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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: Voice of America

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Voice of America logo
Voice of America logo

Voice of America (VOA), is the official external radio and television broadcasting service of the United States federal government. Its oversight entity is the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

VOA broadcasts by satellite and on FM, AM, and shortwave radio frequencies. It is also available through the Internet in both streaming media and downloadable formats at VOA has affiliate and contract agreements with many radio and television stations and cable networks worldwide.


Transmission Facilities

One of VOA’s radio transmitter facilities was originally based on a 625-acre site in Union Township (now West Chester Township) in Butler County, Ohio, near Cincinnati. The Bethany Relay Station operated from 1944 to 1994. Other former sites include California (Dixon), Hawaii, Okinawa, Liberia, Costa Rica, and Belize.

Currently, the VOA and the IBB continue to operate shortwave radio transmitters and antenna farms at two sites in the United States, located at Delano, California and Greenville, North Carolina respectively. The Delano site is famous among radio enthusiasts for having a rare installation of a TCI HRS 12/6/1 directional curtain array antenna. They do not use FCC issued callsigns.Other radio stations on US soil are required by FCC rules to have and use callsigns.


The Voice of America currently broadcasts in 46 languages (TV marked with an asterisk):

  • Afan Oromo
  • Albanian*
  • Amharic
  • Armenian*
  • Azerbaijani*
  • Bangla*
  • Bosnian*
  • Burmese
  • Cantonese*
  • Creole
  • Croatian*
  • Dari*
  • English* (also Special English)
  • French*
  • Georgian
  • Greek*
  • Hausa
  • Hindi*
  • Indonesian*
  • Khmer
  • Kinyarwanda
  • Kirundi
  • Korean
  • Kurdish
  • Lao
  • Macedonian*
  • Mandarin*
  • Ndebele
  • Pashto*
  • Persian*
  • Portuguese
  • Russian*
  • Serbian*
  • Shona
  • Somali
  • Spanish*
  • Swahili
  • Tagalog
  • Thai
  • Tibetan*
  • Tigrigna
  • Turkish*
  • Ukrainian*
  • Urdu*
  • Uzbek*
  • Vietnamese

The number of languages broadcast and the number of hours broadcast in each language vary according to the priorities of the United States Government and the world situation. In 2001, according to an International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) fact sheet, VOA broadcast in 53 languages, with 12 televised. [1] For example, in July 2007, VOA added 30 minutes to its daily Somali radio broadcast, providing a full hour of live, up-to-the-minute news and information to listeners.[2]


The Voice of America has been a part of several agencies:

From 1942 to 1945, it was part of the Office of War Information, and then from 1945 to 1953 as a function of the State Department. The VOA was placed under the U.S. Information Agency in 1953. When the USIA was abolished in 1999, the VOA was placed under the Broadcasting Board of Directors, which is an autonomous U.S. government agency, with bipartisan membership. The Secretary of State has a seat on the BBG. [3].

VOA’s parent organization is the presidentially-appointed Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The BBG was established as a buffer to protect VOA and other U.S.-sponsored, non-military, international broadcasters from political interference.


American private shortwave broadcasting before World War II

Before the Second World War, all American shortwave stations were in private hands.[4]. The National Broadcasting Company’s International, or White Network, which broadcast in six languages,[5] the Columbia Broadcasting System, whose Latin American international network consisted of sixty-four stations located in eighteen different countries, [6] as well as the Crossley Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, had shortwave transmitters. Experimental programming began in the 1930s. There were less than 12 transmitters, however. [7]

In 1939, the Federal Communications Commission set the following policy:

A license of an international broadcast station shall render only an international broadcast service which will reflect the culture of this country and which will promote international goodwill, understanding and cooperation. Any program solely intended for, and directed to an audience in the continental United States does not meet the requirements for this service. [8]

Washington observers felt this policy was to enforce the State Department’s Good Neighbor Policy but many broadcasters felt that this was an attempt to direct censorship. [9]

In 1940, the Office of the Coordinator of Interamerican Affairs, a semi-independent agency of the U.S. State Department headed by Nelson Rockefeller, began operations. Shortwave signals to Latin America were regarded as vital to counter Nazi propaganda.[10] Initially, the Office of Coordination of Information sent releases to each station, but this was seen as an inefficient means of transmitting news. [11].

