VOA admits report was incomplete and below standard

By Dawit Ashenafi

(Addis Voice) The Voice of America (VOA) has finally said that investigation into the contentious August 12 report by Henok Semaegzer Fente on the decision of Azusa Pacific University (APU) to cancel an honors ceremony for Hailemariam Desalegn found that it was incomplete and did not meet VOA’s standards of journalistic quality.

Kevin Lynch, VOA’s Director of Public Relations, noted in a letter that VOA’s management had asked the Office of Performance Review (OPR), an office within the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), to conduct a “thorough investigation” into the the controversial story aired on VOA Amharic.

In the letter Lynch wrote to journalist and activist Abebe Gellaw, who had lodged formal complaints about the distorted story, he said it was established that the reason given in the VOA report for the cancellation of the honors ceremony was incomplete as it “omitted a key detail that the university was monitoring the Prime Minister’s human rights record.”

“The omission did not meet VOA standards for journalistic quality but may have been inadvertent,” Lynch said quoting the BBG finding. The VOA PR chief also indicated that APU’s spokesperson, Rachel White, did not validate Fente’s report that the university cancelled the event just because he called to say that he could not attend the honors ceremony.

Henok Fente had reported that the Prime Minister told the university that he had to return to Ethiopia despite the fact that he came to the U.S. on August 4th while the event was slated for July 31.

Lynch further said that such a serious omission is “a reminder of the importance of abiding by strong editorial review of stories prior to air.” The story was allegedly aired without proper editorial review by the managing editor of the Amharic service, who exhibited poor editorial judgement by endorsing and defending the distorted story.

Responding to the findings, Abebe said he commends the investigation and welcomes the key findings that the story was not only incomplete but also below VOA’s standards of journalistic quality. However, he underlined that the that the probe certainly lacked rigour. “The investigators did not address some of the key elements of the complaint. They did not also speak to the Global Alliance for the Rights of Ethiopians (GARE) or myself. Had they done so, VOA would have taken full responsibility for the blunders and taken corrective measures,” he said.

“On the positive side, VOA has in a way accepted that the story was distorted as it was incomplete and below VOA’s journalistic standard. Nonetheless, I find it hard to accept that the distortions were not deliberate after repeated efforts by the same person to discredit and undermine the important work I do as a journalist and an activist using VOA as a weapon, ” he said.

“Fente’s biased and distorted reporting in stories that I was part of did not happen once. It happened three times. I had formally complained last year about the same tactic he employed to mislead VOA Amharic listeners about another sensitive story,” he said. “It should also be noted that the August 12 story contained not one but multiple inaccuracies and distortions that were not addressed by the probe. There is also the issue of a fabricated letter that I never wrote but Fente quoted on air from “my letter” to APU, which was never written or sent,” he explained.

Abebe says that VOA has so far failed to produce the said letter attributed to him and quoted in Fente’s story. “As far as I know, it was a totally irresponsible and dishonest fabrication,” he said.

“Given the fact that there have been multiple complaints from various sections of the Ethiopian Diaspora against Fente’s spins, distortions and biased reporting, I strongly believe that the distortions and omissions were not only deliberate but also malicious,” he said. Fente, whom credible sources say was a member of the ruling party while in Ethiopia, is openly a supporter of dictatorial regime.

According to Abebe, the journalists involved in the production of the story failed to investigate the matter, which is a basic journalistic duty even without the VOA Charter and journalistic code. The Charter clearly states that  VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work.


“In this particular case, where is the accuracy, objectivity, fairness and balance?” he asked. “There was none as Fente and Peter Heinlein were more eager to misinform, distort, defame and kill another important story than reporting the truth.”


Abebe indicated that the VOA Amharic’s report on BBG’s findings was also misleading and borderline censorship of the findings.  The report tried to leave the impression that BBG endorsed the contentious report, which was presented as faultless in the Amharic report.


VOA Amharic reported on September 8 that the BBG investigation did not find any serious problem. “The information VOA Amharic Service presented in that story about Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was correct even if it did not include more information to explain the story,” the report said.


“This is like censoring the most important finding, that the story was incomplete and omitted a key fact that the APU was reviewing the PM’s human rights record and that the omission did not meet VOA’s journalistic standards of quality,” Abebe said.


In a similar manner, the message of VOA’s director, David Ensor, which he sent to VOA Horn of Africa services on August 25 and appeared to be aimed at reassuring its Ethiopian listeners, was distorted as the story omitted key details including the fact that the director had an important message to the listeners.


Abebe says that he would request VOA management to look into why such misreporting and misrepresentation happened on two occasions at a time when allegation of deliberate distortions became an issue at VOA Amharic. According to reliable insiders, on both occasions Peter Heinlein and another VOA staff member were involved in framing both misleading stories.


While the Tigrigna version properly included all the necessary details the Amharic version left out almost all the key details in the message. This is indicative of the fact that there are people in VOA Amharic that seem to be committed to manipulating not only the stories but also the millions of listeners that trust VOA as a reliable and accurate news source. “I grew up as an avid VOA listener. It was one of the broadcasters that shaped my conscience especially during the dark time of the military junta. VOA served Ethiopia as a candle of truth. I am very grateful to that. That is why I feel that VOA must maintain and restore its credibility and reputation,” Abebe said.


