Barbarians in the Headquarters of Voice of America ?[Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam]


The ancient Romans secured their cities with gates and walls against marauding barbarians.

The Romans aimed to keep the “barbarians at the gate” out and fend off any attack.

The modern day barbarians of press freedom secretly breached the “gates” of the Voice of America (VOA) headquarters in Washington, D.C. on September 26, 2015.

Teodros Adhanom, the malaria-researcher-turned-instant-foreign-minister of the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (T-TPLF) in Ethiopia and his sidekick T-TPLF ambassador to the U.S. Girma Birru, “sneaked” under cover of darkness during the weekend  into the headquarters of the Voice of America for a secret meeting with selected reporters and staff of VOA Amharic Service (AS) and another VOA service.

Like the ancient barbarians who dictated terms and conditions to the Romans they vanquished, Adhanom and Birru entered the hallowed halls of VOA headquarters and dictated terms and conditions on how VOA AS and other reporters and staffers should do their jobs in reporting on the T-TPLF and its policies and administration in Ethiopia.

It was an outrageous and unprecedented act of journalistic tampering by high officials of a foreign regime ever committed against the VOA in the U.S., in the official headquarters of the VOA.

For years, I have been a fierce defender of the VOA against the barbarians of press freedom in Ethiopia.

Whenever the leaders of the T-TPLF mounted  a savage attack on the journalistic independence and integrity of the VOA, I have manned the trenches.

And the T-TPLF has viciously and ferociously attacked the VOA AS on numerous occasions.

In 2006, the late leader of the T-TPLF, Meles Zenawi, charged 5 VOA Horn of Africa broadcasters with various crimes related exclusively to their reporting from the United States.

This unprecedented and outrageous act by Zenawi resulted in the passing of an extraordinary and defiant unanimous resolution by VOA’s Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) condemning the trumped up charges against the VOA reporters. TheResolution declared:

We consider these charges as nothing more than a blatant attempt to criminalize freedom of the press. We stand unequivocally and unflinchingly by our journalists and the quality of their work. The people of Ethiopia deserve unfettered access to accurate, balanced and comprehensive information. For the past 24 years, the Voice of America has provided them with precisely that, and will continue to do so.

Reading recent reports that Adhanom and his flunkey Birru, had “sneaked” under cover of darkness on a weekend night for a secret meeting  into the headquarters of the Voice of America with selected VOA AS and other reporters and staffers caught me completely off guard.

I was apoplectically outraged when I learned the details of the secret weekend night meeting.

Finding out Adhanom and Birru had been secretly skulking the hallowed halls of America’s “shrine of free press” for the rest of the world to me was  like finding out the Big Bad Wolves of Press Freedom in sheep’s clothing stalking the the lambs.

Better yet, it was like finding out that the Princes of Press Darkness have secretly entered the inner sanctum of the shrine of American press freedom to the rest of the world and defiled it. Desecrated it.

Adhanom’s T-TPLF has pulled a blanket of press and information darkness over Ethiopia for nearly a quarter of a century.

Ethiopia, under the thumb and boots of the T-TPLF, has the second worst record of press freedom in Africa!

According to Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2015 report, Ethiopia is the “4th most censored country in the world”.

In January 2015, Human Rights Watch issued a report entitled, “Ethiopia: Media Being Decimated” and declared, “Ethiopia’s government has systematically assaulted the country’s independent voices, treating the media as a threat rather than a valued source of information and analysis.”

In July 2015, the National Press Club, the “world’s leading professional organization for journalists”  “urged the Ethiopian government to immediately release jailed journalists imprisoned for their work.”

Freedom House in its 2015 report stated, “Press freedom in Ethiopia declined in 2014 as the government launched a crackdown on journalists and bloggers ahead of the May 2015 elections.”

On October 30, 2015, CPJ reported that Adhanom’s regime has denied Temesgen Desalegn, the young Ethiopian journalist imprisoned on trumped up charges of “outrage against the constitution”, medical treatment and family visits:

Temesgen suffers from back pain and has been denied access to medical treatment [and family visits], and he has lost hearing in his left ear, according to the VOA interview which was corroborated by local sources that visited Temesgen before the visitation ban. According to one source that visited him in prison in July, the back pain is so severe the journalist is unable to sit or sleep.