World War II: VOA Begins

In January, 1942[12] , the U.S. government then leased 15-minute blocks of time on each station, calling the program “The Voice of America,” which included the Yankee Doodle interval signal. [13].

VOA was organized in 1942 under the Office of War Information with news programs aimed at areas in Japan and the south Pacific and in Europe and North Africa under the occupation of Nazi Germany. VOA began broadcasting on February 24, 1942. The initial announcement of the VOA stated, “Daily at this time, we shall speak to you about America and the war. The news may be good or bad. We shall tell you the truth.”[14] The Office of War Information took over VOA’s operations when it was formed in mid 1942. The VOA reached an agreement with the British Broadcasting Corporation to share medium-wave transmitters in Britain, and expanded into Tunis in North Africa and Palermo and Bari, Italy as the Allies captured these territories. The OWI also set up the American Broadcasting Station in Europe [15].

Asian transmissions started with one transmitter in California in 1941; services were expanded by adding transmitters in Hawaii and, after recapture, the Philippines. [16].

By the end of the war, VOA had 39 transmitters and provided service in 40 languages. [17].Programming was broadcast from production centers in New York and San Francisco, with more than 1,000 programs originating from New York. Programming consisted of music, news, commentary, and relays of U.S. domestic programming, in addition to specialized VOA programming. [18]

About half of VOA’s services, including the Arabic service, were discontinued in 1945.[19].

The Cold War

In 1947, Voice of America started broadcasting in Russian with the intent to counter more harmful instances of Soviet propaganda directed against American leaders and policies.[20] Soviet Union responded by initiating aggressive, electronic jamming of VoA broadcasts on 24 April 1949.[20]

The Arabic service resumed on January 1, 1950, with a half-hour program. This program grew to 14.5 hours daily during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and was 6 hours a day by 1958. [21].

In 1952, the Voice of America installed a studio and relay facility aboard a converted U.S. Coast Guard cutter renamed Courier whose target audience was Russia and its allies. The Courier was originally intended to become the first in a fleet of mobile, radio broadcasting ships (see offshore radio) that built upon U.S. Navy experience during WWII in using warships as floating broadcasting stations. However, the Courier eventually dropped anchor off the island of Rhodes, Greece with permission of the Greek government to avoid being branded as a pirate radio broadcasting ship. This VOA offshore station stayed on the air until the 1960s when facilities were eventually provided on land. The Courier supplied training to engineers who later worked on several of the European commercial offshore broadcasting stations of the 1950s and 1960s.

Control of the VOA passed from the State Department to the U.S. Information Agency when the latter was established in 1953. [22] to transmit worldwide, including to the countries behind the Iron Curtain and to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In the 1980s, the USIA established the WORLDNET satellite television service, and in 2004 WORLDNET was merged into VOA.

During the 1950s and 1960s, VOA broadcast American jazz, which was highly popular, world wide. For example, a program aimed at South Africa in 1956 broadcast 2 hours nightly, along with special programs such as “The Newport Jazz Festival”. This was done in association of tours by U.S. musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, sponsored by the State Department.[23]

Throughout the Cold War, many of the targeted countries’ governments sponsored jamming of VOA broadcasts, which sometimes led critics to question the broadcasts’ actual impact. For example, in 1956s, Poland stopped jamming VOA, but Bulgaria continued to jam the signal through the 1970s. and Chinese-language VOA broadcasts were jammed beginning in 1956 and extending through 1976.[24] However, after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, interviews with participants in anti-Soviet movements verified the effectiveness of VOA broadcasts in transmitting information to socialist societies. [25] The People’s Republic of China diligently jams VOA broadcasts[26] (see Firedrake). Cuba has also been reported to interfere with VOA satellite transmissions to Iran from its Russian-built transmission site at Bejucal.[27]David Jackson, director of the Voice of Amrica, noted “The North Korean government doesn’t jam us, but they try to keep people from listening through intimidation or worse. But people figure out ways to listen despite the odds. They’re very resourceful.”[28]

In the 1980s, VOA also added a television service, as well as special regional programs to Cuba, Radio Martí and TV Martí. Cuba has consistently attempted to jam such broadcasts and has vociferously protested U.S. broadcasts directed at Cuba. In 1985, VOA Europe was created as a special service in English that was relayed via satellite to AM, FM, and cable affiliates throughout Europe. With a contemporary format including live disc jockeys, the network presented top musical hits as well as VOA news and features of local interest (such as “EuroFax”) 24 hours a day. VOA Europe was closed down without advance public notice (even to its own audience) in January, 1997, as a cost-cutting measure. Today, stations are offered the VOA Music Mix service.

