‛Objective’ reporting?

Has anyone ever seen in a newspaper or on television or heard on the radio an announcement that reads something like this: “This source, being owned by X, will present as much news as X thinks it should present, and will present it with a political slant that agrees with the outlook of X and/or his/her advertisers”?

I have never seen or heard such an announcement, and yet I think it would be appropriate on just about every modern thing I have ever read, watched or heard.

Of course, there are sources for which such announcements are superfluous. No one expects Xinhua to write scathing attacks on the Chinese government, or the White House press office to issue statements beginning, “The President today told the following lies …”

A long time ago, various governments worked out that people would be more likely to believe what they said if they pretended that they would tell the “objective” truth in a “neutral” way. For instance, on 1 February 1942, the first direct US government radio broadcast to Germany pledged: “Today, and every day from now on, we will be with you from America to talk about the war The news may be good or bad for us – We will always tell you the truth.”

Why would the US tell the truth to the enemy in the midst of a huge war between them? Good question, to which there is no reasonable answer. I am glad that Germany didn’t win the war, but I doubt that its defeat was due to any Germans being silly enough to believe that the US government radio always told the truth.

Although the names and initials changed from time to time, that 1942 broadcast can legitimately be regarded as one of the first from the Voice of America (VOA).

By the end of the Second World War, VOA was broadcasting in 40 languages to Europe, Asia and Africa. In late 1945, control of VOA was transferred from the Office of War Information to the State Department, and in 1953 to the US Information Agency. Within the latter agency, it was eventually overseen by something called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which became a separate US government agency in 1999.

VOA has hundreds of journalists and correspondents, all of whom are either US government employees or paid contractors.

Radio Free Asia has a similar but shorter history, having been established by the US government in 1996. RFA, like VOA, is administered and governed by the BBG.

I do not know the details about the recent controversy over VOA-RFA broadcasts. But I do know that there is no reason to believe that VOA and RFA broadcast “objective” news unless you think that US government officials always tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.

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