Abebe said he would take further steps and actions until justice is done and a corrective measure is taken. “The last thing I will accept is an inconsequential probe. Someone must take full responsibility for  the damages and harm caused,” he said.


APU’s leadership decided in a meeting to cancel the honors ceremony and revoke the honor it had already bestowed on Hailemariam Desalegn after it reviewed gross human rights violations under his leadership, a reality that conflicts with the Christian values of the university and its “God First” motto.


Related Link

ESAT TV and Radio Special Reports on the distortion scandal






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Posted by on September 18, 2014. Filed under COMMENTARY,VIEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to VOA admits report was incomplete and below standard

  1. a abebe

    September 21, 2014 at 6:51 PM

    What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Good job Abebe Gellaw, you finally hit the nail on the head. Thank you Abebe for the evidence you presented to convince VOA officials that it was their own employee who lied , and concocted the story related to Prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and not you.

    Having said that I am glad you kicked the day light out of this egotistically inflated narcissist, and surreptitiously planted ruffian mole Henok Semagzer. I can see him and his boss down the aisle of VOA tucking their tails between their hind legs and running like a dog in defeat.

    If the purpose of VOA is to disseminate accurate, objective, and balanced news to serve the interest of the US government and US tax payers, can any one tell me then, why VOA is kowtowing to the interest of illegitimate foreign dictator who have mastered the at of stealing, lying, and killing their own people to stay in power indefinitely. May be there might be some deals that we don’t know of going on unnoticed under the table. Where is VOA’s moral ground?

    I n the past several years I enjoyed listening to VOA getting up as early as 4:00 AM in the morning when the reception was crystal clear, and the news was then broadcasted in English language. Later on when the Amharic broadcasting started some where in the 1980’s (if I am correct?), then I even enjoyed more listening to none adulterated news report up to the minute in a language that I can comprehend very well.

    However these days we have different breed of journalist wannabe’s, like the one we have now at VOA Amharic broadcasting station. A sleazy,ruffian, opportunist by the name Henok Semagzer who was surreptitiously employed by the Woyane thugs, to spy on hard working VOA employees who grew up telling nothing but the truth.

    This uncultured egomaniac riffraff have the audacity to think that sitting in front of a microphone and reading what is given to him, or carrying a camera to capture images, or a tape recorder to record what people are saying makes him a good journalist. Not at all, that is boo !Henok.

    A real dedicated journalist to his career is someone who is able to winnow out the grain from the chafe, and present them to the public with honesty, and integrity adhering to the core principle of journalistic code of ethics. That is what differentiate a matured human being from a spoiled brat, and immature, juvenile like Henok.

    I am very much ashamed of the action taken by VOA officials to come out slow for weeks, to admit they were wrong in supporting Henok Semagzer about the vicious lies he made over VOA radio to Ethiopian listeners who trusted, and depended on this reputable news media for a very long stretch of time, even before this guy was born .Such a half-hearted apology by VOA doesn’t suffice Ethiopians to regain their trust. It is just like adding insult to injury. What else does VOA need to rectify its mistakes beyond the statement made by the Azusa Pacific University’s spokes person Ms. Rachel White.

    She said briefly that the University canceled Hailemariam’s invitation to Azusa Pacific University (AZP), to receive a reward, after reviewing the annual report made by US Department of State on Human rights violations in Ethiopia such as (killing, torturing, imprisoning, expulsion, eviction ) etc…., with out due compensation. If this is not good enough for VOA to come out right away to rectify the blunder it had committed after hearing the University’s spokesperson, then whose words are they waiting for to hear from.

    May be VOA is hoping or expecting MOSES to come down from the mountain top and tell them what is really going on in Ethiopia that caused APU to cancel the prime minister’s anticipated invitation.
    We all know officials in VOA like any American citizens enjoy listening to accurate news, whether it is on a radio or television. Americans don’t like concocted news,and If they find out that the story of the news is concoctive, no matter who they are they will be fired immediately. We know in the past many American journalists were fired for making up stories that never existed . So why didn’t VOA take the same stance like other news media is doing to discipline its employee who distorted the news report to curry favor with foreign government? Why the double standard?

    VOA officials have to stop being biased and prejudiced towards Ethiopia by allowing its unbridled employees, the likes of Henok Semagzer take roughshod over Ethiopian listeners in disseminating concocted news report to discourage Ethiopian masses, and at the same time to please his illegitimate Woyane thuggish masters, who probably have paid him handsomely to do their dirty work for them here in the USA.

    Therefore what is good for the goose is good for the gander. What is good for Americans is also good for Ethiopians. Therefore VOA officials should have to use the same measuring stick like other news media is doing, to fire journalists who failed to adhere to the core values of journalistic code of ethics. That is what Ethiopians are demanding of VOA to do the least.

    The quality of VOA Amharic news has been on decline since 2008. We all grew up listening to this reputable station from child hood to adult hood. We all adored VOA news due to the fact that its news was informational as well as educational. However due to few bad apples among many, VOA had lost its luster, and credibility it once enjoyed. And these days VOA news is neither informational nor educational any more, and it is boring and waste of time listening to it.

    Having said that I would like the Voice of America to start shining again as it once did in disseminating accurate and honest information adhering to the core principle of journalistic code of ethics. After all the main objective of VOA is to serve the interest of the US government and US tax payers, not the interest of a foreign nation to distort news to curry favor with them.