Post Cold War (1991 – present): Changes in services

In 1994, the Voice of America became the first[29] broadcast-news organization to offer continuously updated programs on the Internet. Content in English and 44 other languages is currently available online through a distributed network of commercial providers, using more than 20,000 servers across 71 countries. Since many listeners in Africa and other areas still receive much of their information via radio and have only limited access to computers, VOA continues to maintain regular shortwave-radio broadcasts.

The Arabic Service was abolished in 2002 and replaced by a new radio service, called the Middle East Radio Network or Radio Sawa, with an initial budget of $22 million. Radio Sawa offered mostly Western and American popular music with periodic brief news bulletins.

Laws governing VOA-IBB’s activities

Under United States law (Section 501 of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948), the Voice of America is forbidden to broadcast directly to American citizens. The original intent of this section of the legislation was to protect the American public from propaganda actions by its own government.

Although VOA does not broadcast domestically, Americans can access the programs through shortwave and streaming audio over the Internet.

Internal policies

The VOA Charter

Under the Eisenhower administration in 1959, VOA Director Harry Loomis commissioned a formal statement of principles to protect the integrity of VOA programming and define the organization’s mission, This principle was issued by Director George V. Allen as a directive in 1960 and was endorsed in 1962 by USIA director Edward R. Murrow[30]. On July 12, 1976, the principles were signed into law on July 12, 1976, by President Gerald Ford. It reads:

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.

“Two-Source Rule”

An internal policy of VOA News to build reliability is that any story broadcast must have two independently corroborating sources or have a staff correspondent actually witnessing an event, according to former VOA correspondent Alan Heil.[31] This rule was confirmed by Ted Iliff, Associate Director for Central Programming for VOA.[32]

Broadcasting Board of Governors services

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a bipartisan panel of eight private citizens appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate (the U.S. Secretary of State is an ex officio member of the Board), is the oversight body for official U.S. international broadcasts by both federal agencies and government-funded corporations. In addition to VOA, these include the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB, which includes Radio and TV Marti) and grantee corporations: the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN, which includes Radio Sawa and Al Hurra television in Arabic); Radio Farda (in Persian) for Iran; Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, which are aimed at the ex-communist states and countries under oppressive regimes in Asia. In recent years, VOA has expanded its television coverage to many areas of the world.

Many Voice of America announcers, such as Willis Conover, host of Jazz USA, Pat Gates, host of the Breakfast Show in the 1980s, and Judy Massa became worldwide celebrities, although not in the United States.

The Voice of America headquarters is located at 330 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC, 20237, USA.

Urdu Service

The Voice of America program Beyond the Headlines is telecast in Pakistan by GEO TV, VOA’s affiliate and one of the country’s most popular stations. This half-hour program features reports on politics, social issues, science, sports, culture, entertainment, and other issues of interest to Pakistanis.

Comparing VOA-RFE-RL-RM to other broadcasters

In 1996, the USA’s international radio output consisted of 992 hours per week by VOA, 667 hpw by RFE/RL, and 162 hpw by Radio Marti.

