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Voice of America: Recognizing 80 Years – and Counting – of Independent Journalism

Do publicly funded media and broadcast organizations still have a place in democracies? What challenges do independent, public service media face in a world where democracy is "under siege?"

Has VOA consistently provided independent journalism to its audiences?

Has VOA served as a mouthpiece of the American government or its leaders now, or in the past?

Please join Acting VOA Director Yolanda López and a distinguished panel as we discuss this topic.

Voice of America: Recognizing 80 Years – and Counting – of Independent Journalism

Introduction: Yolanda López, Acting VOA Director

Moderator: Ndimyake Mwakalyelye, VOA English to Africa, Acting Chief


Sanford Ungar, Director of the Free Speech Project, Georgetown University & Former VOA Director

Ann Cooper, Professor Emerita, Columbia Journalism School

Roya Mahboob, Businesswoman and entrepreneur from Afghanistan and founder of the Afghan Robotics Team

Nicholas Cull, Professor of Communication, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Watch this event on the YouTube page: Voice of America: Recognizing 80 Years – and Counting – of Independent Journalism - YouTube

Here are the bios of our participants:

Sanford J. Ungar, president emeritus of Goucher College, was director of Voice of America for two years during the Clinton administration. He is now director of the nonpartisan Free Speech Project at Georgetown University, which is documenting the status of free expression in education, government, and civil society in America. Drawing from its online “Free Speech Tracker,” it is also developing curriculum modules that can help college and high school students develop a clearer understanding of the role of the First Amendment in American democracy. Previous to his time as VOA Director, Ungar served as dean of the School of Communication at American University. During his journalism career, he was a staff writer for The Washington Post, Washington editor of The Atlantic, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, and co-host of “All Things Considered” on NPR. He is the author or editor of six nonfiction books, including The Papers & The Papers: An Account of the Legal and Political Battle over the Pentagon Papers. Sanford Ungar earned an AB in Government magna cum laude from Harvard College and a master’s degree in International History from the London School of Economics. He teaches undergraduate seminars on Free Speech at Georgetown.

Ann Cooper is an award-winning journalist and foreign correspondent, a former executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists and professor emerita at Columbia Journalism School. Her voice was well known to National Public Radio listeners as NPR's first Moscow bureau chief, covering the tumultuous events of the final five years of the Soviet Union. She co-edited a book, "Russia at the Barricades," about the failed 1991 coup attempt, and she has continued to write about press freedom and media in Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Nicholas J. Cull is professor of Public Diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism where he is Global Communication Policy fellow at the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy and faculty fellow at the Center on Public Diplomacy. Originally from the UK, he is a well-known writer and historian on issues of communication, public engagement, and international relations. His books include two histories dealing with the Voice of America: The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989 (2008) and The Decline and Fall of the United States Information Agency: American Public Diplomacy, 1989-2001 (2012). His other books include Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age (2019), which has been translated into Italian, Korean and Mandarin and is forthcoming in Spanish. He has lectured widely around the world and has assisted many governments and diplomatic academies in issues of public diplomacy including those of the UK, Canada, Mexico, and United States where he has been a regular guest at the Foreign Service Institute. His current work considers the role of public diplomacy by multiple groups in bringing political change to Apartheid South Africa.

Roya Mahboob is a serial entrepreneur and one of the first female tech CEOs in her home country, Afghanistan. As CEO of Digital Citizens Fund, Roya’s work is focused on digital literacy to bridge the gap between education and the job markets in Afghanistan . Digital Citizens Fund has 16,000 graduates from its 13 digital classrooms and has incubated 100 Afghan female startups. Roya is also the champion and co-founder of the world renowned Afghan Girls Robotics Team, the Afghan Dreamers, who are inspiring a nation to see the potential of girls differently. Roya was named as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2013, and received the 2014 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award, The Advancement of Gender Equality through Education Award, Young Leader of World Economic Forum 2015, Wonder Women 2018, 2019 Education Award Winner, the prestigious Presidential Leadership Scholarship, D.Sc. Honorary Doctor of Science of Engineering from McMaster University, Fellow of Executive education Stanford and is a founding Leader of The NewNow, a group of rising global leaders tackling global challenges.

Yolanda López was appointed Acting VOA Director on January 21, 2021. Prior to the appointment, Yolanda served as Director of the VOA News Center, overseeing all editorial and content production. She joined VOA in 2015 as Latin America Division Director. Under her leadership, the division experienced significant growth in audience by expanding media partnerships and affiliations. A native of Barcelona, Spain, she worked for the Spanish language television network Univision as news executive, producer, and executive producer. Prior to joining Univision, she was an on-air personality for the Telemundo television network. López has also worked as a communications and digital media professional in Barcelona. López is the recipient of three Emmy awards – two from the Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), and one from the Los Angeles Chapter of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS). She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.

Ndimyake Mwakalyelye, took over as Acting Chief of VOA's English to Africa Service this week. Since 2014, she was the Chief of VOA’s Zimbabwe service. In this capacity, she managed broadcasts to Zimbabwe in English, Shona and Ndebele on medium wave and shortwave radio, and a daily live webcast of its popular Studio 7 radio program. She is also one of the anchors of the English women’s show “Our Voices,” a round table discussion program with a pan-African cast. Prior to her current position, Mwakalyelye was the lead reporter and anchor at large for “Africa 54,” VOA’s live, daily TV program for Africa. She has a strong interest in Africa and believes the media serves a crucial role in transforming and uplifting the lives of all citizens through well-researched information delivered via TV, radio or digital platforms. She is particularly interested in addressing issues that are relevant and of concern to women, children and people with disabilities. Prior to joining VOA, she worked for New Jersey Network, the state’s only public broadcasting station. Mwakalyelye was born in Tanzania and raised in Zimbabwe. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, and a master’s degree from American University.