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VOA Director Calls for Increased Legal Protections for Broadcasters

Protections would complement training

Bonn, Germany, June 2, 2008 - Danforth Austin, Director of the Voice of America, called for enhanced legal protections for journalists around the world to complement increased training for international broadcasters.

Austin, who heads the United States' flagship international broadcaster, said, "there is no longer any technical distinction between a domestic broadcast and a worldwide one."

Austin's remarks came at a Global Media Forum here sponsored by Deutsche Welle (German Wave), the German international broadcasting organization. He noted that while technology has offered many more people the ability to communicate across borders, governments also have a growing responsibility to foster the spread of information and empower citizens.

A veteran editor and media executive, Austin said training opportunities for journalists in developing countries need to be expanded. But, he added, "It is simply not enough to train journalists on how to best serve the public. They also need a legal environment that provides a degree of protection for journalists, that allows truth as a defense in civil or criminal defamation prosecutions, which all too often employ courts to do what censors could not—put journalists behind bars or out of business."

"This body of media law should also provide for access to information. That includes open meeting laws, freedom of information statutes, and transparency in the workings of government."

The growing use of digital media, said Austin, has forced a fundamental change in the way international broadcasters must operate. "The days of short-wave radio broadcasts produced offshore and beamed to information-deprived masses yearning to breathe free are waning." But the same inexpensive software and hardware that enables citizens to reach across borders, he warned, also "empower those who want to censor content. There's no need, for example, to invest in expensive jamming equipment if a simple software program launching a denial of service attack will do."

Austin also warned that governments must respect the dividing line between honest, thorough reporting and attempts to covertly influence public opinion. Most international broadcasters, he said, "recognize that credibility with an audience is the most powerful tool they have, that reporting news accurately and fairly in order to help people reach their own decisions is an end, not a means."

"If we draw the line between honest, fair reporting and analysis and 'influence operations' that are disguised as journalism, we show the world what it means to be responsible. We also give the people of the world, who often know propaganda when they see it, a clear choice of whom to believe, and whom to ignore or reject."

(Follow this link for the full text of Austin's remarks.)

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,250 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 115 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages.

For more information, call the Office of Public Affairs at (202) 203-4959, or e-mail