Voice of America hosted a 14-member delegation of the Committee on Culture and Education from the European Parliament on May 24, 2022, at VOA headquarters. The delegation requested an overview of VOA’s journalism, with a focus on Eurasia regional coverage and operations. The visit was part of three days of official engagements in Washington, D.C. with a variety of media-related organizations, federal government agencies and cultural institutions.
With presentations by Acting VOA Director Yolanda López, Eurasia Division Director Elez Biberaj, Ph.D. and Eurasia division leadership, the topics covered the global state of media freedom, techniques used to counter disinformation and propaganda by authoritarian regimes, delivering mental health care for journalists reporting on and from conflict zones, and measuring the impact and reach of VOA’s coverage in the region and around the world.
The discussion also touched on current collaboration efforts with VOA’s sister network, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and with other public service journalism organizations in Europe, including the members of the DG8, a group that represents publicly funded international media organizations from eight democratic nations: Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the United States.
There was a lengthy dialogue about the state of VOA’s coverage on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with presentations from VOA’s Russian and Ukrainian language service chiefs about their efforts to expand coverage, engage with audience members online, and deliver factual and trustworthy journalism to media markets with few alternatives. Eurasian leadership also discussed how coverage of the war resonated across languages, including the nearly 900 million video views and over 26.5 million website visits in the first two months of the conflict, with approximately one-third of this traffic coming from within Russia.
Since the invasion began in February 24, 2022, audiences in Russia have increased using circumvention tools like virtual private networks (VPN) for fact-based alternatives to the information published by the Kremlin controlled-media. In fact, after VOA Russian set a one-day traffic record across all platforms on the day of invasion, Russian regulators blocked VOA and other independent news outlets. As a result, not only did the use of circumvention tools suddenly soar in Russia in days following Moscow's decision to blacklist independent media, but VOA Russian’s website set another one-day site traffic record on March 3, 2022.
One delegate remarked that his family relied on Voice of America during World War II and the Cold War as a “light at the end of the tunnel”, bringing much needed news and information as they listened to broadcasts in secret, often at night. Dr. Biberaj responded that “VOA is as relevant now to its audiences as it was to those who tuned in more than 80 years ago,” remarking that the mission remains the same: to deliver accurate and objective journalism to the parts of the world with little or no access to a free press.
At the conclusion of the meeting, a delegate from Ireland asked what politicians could do to help support journalists. Director López responded, “We need everybody’s help, particularly politicians, to believe that what we do is important and worth protecting, because a free press is essential to a healthy democracy.”