On September 26, 2015, the notorious jail keepers of press freedom in Ethiopia  managed “to sneak into the headquarters of the VOA at night and convened an unauthorized editorial meeting with some staff members.”

The VOA that Adhanom and Birru secretly entered to meet with a select group of VOA AS and other reporters and employees is the same VOA that Adhanom’s T-TPLF has been trying to electronically jam and block from  broadcasting in Ethiopia for nearly a decade.

Why would Adhanom and Birru secretly visit the very organization they have been trying to undermine and destroy for over a decade?

Could it be they are trying to jam up the VOA in its own offices which they could not do over the air?

How is it possible for a “foreign minister” and an “ambassador” of a foreign country to “sneak” into the citadel of America’s voice to the world and conduct a two-hour meeting with selected reporters and staff?

What possible official business could any “foreign minister” and “ambassador” have at VOA headquarters on a weekend night and conduct a secret meeting?

It is well known that when Adhanom’s regime contacts or “visits” independent journalists, its only purpose is to harass, intimidate, arrest and detain them.

Why would the “foreign minister” of a regime (a man who hangs (salivates) in the wings to become prime minister) designated by all major human rights groups as the topmost violator of press freedom go to VOA headquarters secretly and under cover of darkness on a weekend?

Why? Why?

Adhanom and Birru could certainly visit the VOA headquarters on a week day for official business or to do a studio interview.

Why weren’t Adhanom and Birru invited the VOA headquarters on a regular business day, during business hours and with an official record of their visit and purposes?

Why was it necessary for Adhanom and Birru to have a secret night time weekend meeting at VOA headquarters?

Did Adhanom and Birru secretly visit VOA headquarters to take down the names of those uninvited VOA AS and other reporters whom they think are enemies of their state?

Why was there no broadcast or report on VOA AS about the 2-hour meeting between the “foreign minister” and “ambassador” with certain VOA AS and other reporters and staffers?

The VOA AS routinely covers events of “less” newsworthiness happening in Washington, D.C. Why wasn’t the secret, weekend night time 2-hour meeting of Adhanom and Birru with VOA reporters reported to the public? could it be because someone is hiding something?

Doesn’t the 2-hour meeting between Adhanom/Birru and certain VOA AS and other reporters meet the test of newsworthiness for reporting under VOA’s own “Journalist Standards & Practices” (“Journalists’ Code”)?

What does this bizarre, secret, weekend night meeting mean for VOA’s journalistic independence and integrity?

How does the appearance of backroom secret meetings and deals between the second highest official of a regime (a foreign minister) and the highest level diplomat abroad (in the most important country in the world) and VOA reporters affect the perceptions of Ethiopian audiences for the journalistic integrity and independence of VOA?

The vast majority of Ethiopians, having no independent media, rely on VOA broadcasts to obtain accurate, truthful and impartially reported news, reports, information and analysis on a whole range of political, social and other issues.

What were the VOA AS reporters and other employees that participated in the Adhanom/Birru meeting thinking when they decided to meet Adhanom and Birru in secret, on a weekend night for 2 hours (and without apparently any written official record that the meeting actually took place)?

Did they ask in a fleeting moment: “How would this secret weekend, night time off the record 2-hour meeting with Adhanom and Birru be perceived by our Ethiopian audience if it is publicly reported?

Were the VOA reporters and employees that attended the Adhanom/Birru meetingeven thinking at all?

Or did they negligently commit a colossal error in judgement and a monumental lapse of professionalism?

In either case, they should look for employment in a profession other than world class journalism at the VOA.

On the issue of conflict of interest and avoidance of the appearance of conflict, the VOA Journalists’ Code makes it crystal clear:

Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual; and Employees must strive to avoid any action that would create even the appearance that they have lost impartiality or are violating the law or ethical standards. (Italics added.)

The Journalists’ Code further states, “credibility of the Voice of America [is one] our most important assets.”

