The Voice of America normally covers the news, but Monday morning it was in the news itself – the focus of demonstrations by Ethiopians in Washington. Two groups gathered outside VOA headquarters - one demonstrated in support of VOA’s reporting, the other demonstrated against what they described as biased coverage.
Green, yellow and pink placards praised VOA’s coverage. About 100 Ethiopians demonstrated -- some wearing their national dress. A long white banner with green block letters read “One Country, One People, One Africa.” Another read “Democracy plus Voting equals Voting plus Lawful Counting.” Yet another said, “Respect the Vote of the Ethiopian People.” And another said, “Ethiopians Deserve the Government they Voted for.”
"I came here to support what Voice of America [is] doing," said Samuel, one of the demonstrators. "As you know, [the] Ethiopian Government [has] shut down all free press. So the only press in Ethiopia is broadcasting from [the] USA, Voice of America, so we’re supporting for [the] free press."
Not all agree. A Washington-based organizing committee Ethiopians For Peace and Democracy circulated a press release saying the United States plays a “constructive and even-handed” role in discussing the current political issues in Ethiopia since the election in May. But it says of the three Ethiopian languages broadcast by VOA, the Amharic section broadcasts inaccurate and inflammatory reports. VOA also airs programs in Afan Oromo and Tigrigna. The press release says the Amharic broadcasts appear calculated to provoke discord and conflict among the diverse elements of Ethiopian society.
Near the VOA building another group of about 50 people protested against the Voice America’s Ethiopian political coverage. One sign read “VOA Amharic service, don’t sabotage and undermine democracy in Ethiopia.” “Stop your inflammatory propaganda of hate and racism,” said another.
"What they transmit to Ethiopia most of the time is hate and propaganda to each other," said one demonstrator. "To hate each other, to fight each other. We don’t need that [in] Ethiopia. We support the system in Ethiopia, and we need Voice of America to see we are very [angry.] Unless they correct this problem, we’ll be back!"
In a statement responding to the demonstration, the chief of the Voice of America’s Horn of Africa Service, Timothy Spence, said it is committed to reporting the news and information people need to make decisions in a democratic society. He said VOA’s employees adhere to strict standards of neutrality, objectivity and ethics. Mr. Spence said the Horn of Africa Service seeks information from all voices in the Horn of Africa, whether the news is good or bad, and will continue to do so. Mr. Spence also said the service welcomes feedback from its listeners, and respects the right of people to express their views.