Voice of America hosted a 14-strong delegation from the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education at VOA headquarters on May 24, 2022. The delegation requested an overview of VOA’s journalism with a focus on regional reporting and operations in Eurasia. The visit was part of a three-day official engagement in Washington, DC with a variety of media-related organizations, federal agencies and cultural institutions.
Featuring presentations by VOA Acting Director Yolanda López, Eurasia Division Director Elez Biberaj, Ph.D. and leadership of the Eurasia Division, topics included the global state of media freedom, techniques to combat disinformation and propaganda by authoritarian regimes, the provision of mental health care for journalists covering and from conflict zones, and measuring the impact and reach of reporting by VOA in the US region and around the world.
The discussion also touched on current collaborative efforts with VOA’s sister network, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and with other public service journalistic organizations in Europe, including members of DG8, a group representing publicly funded international media organizations from eight democratic nations: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, Switzerland and United States.
There was extensive dialogue on the status of VOA’s coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with presentations from VOA’s heads of Russian and Ukrainian language services on their efforts to expand coverage, engage with viewers online and bring the media markets factual and trustworthy journalism to deliver few alternatives. The Eurasian leadership also discussed how Coverage of the war resonated in all languages, including nearly 900 million video views and over 26.5 million website visits in the first two months of the conflict, with about a third of that traffic originating from Russia.
Since the invasion began on February 24, 2022, audiences in Russia have increased by using circumvention tools such as virtual private networks (VPN) for fact-based alternatives to the information published by the Kremlin-controlled media. After VOA Russian set a one-day traffic record across all platforms on the day of the invasion, Russian regulators blocked VOA and other independent news outlets. As a result, not only did the use of evasion tools in Russia suddenly spike in the days following Moscow’s decision to blacklist independent media, but VOA Russian’s website set another one-day website traffic record on March 3, 2022 on.
One delegate noted that during World War II and the Cold War, his family relied on Voice of America as “the light at the end of the tunnel,” bringing much-needed news and information while they surreptitiously listened to broadcasts, often at night. dr Biberaj responded that “VOA is as relevant to its audience today as it was to those who tuned in to it more than 80 years ago,” noting that the mission remains the same: to deliver accurate and objective journalism to parts of the world with little or none Access to a free press.
At the end of the meeting, a delegate from Ireland asked what politicians could do to support journalists. Director López replied: “We need the help of everyone, especially politicians, to believe that what we are doing is important and worth protecting, because a free press is essential for a healthy democracy.”