What does the secret, night time weekend meeting of Adhanom, Birru and selected VOA AS and other reporters and employees mean for the “credibility” of VOA as an “objective source of world, regional and U.S. news and information”?

Has Adhanom or Birru made any other secret, off the record visits to VOA headquarters to speak with any VOA reporters or employees on any previous occasions?

How is it possible for those who invited Adhanom and Birru to the VOA headquarters to actually make it possible for them to make the visit unless they have prior longstanding relationship with Adhanom and Birru?

It makes no sense to believe that the VOA reporters/employees who invited Adhanom and Birru picked up the phone and called: “Yo! Yo! Adhanom, Birru! What y’all doin’ on Saturday night.  Y’all wanna come down to VOA headquarters for a pizza party and jam”. (I did not say jam VOA broadcasts.)

Have any of the selected VOA reporters and employees or others similarly situated visited the T-TPLF embassy in Washington, D.C. for any reason other than their official duties?

Do any VOA reporters have personal or financial relationships with the T-TPLF regime?

Does Birru operate a secret cadre of VOA journalists and employees who take instructions from him to report favorably on his regime?

Do Adhanom and Birru think VOA is EBC (“Ethiopian [T-TPLF] Broadcasting Corporation”)?

When members of Adhanom’s regime visit “EBC” or “EBC” reporters, it is always to bark out commands about what they want reported and what they want suppressed. Adhanom’s regime routinely directs its reporters to broadcast distorted, bogus and misleading news and information to the public.

Did Adhanom and Birru skulk their way into VOA headquarters at night on a weekend to read the riot act to VOA AS and other reporters and employees? Maybe persuade them by other means to tow the T-TPLF party line?

Do any VOA reporters or employees provide covert reports (scoops) to Birru on pending VOA reports, editorial meetings and other activities of the AS program?

What was discussed between Adhanom, Birru and the VOA AS and other reporters and staff during the 2-hour meting on September 26?

Was a record, journal or minutes of the meeting kept for official purposes? If not, why not?

Was a memorandum on the Adhanom/Birru meeting prepared and preserved for the official records after the meeting?

Was the VOA administration aware of the secret night meeting between Adhanom, Birru and the selected reporters and staffers of the Amharic Service?

Did the VOA administration give prior approval for the secret, weekend night time meeting with only selected VOA reporters and employees?

Why did Adhanom and Birru meet only with specific selected VOA AS and other reporters and staff?

Were other VOA reporters and staff informed of the secret weekend night time meeting with Adhanom and Birru or formally or informally invited to attend?

It is well known that Adhanom’s T-TPLF recruits and populates “EBC” with its cadres.

Were Adhanom and Birru on a secret recruiting mission at VOA headquarters on September 26, 2015? Or were they there to give a pep talk to any cadres they may have at the VOA just like at the “EBC”?

What possible business could Adhanom and Birru have with VOA reporters that could last 2-hours on a weekend night?

What good could possibly (even conceptually) come out of a secret, night time weekend meeting between the top representatives of the “fourth worst censor of press freedom in the world” (and second worst in Africa) and any VOA reporters or employees at VOA headquarters?

Did the specific VOA AS and other reporters and staffers violate any federal laws and VOA’s professional and ethical standards by meeting in secret, under cover of darkness on a weekend with Adhanom and Birru?

Details of the Secret Night Meeting between Adhanom, Birru and selected VOA Amharic Service and other reporters and staff

The shocking and disturbing details of the secret 2-hour weekend night meeting between Adhanom, Birru and selected VOA AS and other reporters and staff was divulged by the young Ethiopian investigative journalists and human rights activist Abebe Gellaw on October 26, 2015.

According to Abebe’s investigative report:

On September  26, 2015, Adhanom and Birru managed “to sneak into the headquarters of the VOA located at 330 Independence Avenue, Washington D.C., under cover of darkness for an “unauthorized editorial meeting with some staff members.”

The secret meeting took place “in the editorial meeting room of the Horn of Africa section” and lasted two hours.

The meeting with Adhanom and Birru was reportedly “organized and facilitated by VOA Amharic broadcaster Solomon Abate, along with Betre Siltan from the Tigrigna service” and “a group of seven VOA staff members–including two technicians.”

