By Steve Paterno
The bias or lack thereof, of Voice of America (VOA) coverage on South Sudan has compelled this author to comment and provide some better perspective on the mentioned above topic. VOA is a multimedia broadcaster, funded by the USA government to project American policies to the outside world. In other words, it is an American government mouthpiece to the outside world. In the homeland, the broadcaster is driven by two guiding principles; which is not to directly inundate the American public with government propaganda and to avoid direct competition with commercially run broadcasters. So, in a capitalistic nation like the US, VOA is threading on a thin line on the role of government funded broadcasting, and with new medium of technology, it makes it much more difficult for American public to escape the very propaganda of its government that the VOA initially intended to evade.
In the context of South Sudan, this becomes more like a perfect case study. The US has been a strategic ally and supporter of South Sudanese people, leading them from their days of struggle through to the independence. True to its commitment or rather interest, in 2010, the US government launched a segment of its mouthpiece via VOA by beginning to produce a weekly 30-minute radio/Internet show, popularly known as “South Sudan in Focus.” The aim of the pilot show was to promote the prospect for independence and peaceful South Sudan.
However, when the relationship between South Sudan and US began to falter, especially with the emergence of the conflict in 2013, the funding to the VOA (South Sudan in Focus) was immediately upgraded. Such increase in the funding to the program was ostensibly in-line with the voices being echoed from the American administrations, Congress, advocacy groups, and other interest groups; all of whom condemning South Sudanese government in particular and the leaders in general. Those voices are in effect not happy with how South Sudan is being run.
As such, South Sudan in Focus or its mother corporation, the VOA, has immediately become embroiled in conflict of South Sudan. Just like the division among South Sudanese who are in conflict among themselves, one cannot help but to witness the same being played out in VOA. As a result, the South Sudanese government and their supporters clearly believe that VOA is being bias. Some of those claims of biasness are legitimate and genuine in nature. For example, VOA provides more platforms to the oppositions of the government of South Sudan. The spaces are even extended to those individuals who are held-bent to violently overthrow the government of South Sudan. It is like South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation hosting al-Baghdadi’s anti-western edicts. This is so much for an ally in such regards. Even when in those instant where VOA occasionally provides a voice for the government of South Sudan, such always ended up in shout out matches, with VOA presenters often interrupting the government representatives. Though the broadcaster prides itself in accuracy, objectivity, and comprehension, its reporting on South Sudan always fall short on those ideals as they are always one sided. One cannot help but wonder as to where those anti-American sentiments in the country coming from if VOA is not in part fueling the emotions.
The truth of the matter though us that until American government attitude changes toward South Sudan, VOA will continue with its biasness. Hence, never expect any changes in tone, content or presentation with the VOA without the changes in American government policy direction. So, it must be concluded, it is what it is: American government propagating its voice via VOA. Like any entity striving for survival, VOA cannot afford to risk some of its programs starved off funding. The broadcaster must toe the line or else.
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org