks to Bandruski for a lesson on the history and context of this oddest of phrases.


Hurting the feelings of the “Zhao family”


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Filed under China, Human Rights, International News Coverage

Human Trafficking: A Dark Side to Local-Global Connections

Local reporters looking for a story that links the rest of the world with Main Street should pay attention to the growing atrocity of human trafficking.

“You say human trafficking, and people think…international cabal, organized crime, kids coming from Southeast Asia in cages. That’s not what it is,” says Montgomery County (MD) Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Mays, who has prosecuted numerous sex trafficking cases in recent years. “Most of it is homegrown guys who are exploiting vulnerable women and children in their own communities, or traveling them around, up and down the East Coast.” — Human Trafficking in Montgomery County, Bethesda Magazine

According to the Polaris Project, a group that helps victims of trafficking, sex trafficking accounts for 71 percent of the calls to their hotline. Labor trafficking takes up another 16 percent. of the 5,000 cases opened during 2014. The cases are active investigations that came from more than 24,000 calls to the Polaris hotline, seeking help.

The International Labor Organization estimates 14.2 million people are in forced labor circumstances.

The Bethesda Magazine article says more reports come in each day as more people become aware that human trafficking is not something far away, but rather something much closer.

 “The numbers seem low, and I think what in reality is happening is we’re seeing human trafficking kind of emerge like domestic violence did 30 years ago,” says Amanda Rodriguez, who until recently oversaw human trafficking policy at the [Maryland’s] Office of Crime Control and Prevention. “The more people are becoming aware, the more these numbers are going to go up, because it is absolutely happening next door and in the community.”

The issue involves Americans and foreign nationals caught up in one of the most dangerous and demeaning  crimes in the world. And it does not just involve — as the primary case in the Bethesda Magazine article — household employees of diplomats.

“Common types of labor trafficking in the United States include people forced to work in homes as domestic servants, farm workers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, or factory workers held in inhumane conditions,” says the Polaris Project. “Labor trafficking has also been reported in door-to-door sales crews, carnivals, and health and beauty services.”

Just about every news outlet in the United States has an audience that includes the people mentioned above. Therefore, there is no reason to not look into local labor and working conditions.

This is perhaps one of the darkest and most gruesome links between Main Street and the rest of the world. And, unfortunately, it is not limited to international trafficking.

Increasingly sex trafficking…sex trafficking is taking place in well-appointed hotels that do not fit into the red-light district stereotype of eras past. In August, Armand Theinkue Donfack, a Germantown (MD) soccer coach, was charged with prostitution and human trafficking after an undercover sting at a hotel off I-270.

I orginally posted this piece on the International Journalism Community of the SPJ.

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Filed under Connections, Human Rights, Human Trafficking