The purpose of the secret Saturday night meeting was “said to be dictated by the need to build trust and cooperation between VOA journalists and [Adhanom’s] regime”.

During the meeting, Adhanom and Birru  “exerted undue influence  to alter the tone and content of VOA broadcasts to Ethiopia by making pleas and veiled threats.”

Adhanom ordered that no “recording of the intimate discussion” be made.

Adhanom complained to the VOA reporters and staff “off the record that giving platform to critical voices and dissidents including Arbegnoch Ginbot 7 could be tantamount to destabilizing the government. He [also] criticized VOA for focusing on ‘negative’ stories.”

Adhanom lectured the attending VOA AS and other reporters and staff present that they should “focus on promoting positive progress rather than airing ‘negative’ stories and views.”

Adhanom “hinted that the Ethiopian government constantly receives information about VOA’s internal activities.”

Adhanom admonished the VOA reporters and staff “to re-examine themselves and do soul searching.”

Adhanom and Birru informed the VOA reporters and staff that they are prepared to “facilitate any support and assistance the [VOA] journalists may need to bring out positive stories and images” about the T-TPLF regime and its activities.

Adhanom “invited the journalists to go [to Ethiopia] and see the reality for themselves.”

Adhanom and Birru  told “the VOA employees that the doors of the Ethiopian Embassy were wide open to them.

The VOA and I

I do not believe there are too many individuals who have fiercely and unapologetically defended the VOA against T-TPLF harassment, intimidation, defamation and interference over the past decade than myself.

I have written numerous commentaries defending the VOA from direct and indirect harassment, intimidation and interference by the late super-thugtator Meles Zenawi.

On July 4, 2015, I wrote a commentary defending a VOA AS reporter who was attacked by certain individuals in a protest group of Ethiopians opposed to President Obama’s visit to Ethiopia.

I castigated those individuals who threatened and harassed the VOA AS reporter for their ignorance of press freedom in America and for their criminal acts in interfering with that reporter’s work.

I declared that no one has the right to interfere or unduly influence the journalistic work of VOA reporters regardless of one’s perception of their impartiality, integrity or professionalism.

I urged Ethiopian Americans opposed to the T-TPLF regime to use established processes within the VOA to seek relief for any unfair or biased reporting by reporters in the Amharic Service.

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

If Adhanom and Birru have issues with VOA Amharic Service reports or reporters, they should channel their complaints through the appropriate offices in the U.S. State Department.

They have absolutely no right to invade VOA headquarters on a weekend night, meet secretly with selected VOA reporters and staff and dictate terms and conditions of reporting on their regime!

Let me make it perfectly clear: I have absolutely no problems if Adhanom and Birru went to VOA headquarters for a studio interview.

They have every right to speak to VOA reporters and express their views.

I wholeheartedly agree with Prof. Noam Chomsky observation that “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

When it comes to free expression, I will just as soon defend the right of those I despise as I would those whose views and expressions I cherish. I make no compromises when it comes to free expression.

My philosophy on free expression is very simple: Let the best idea win!

I demonstrated my commitment to this principle when I defended Meles Zenawi’s right to speak his mind without interference or interruption at Columbia University in September 2010.

Some people could not believe how I can justify defending the right of free expression of a man who had muzzled 90 million people.

If Adhanom and Birru want to go to the VOA headquarters for an interview or official discussion, more power to them.

My problem is secret meetings, night meetings, meetings with selected VOA reporters and employees, unrecorded meeting, unauthorized meetings, meetings without records, minutes or journals and meetings that end with secret handshakes, nods and winks.

I believe in the theory of the press as a watchdog, not a lap dog.

When I use the metaphor of the “watchdog” for the press, I mean a hound dog press that sniffs out and exposes government misconduct, corruption, scandal and abuse and misuse of power.

As a matter of fact, the VOA guarantees audiences “have the right to expect that [VOA] journalists will monitor power and give voice to the voiceless: The press should use its  watchdog  power to uncover things that are important and new and that change community thinking.” (Italics added.)