Estimated total direct programme hours per week of some external radio broadcasters
Broadcaster 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 1996[1]
Flag of the United States VOA, RFE/RL & Radio Marti 497 1,495 1,907 1,901 2,611 1,821
Flag of the People's Republic of China China Radio International 66 687 1,267 1,350 1,515 1,620
Flag of the United Kingdom BBC World Service 643 589 723 719 796 1,036
Flag of Russia Radio Moscow / Voice of Russia[2] 533 1,015 1,908 2,094 1,876 726
Flag of Germany Deutsche Welle 0 315 779 804 848 655
Flag of Egypt Radio Cairo / ERTU 0 301 540 546 605 604
Flag of Iran Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting 12 24 155 175 400 575
Flag of India All India Radio 116 157 271 389 456 500
Flag of Japan NHK World Radio Japan 0 203 259 259 343 468
Flag of France Radio France Internationale 198 326 200 125 379 459
Flag of the Netherlands Radio Netherlands 127 178 335 289 323 392
Flag of Israel Israel Radio International 0 91 158 210 253 365
Flag of Turkey Voice of Turkey 40 77 88 199 322 364
Flag of North Korea Radio Pyongyang / Voice of Korea 0 159 330 597 534 364
Flag of Bulgaria Radio Bulgaria 30 117 164 236 320 338
Flag of Australia Radio Australia 181 257 350 333 330 307
Flag of Albania Radio Tirana 26 63 487 560 451 303
Flag of Romania Radio Romania International 30 159 185 198 199 298
Flag of Spain Radio Exterior de España 68 202 251 239 403 270
Flag of Portugal Radiodifusão Portuguesa Internacional 46 133 295 214 203 226
Flag of Cuba Radio Havana Cuba 0 0 320 424 352 203
Flag of Italy Radio RAI International 170 205 165 169 181 203
Flag of Canada Radio Canada International 85 80 98 134 195 175
Flag of Poland Radio Polonia 131 232 334 337 292 171
Flag of South Africa Radio RSA / Channel Africa 0 63 150 183 156 159
Flag of Sweden Sveriges Radio International 28 114 140 155 167 149
Flag of Hungary Magyar Rádió 76 120 105 127 102 144
Flag of the Czech Republic Radio Prague[3] 119 196 202 255 131 131
Flag of Nigeria Voice of Nigeria[4] 0 0 62 170 120 127
Flag of Yugoslavia Radio Belgrade 80 70 76 72 96 68

Source: International Broadcast Audience Research, June 1996

The list includes about a quarter of the world’s external broadcasters whose output is both publicly funded and worldwide. Among those excluded are Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea and various international commercial and religious stations.


  1. 1996 figures as at June; all other years as at December.
  2. Before 1991, broadcasting for the former USSR.
  3. Before 1996, broadcasting for the former Czechoslovakia.
  4. Nigeria’s external service is now off air.


Voice of America’s central newsroom has hundreds of journalists and dozens of full-time domestic and overseas correspondents, who are employees of the U.S. government or paid contractors. They are augmented by hundreds of contract correspondents and part-time “stringers” throughout the world, who file in English or in one of the VOA’s 44 other radio broadcast languages, 25 of which are also broadcast on television.

In late 2005, VOA shifted some of its central-news operation to Hong Kong where contracted writers work from a “virtual” office with counterparts on the overnight shift in Washington, D.C. But this operation was shut down in early 2008.

Many of the radio and television broadcasts are available through VOA’s website at


National sovereignty

The Cuban government and allied critics have suggested that the U.S. government violates national sovereignty by broadcasting and operating in their countries.[33] This argument is made despite open attempts of the Cuban government to jam VOA broadcasts,[34][35][36] as well as its use of equally powerful shortwave transmissions of English-language political broadcasts and communiques directed at the United States. Time interval signals identical to those used by Radio Havana Cuba have also been detected in coded numbers station broadcasts that are allegedly linked to espionage activity in the U.S.[37]

Paying for appearances

Recently, news media have reported that VOA has for years been paying mainstream media journalists to appear on VOA shows. According to El Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald, these include: David Lightman, the Hartford Courant’s Washington bureau chief; Tom DeFrank, head of the New York Daily News’ Washington office; Helle Dale, a former director of the opinion pages of the Washington Times; and Georgie Anne Geyer, a nationally syndicated columnist.[38]

In response, spokesmen for the Broadcasting Board of Governors told the newspaper El Nuevo Herald that such payments do not pose a conflict of interest. “For decades, for many years, some of the most respectable journalists in the country have received payments to participate in programs of the Voice of America,” one of the spokesmen, Larry Hart, told El Nuevo Herald.[38]

Mullah Omar interview

In late September 2001, VOA aired a report that contained brief excerpts of an interview with then Taliban leader Mullah Omar Mohammad, along with segments from President Bush’s post-9/11 speech to Congress, an expert in Islam from Georgetown University, and comments by the foreign minister of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. State Department officials including Richard Armitage and others argued that the report amounted to giving terrorists a platform to express their views. In response, reporters and editors argued for VOA’s editorial independence from its governors. The VOA received praise from press organizations for its protests, and the following year in 2002, it won the University of Oregon’s Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.

