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January 14, 2008
Voice of America Somali Service
The January 12 article in American Thinker by Abdirahman Warsame entitled "Problems in the VOA-Somali Service" contained a number of inaccuracies and false statements, to which the Voice of America offers the following response.
First, some background: VOA's Somali Service went on the air in February 2007. It now broadcasts three hours a day of news, information and features that can be heard in Somalia in the late afternoon and early evening on shortwave and FM radio. The program's mandate has been to provide the unbiased, accurate, credible information called for by the VOA Charter, and the overwhelmingly positive response from Somali listeners indicates that they value those qualities in our programs.
In his article, Mr. Warsame said that several of our broadcasters are "well known hardcore supporters" of the Islamic Courts. There is no truth to this statement. The similar accusation that VOA freelance reporters in Somalia are opposed to the Transitional Federal Government is equally false. VOA's Charter requires us to present balanced and fair programming that seeks out all responsible points of view on controversial issues of public importance. To fulfill this mandate, VOA's Somali Service has interviewed the full range of political leaders and personalities, including those from the Transitional Federal Government, the Union of Islamic Courts, and other relevant political groups. It has presented the views of a wide range of ordinary Somali citizens as well, opening a broadcast space for the public discussion of Somalia's future. Responsibility for preparing these interviews rotates among the staff, and our editors insure that the interviews in no way reflect the personal convictions of the journalists who conduct them.
VOA's Somali Service does not, as alleged, broadcast "unbalanced, selective, and exaggerated field-reports." While statistics may change in this ongoing conflict, the details of conflict in Mogadishu reported by the VOA Somali Service are very consistent with figures used by other major news operations and are the same figures used by the VOA Central newsroom.
Mr. Warsame is incorrect is stating that the Somali Service's coverage is dominated by events in Mogadishu. VOA coverage is dominated by the major news of the day from throughout Somalia. VOA uses nearly two dozen reporters in Somalia and the region. News is supplemented by reporting on education, health, youth, Diaspora affairs, music and sports. There are also discussion programs, call-in shows and special features, such as profiles of ordinary citizens who are making a positive difference in their communities.
Mr. Warsame has cited an error in translation of an English idiomatic expression in an interview with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer in 2007. The error in translation occurred, but his assertion that "the interview was totally mistranslated" is false. In the best traditions of journalism, the error in translation was quickly discovered and acknowledged on the VOA Somali Website; the entire English transcript of Ms. Frazer's interview was posted on the Website as well as the correction with an apology was broadcast as soon as possible after the error was recognized. VOA believes that an important part of credibility is recognizing errors when they occur, and correcting them quickly. In this case, officials of the Somali Transitional Federal Government thanked VOA for its quick action on the matter.
It is true, as Mr. Warsame points out, that TFG officials from time to time disagree with something we broadcast. When that happens, we put these officials on the air to set the record straight as they see it.
Mr. Warsame also injects the worst aspects of Somali clan politics into his critique with the false assertion that all members of the Service come from a single clan. Staff of the Somali service are chosen, not for their ethnic identity, but for their journalistic experience and abilities, as reflected in their ability to pass a written test, a voice test and to demonstrate the necessary professional experience.
VOA welcomes constructive criticism of its programs and we particularly value the input of Somali-Americans who are concerned about the future of their former homeland. The VOA Somali Service's three hours of daily broadcasting are by design filled with the diverse opinions of Somalis from all walks of life, just as the U.S. media is filled with the multiplicity of voices of Americans. We hope our broadcasts give our listeners a safe place to express their views and to weigh their decisions about Somalia's future.
Letitia M. King
Office of Public Affairs