I don’t believe press watch (guard) dogs have any business lying in bed or secretly meeting in the boardroom with press wolves.

Indeed, that is precisely what the VOA’s “Audiences’ Bill of Journalism Rights” instructs under section 4.

VOA  “journalists’ first loyalty is to audiences” and audiences “should expect journalists to maintain independence from those they cover.”

The job of VOA journalists is to uncover those they cover, not lie comfortably under the bed cover with those they cover.

I believe it is a violation of federal law and VOA professional standards for Adhanom and Birru and the selected VOA AS and other reporters and staff  to conduct secret official or unofficial business at VOA headquarters.

I see no difference between the harassment and physical manhandling of the VOA AS reporter by a few misguided protesters in July 2015 and the secret night meeting of Adhanom and Birru with VOA employees where Adhanom and Birru read selected VOA AS reporters and staff the riot act about their reporting on the T-TPLF regime.

What Adhanom and Birru did in the headquarters of the VOA and what the mob did to the VOA reporter outside the White House in July are quintessentially thuggish acts intended to intimidate and force the VOA AS to broadcast views that are favorably to their side of the issues.

I take great pride in my fierce defense of the VOA over the years.

I defended the VOA not because they have a bias in favor of the opponents of the T-TPLF regime. I did not defend the VOA because they are biased against the T-TPLF.

I defended the VOA every single time it came under attack because I believe the majority of VOA Amharic Service reporters and journalists  do their jobs professionally and with integrity.

Truth be told, there are far too many reports on VOA Amharic Service that I do not agree with.

I understand that the VOA AS reporters do not function according to my highly partisan norms.

I have never criticized VOA AS for doing their jobs consistent with their own professional standards.

Even though I am a highly partisan advocate and an uncompromising defender of my own cause, I respect journalists who do their jobs with integrity.

The VOA Journalists’ Code demands that VOA reporters “adhere to the highest standards of journalistic professionalism and integrity” and “enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Voice of America.”

I have never criticized VOA AS reporters for doing their jobs according to their own “Journalists’ Code” of ethics and professionalism.

But I have defended the VOA AS when others criticized and harassed them for performing their journalism according to their their own “Code”.

That is precisely what I did in July 2011 when the VOA AS faced the wrath of the late Meles Zenawi, leader of the T-TPLF.

When Meles openly and contemptuously attempted to pressure the VOA Board of Governors to muzzle his critics on VOA AS broadcasts, I rose to defend the VOA.

I defended the VOA AS in 2010 when Meles Zenawi compared VOA to the infamous Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda, which incited the tragic genocide that devastated the nation. Meles outrageously claimed,

We have been convinced for many years that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.”

Meles promptly ordered the jamming of VOA broadcasts to Ethiopia.

I fiercely defended the VOA AS in September 2010 when Meles Zenawi justified his jamming of VOA broadcasts “by taking a page from U.S. policy.” Meles said,

Now, I don’t know if you know this but VOA [Voice of America] is not allowed to broadcast to the U.S. by law. It is not allowed to broadcast to the U.S. by law. It is allowed to broadcast to other countries, but not to the U.S. because it is supposed to reflect the policy of the government in power of the day. Now, VOA Amharic service happens to be dominated by people associated with the previous regime who tend to have a particularly jaundiced view of events in Ethiopia for understandable reasons. We took a page from the policy of the United States and said VOA is not welcome to Ethiopia either. (Italics added.)

VOA Response to the Abebe Gellaw’s investigative report

The VOA has refused to respond to the facts alleged in Abebe Gellaw’s report despite repeated requests. Abebe’s investigative report raises some grave issues of administrative and criminal nature.

A proper response to Abebe’s report by the VOA management is obligatory.

Investigative reporter Abebe stated that “despite repeated phone calls and follow-up emails”, the VOA has refused to respond to his requests for answers and clarifications concerning the Adhanom/Birru secret weekend night time meeting at VOA headquarters.

The VOA cannot dismiss Abebe’s report without comment.

Legality of the Adhanom/Birru secret night meeting with selected VOA AS reporters  

Did Adhanom and Birru violate federal law by secretly meeting at night with VOA reporters and staffers on September 26, 2015?

