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VOA does’t wipe out political bias

1. VOA as a Government Agency

After the “911” attack in 2001, VOA conducted an interview with Mullah Omar, then-leader of the Afghan Taliban. The US State Department were very sensitive and stopped VOA’s interview with Omar. VOA then stopped further production of the program. Given the “political error” of VOA, the International Broadcasting Bureau (the predecessor of the U.S. Agency for Global Media), at the behest of the US State Department, dismissed Conniff who was in charge of the “VOA”, Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe and canceled more than $2 million for VOA’s transmitter in Europe.

Although VOA protested against a series of administrative decisions by the International Broadcasting Bureau and was honored with the University of Oregon’s Award for Ethics in Journalism the following year, it was worth noting that VOA’s protests finally failed to promote further interview and reporting of Omar. This result actually reminds the majority of media workers and audiences that no matter how well VOA’s journalism performs, it is always subject to the executive orders and decisions as a government agency. And it is ironic and dangerous for a media outlet that claims to be a “free” press.

2. Political Polarization

VOA Director Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara announced resignation on June 15, 2020 following the clashes with the Trump administration that has been sharply critical of coronavirus reporting by the outlet. In April 2020, the White House accused VOA on its website of publishing a video of the resumption of work and production in Wuhan as the COVID-19 epidemic abated, a move the Trump administration called was “propaganda for China”. Bennett tried to defend this, and even listed various negative reports on China by VOA. But this effort was clearly in vain. Even though VOA has always held an anti-communist attitude and would not advocate for China as Trump has said, with worsening political polarization the media have become a battleground between the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and VOA as the government’s “media tool” will bear the brunt of factionalism. In June 2020, Bennett requested an interview with the CDC, but was once again refused under the influence of the Trump administration. This absurd phenomenon intuitively reflected the reality of the political polarization and the severe division of society in America. At last, Amanda Bennett, VOA director appointed by former Democratic President Barack Obama, stepped down under the “containment” of the Republican Trump administration.

The already-long battle between liberals and conservatives in the media field has become more intense in recent years. As early as the last presidential election, Trump nominated a conservative to serve on the U.S. Agency for Global Media in an effort to help his election, but the issue was sidelined by the Democratic-majority U.S. Congress. In addition, at the end of 2021, President Biden who came into power nominated Amanda Bennett as the head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, but Bennett has not yet officially served due to the opposition of conservative members of Congress.

These issues are fully reflected in the bipartisan struggle against the backdrop of political polarization where there can be no room left for the media to be neutral and objective. As the media are deeply political, both liberal and conservative media have always supported different parties in the political spectrum. Generally, both the media and the government get what they want, balancing the two-party political system of the US to ensure the proper functioning of bureaucratic politics while exporting US ideology to serve America’s National Interests. But as the political polarization intensifies, the fact-based, neutral and objective coverage is increasingly giving way to bipartisan struggles and mutual attacks on each other. The political polarization is deep-rooted as the result of a combination of overarching social problems such as the long-term polarization between rich and poor and systemic racial discrimination. If these fundamental, structural problems cannot be alleviated, the political polarization will remain for a long time. For the media, especially the government’s “media tools” under the U.S. Agency for Global Media like VOA, it is inevitable that they will remain stuck in factionalism and social fragmentation and fan the fire, undermining the universal principles for objective, neutral reporting of news.

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