Abdul Malik Rigi interview

On April 2, 2007, Abdul Malik Rigi, the head of Jundullah, a group identified internationally as a “terrorist organization” linked to al-Qaida appeared on Voice of America. VOA introduced Rigi as “the leader of popular Iranian resistance movement”. The misleading and incorrect description of the leader and his Junduallah terrorist group resulted in public condemnation by Iranian-American communities in the U.S.[39][40][41]

Ethiopia VOA Crisis

In the 1980s VOA Ethiopian service was mostly used as a rare opposition voice against the marxist leader Mengistu’s government. Due to Mengistu’s alliance with the Soviet Union, VOA was often accused of becoming a propaganda voice supporting the militant opposition EPRP, which carried out a guerrilla insurgency against Mengistu’s pro-Soviet regime.[42][43] After Ethiopian rebels overthrew Mengistu’s regime in 1991, since EPRP and similar groups still were not able to gain power, VOA mostly became a voice against the newly formed Ethiopian government.[44] The extremeness of the bias went as far as anti-government VOA reporters wanting to fabricate a death of the Ethiopian Prime Minister.[45][46] However, according to the critics of the Ethiopian government, since the service has an audience of millions in Ethiopia, it can play an important role. They argue that due to the stifling of press freedom in Ethiopia, the VOA remains one of the very few media outlets the Ethiopian public relies on for balanced information. On the other hand, supporters of the government accused VOA of allowing armed groups to spread propaganda that often helps recruit dissidents to take arms against the authorities.[47][48] As a result, some pro government Ethiopians living in America also started to hold demonstrations against VOA.[49] Accordingly many of them wrote petitions, as well as holding more rallies against what they call the biased and often provocative reporting of VOA’s Amharic language section.[50][51]

Currently, there are still noticeable issues being reported, and a former VOA manager once condemned the Amharic language version of VOA, calling it a “virtual takeover of the service by Ethiopia opponents.”[52] Even the Tigrayan language VOA service (the language of most pro-government Ethiopians) is often controlled by pro-Eritrean government Tigrayan speakers who often spread propaganda against the Ethiopian government. Ethiopian government officials continue to accuse VOA Ethiopian reporters, who are often exiled politicians, of utilizing “Dirty Tricks in Broadcasting”, which appear objective in general but contain anti-government messages as well as interviews with anti-government militant leaders.[53]

Most recently, the Horn of Africa service of the Voice of America was condemned for censorship of news.[54] According to one blogger, that section of VOA concealed news that portrayed some anti-government Diaspora Ethiopian politicians in a bad light. It claimed that the age-old VOA crisis regarding its broadcasts to Ethiopia has not diminished.[55][56]

In January 2008, Ethiopia was accused of jamming the VOA Amharic and Oromifa programs.[57] The government denied the accusations claiming technical difficulties as the cause of radio disruptions. As jamming in Ethiopia continued, VOA was also accused of censoring news about death of civilians at the hand of the opposition. According to critics of VOA, the Amharic language VOA program “systematically excluded” news about the armed group ONLF’s killing of numerous Ethiopian civilians near the end of 2007.[58]Pro-Ethiopian government critics of VOA will honor and remember “the bravery” of Annette Sheckler – the former head of the Horn of Africa VOA service who was fired after complaining against her bosses at the VOA executive management.[59]

See also

  • VOA Indonesia
  • Firedrake
  • Radio Free Europe
  • Radio Liberty
  • Deutsche Welle
  • Radio Free Asia
  • Pentagon Channel
  • American Forces Network
  • BBC World Service
  • Voice of Russia
  • Radio Canada International
  • Radio Netherlands
  • Radio Taiwan International
  • China Radio International
  • Border Crossings
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