Did the selected VOA reporters and staffers violate federal law and the VOA “Code” by secretly meeting with  Adhanom/Birru on a weekend night at VOA headquarters?

Specifically, did the secret night meeting held by VOA reporters and staffers with Adhanom and Birru  violate 22 U.S.C. 6202 (c)?

Did the secret night meeting held by VOA reporters and staffers with Adhanom and Birru  violate VOA’s Journalist Standards & Practices (11-023 and 11-024)?

Did the secret night meeting held by VOA reporters and staffers with Adhanom and Birru  violate the “Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, Subpart E (Codified in 5 C.F.R. Part 2635 As amended at 76 FR 38547 (July 1, 2011)) and other federal laws?

            VOA Charter and governing law 

The operation and activities of the VOA are strictly governed by Public Law 94-350, section 206 (codified at 22 USC 6202).

22 U.S.C. 6202 (c) identifies 10 guiding principles and directs:

… VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government. They accept no treatment or assistance from U.S. government officials or agencies that is more favorable or less favorable than that granted to staff of private-sector news agencies. Furthermore, VOA professionals, careful to preserve the integrity of their organization, strive for excellence and avoid imbalance or bias in their broadcasts.

The Voice of America pursues its mission today in a world conflict-ridden and unstable in the post Cold War era. Broadcasting accurate, balanced and complete information to the people of the world, and particularly to those who are denied access to accurate news, serves the national interest and is a powerful source of inspiration and hope for all those who believe in freedom and democracy. (Italics added.)

The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, Subpart E (Codified in 5 C.F.R. Part 2635  as amended at 76 FR 38547 (July 1, 2011)) provides specific rules for federal employees on the impartial performance of their duties. It also provides a basis for raising issues on “any matter in which a [federal]  employee’s impartiality is likely to be questioned.”

VOA’s Journalistic Standards and Practices (“The Journalistic Code”) 

The VOA Journalists Code imposes a variety of obligations on VOA reporters and employees.

The Code states:

VOA is alert to, and rejects efforts by special interest groups – foreign or domestic – to use its broadcasts as a platform for their own views. This applies to all programs and program segments, including opinion or press roundups, programs discussing letters, listener comments, or call-in shows…

… VOA journalists and all those preparing news and feature programming avoid any action or statement that might convey the appearance of partisanship

… In addition to these journalistic standards and principles, VOA employees recognize that their conduct both on and off the job can reflect on the work of the Voice of America community. They adhere to the highest standards of journalistic professionalism and integrity. They work to foster teamwork, goodwill and civil discourse in the workplace and with their colleagues everywhere in the world, all to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Voice of America. (Italics added.)

The Foreign Missions Act (22 U.S.C. 4301-4316) regulates the activities of foreign missions in the United States “in a manner that will protect the foreign policy and national security interests of the United States.”

Did Adhanom and Birru violate any of the federal laws by conducting unauthorized secret night meeting with selected employees of the VOA?

Did the selected reporters and employees of the VOA violate any federal laws and VOA’s “Code” by secretly meeting and discussing yet undisclosed matters at night with Adhanom and Birru?

The 1978 Inspector General Act (OIG), the 1980 Foreign Service Act, and the 1998 Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act charge the OIG with oversight responsibility for the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

22 U.SC. sec. 3929(b) authorizes the Inspector General of the Department of State and the Foreign Service to exercise jurisdiction over VOA’s Broadcasting Board of Governors and the International Broadcasting Bureau and conduct “systematic review and evaluation of the administration of activities and operations of Foreign Service posts and bureaus and other operating units of the Department of State.”

The Office of Investigations of the State Department’s OIG office “conducts investigations of criminal, civil, and administrative misconduct related to Department and BBG programs and operations by investigating specific allegations, reports, or other information indicating possible violations of law or regulation.”

Is the Adhanom/Birru secret meeting within the purview of the State Department’s OIG investigation?

Asleep at the switch at the VOA?

The VOA broadcasts in nearly four dozen languages.

Since its establishment in 1942, the VOA has been criticized at home and abroad for doing or not doing something.

