Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Controveries about government funded-media not new according to expert

In the wake of the recent Martí Moonlighters affair at The Miami Herald, I contacted professor David Krugler of The University of Wisconsin, Platteville who wrote the book: The Voice of America and the Domestic Propaganda Battles, 1945-1953. I asked professor Krugler if there had ever been a controversy involving journalistic objectivity by VOA journalists. Below is a summary of his answers to my questions. The emphasis is mine.

There was, in fact, a heated conflict in journalistic circles about providing content to the VOA. On January 19, 1946, the AP stopped providing service to the VOA, which was then in a struggle to obtain Congressional approval of legislation to enable permanent, peacetime operations.

The AP said in a release that the "government cannot engage in newscasting without creating the fear of propaganda which necessarily would reflect on the objectivity of the news services from which such newscasts are prepared." One week later, the UP dropped service to the VOA, giving the same reason.

Although the wires didn't state this, I believe they also didn't want the government competition and hoped their action would help take the VOA off the air. (In early 1946, before the Cold War intensified, there was a lot of Congressional opposition to gov't broadcasting.) The American Society of Newspaper Editors publicly supported the wires.

The issue was resolved that summer, when the pending legislation was rewritten to require the VOA to hire private broadcasters to provide as much content as possible. This stipulation appeased Congressional opponents, who didn't want the gov't interfering with private media and didn't want liberals in the Truman administration slanting VOA content.

This requirement benefited NBC and CBS in particular; by October 1947, those two networks were producing 75% of the VOA's content. (Soon, however, a controversy over some content provided by NBC resulted in termination of the contracts in October 1948. The developing Cold War also gave the VOA justification to take full control of its content.) I'm not sure exactly when the AP and UP resumed providing service to the VOA, but I could probably find the date in some of my old research notes.

...some of the most distinguished American journalists have contributed to the VOA and the agency that oversaw it from 1953 until the 1990s, the United States Information Agency. John Chancellor left NBC to head up the VOA in the 1960s; during the Kennedy presidency, Edward Murrow was director of the USIA. See this link for more about the historic background of VOA personnel.

Another example: famed correspondent Raymond Swing worked for the Mutual Broadcasting System (1936-45) and CBS (1942-48) before going to work for the VOA as a news commentator during the 1950s.

As you might guess from VOA's early dust-up with AP and UPI, and the struggle to prove a need for gov't broadcasts, the VOA has historically sought to establish its high journalistic standards and practices by attracting top-name writers and broadcasters.

The crucial common factor here is that Chancellor and Murrow were not simultaneously employed at an MSM and the VOA or USIA. (I'm not sure, but Swing might have been working for private media--commentary for the Liberty Network--at the same time he did political commentary for VOA.)

That said, did Murrow's subsequent reputation and credibility as a newsman decline as a result of his USIA work? Given the current status of Murrow's reputation, the answer is no.

I can't think of any specific incidents in which a journalist's credibility was questioned for contributing to the VOA, but as mentioned, VOA also made sure their broadcasters' affiliation was clear.
Professor Krugler reveals a totally new facet to the debate about these government-funded media outlets. You'll remember that the Herald fired its three journalists because their independence and objectivity would be questionable since they were simultaneously receiving pay from the government. In other words, their business relationship with the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (a sister of VOA) casts doubt on their objectivity.

But The Herald (and every paper that I know of) is a licensee of the Associated Press and so is the Voice of America. So why isn't the AP's reputation in question? They are paid by the US government to provide their services just as the Martí Moonlighters were.

The analogy may be a bit of a stretch in the case of the three Herald reporters that were fired but not in the Case of Carlos Alberto Montaner, the syndicated columnist that was also mentioned in the September 8th article by Oscar Corral. Montaner is a content provider and he sells to many media outlets around the world. Radio Martí is just another of his many customers. So why did Herald fail to make this distinction? Why has it refused to publicly retract the statements made about Montaner? As I have mentioned before, The Herald continues to run his columns and list him as a contributing columnist on their web site.

Special thanks to Professor Krugler for his input.

1 comment:

Manuel A. Tellechea said...

This is another coup for you, Henry, and another victory for the truth. In fact, the historical perspective provided by Professor Kruegler literally sets this case on its head.

The good professor instructs us that professional journalists were first recruited for the Voice of America to appease the newspaper owners and other opinion-makers who objected to having VOA run by mere propagandists without the high ethical standards espoused by American newsmen.

Now, several generations later, the successors of those newspaper owners and opinion-makers are demanding the exact opposite — namely, that professional journalists have nothing to do with government-sponsored broadcasting lest they be corrupted by that association.

In the 1940s, the fear was that non-journalists would turn VOA into an instrument of propaganda, and the cure was the independent and incorruptible American
journalist.

Sixty years later, in 2006, the presence of professional journalists from on Radio Marti or the VOA is regarded as corrosive to the ethics of such journalists and the private corporations that employ them.

Either the ethics of American journalists has declined precipitously since VOA was founded in 1942, or the objectivity of foreign broadcasting has risen to such heights that professional journalists are no longer necessary to maintain its credibility.

Which is it, Mr. Díaz, you who hold the "sacred trust" of preserving the Republic from Cuban-American journalists?