The VOA has been vociferously criticized as an American propaganda tool by totalitarian regimes throughout its seven-decade history.

The VOA and its reporters continue to be the targets of unending threats and intimidation by African dictators and thugtators, including the T-TPLF.

Criticism of VOA reporting is nothing new to the VOA.

What is new, ABSOLUTELY NEW AND UNPRECEDENTED, is the fact that African dictators and thugtators have mustered the audacity, gumption and contempt to invade the hallowed halls of the VOA and conduct meetings with VOA employees and dictate terms and conditions with absolute impunity.

What next?

Will African dictators and thugtators payoff VOA reporters and employees at secret night meetings to report or not to report on an issue favored or disfavored by African dictators and thugtators?

Is it that if you can’t beat the VOA, identify selected VOA reporters and employees, have them “invite” you to come to VOA headquarters and use the opportunity to dictate terms and conditions?

Or is it, if you can’t beat VOA reporters and employees from Addis, come and brow beat them in Washington, D.C. at their own headquarters?”

What Adhanom and Birru have done in meeting with selected VOA AS reporters and staffers at VOA headquarters on a weekend night in secret sets a very, very bad precedent.

What the selected VOA AS reporters and staffers did in meeting with Adhanom and Birru at VOA headquarters on a weekend night in secret sets a very, very bad precedent.

Federal law requires strict independence of VOA not only from influences by foreign governments but also the U.S. Government itself. That was the “principal reason cited by the Congress for preventing the [VOA] Board and its broadcasting entities from being merged into the State Department [and] provide a “firewall” between the State Department and the BBG journalists to ensure the integrity of the journalism.”

How did Adhanom and Birru manage to breach the the VOA “firewall” long established by Congress so flagrantly on September 26, 2015 when they secretly entered VOA headquarters under cover of night on the weekend and conducted an off- the record 2-hour meeting?

Unless Adhanom, Birru and the other VOA reporters and journalists are held accountable in this case, the floodgates may soon open for all types of African dictators and thugtators to come to VOA headquarters in Washington, D.C. and intimidate VOA reporters and employees into submission.

That must NEVER, NEVER be allowed!

I am deeply offended by the secret meeting between Adhanom/Birru and the particular VOA AS and other reporters and employees.

The very idea of a secret meeting between VOA reporters and the highest representatives of a regime declared the “fourth worst censor press freedom in the world” makes me sick to the stomach.

Such a meeting makes a mockery of the very principles and ideas of press freedom enshrined in the law establishing the VOA over seven decades ago.

I am not ashamed to say I care very much about the Voice of America.

It is an organizations that is imperfect with a lot of flaws.

I disagree with some of the VOA AS’s programming priorities. For example, I believe VOA’s audience in Ethiopia would rather hear news, information and analysis about things happening in Ethiopia than sports events in America in the one-hour or so broadcast everyday.

But the law requires that the VOA provide adequate information on the diversity of cultural and other events in America.

The VOA AS actually does a great job reporting on the diversity of U.S. culture and society to its Ethiopian audience.

I also believe the VOA AS does a good job of reporting and providing a diversity of news, opinions and analysis to their Ethiopian audience.

I will continue to ferociously defend the VOA against intimidation, harassment and corruption of the VOA by dictators and thugs wherever they may be for the same reasons I have defended the VOA over the past several years.

I do not want my readers to be outraged by the Adhanom/Birru affair and condemn the Voice of America.

That would be an unjustified overreaction.

I believe in fair play even when dealing with my opponents.

I  cannot imagine any valid reason why Adhanom and Birru would meet in secret, on a weekend, under cover of darkness for 2 hours off the record with a selected group of VOA reporters and staffers.

Perhaps there is a reason that is incomprehensible to my highly partisan mind? If so, I would like to know.

As I write this piece, I am of the absolute conviction that barbarians of press freedom, where ever they are, must forever be banished from ever setting foot in the headquarters of Voice of America, America’s “shrine to free press to the rest of the world”, under cover of darkness, on a weekend, in secret and with help to cover up their finger- and footprints that they have ever been there

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