“Voice of America” portrays US crimes as “service to humanity”

The hearings in the British Supreme Court held on 21 February have become a trend in international media, as the trial involving the extradition of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, to the United States is in the media spotlight (Figure 1). Transnational media have not just circulated this fact as top news but also condemned the topic in the context of global threats to media freedom (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/feb/20/the-us-justice-department-must-drop-spy-charges-against-julian-assange).

US Attorney General Merrick Garland claims that the founder of WikiLeaks has broken the law by disclosing secrets belonging to the US military. In addition, he performed this act in a criminal manner, i.e. by means of hacker attacks. The demand is that Assange be extradited to the United States, tried as a criminal under American law and severely punished. If Merrick Garland's wishes do come true, “Julian Assange is facing 175 years of imprisonment in the United States” (https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20240221-lawyers-for-us-urge-uk-court-to-reject-assange-appeal-bid).

In the meantime, the media community is of a different opinion. International journalistic organizations have issued a general statement on the process, noting that Julian Assange obtained and made public classified information about US war crimes, not military secrets. He exposed the human tragedy unleashed on Iraq and Afghanistan. They believe that “it is not how Assange obtained this information that should be prosecuted, but the war crimes committed by the US military”. It suggests that the hysteria the United States have initiated in order to severely punish the founder of WikiLeaks has to do with information he did not manage to make public, rather than the “military secrets” he did make public. "If Assange is not punished and silenced, he may reveal even more shocking crimes of the United States that have not yet been disclosed”.

The trial, which began on February 21, continues with Judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson presiding. The final judgment will be announced in the next 14 days. Journalistic organizations view this time as an opportunity and are running global campaigns to defend Assange. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has called on the international media community to condemn the US extradition request. They have also urged the British court to hand down a fair verdict and issue a decision defending media freedom in the example of Assange. EFJ's appeal has created a serious resonance, as some 200 organizations from different countries of the world have joined the campaign (https://europeanjournalists.org/blog/2024/02/14/uk-assange-prosecution-threatens-press-freedom/).

The campaign to defend Julian Assange has taken various forms. Journalistic organizations issue statements and organize protests in an effort to urge the British court to adopt a fair decision. Media outlets, in turn, provide informational support to this campaign of journalistic organizations. Internet search engines show that transnational media organizations have published 108 articles defending Assange in just one week.

About as many media outlets have also circulated information about the trial. This is the largest protest campaign against US media policies in recent history.

The campaign, which encompasses at least 200 journalistic organizations and 108 media outlets, examines the media policy of the United States from the most diverse angles. Julian Assange's extradition request sheds light on the US approach to the freedom of expression. It becomes clear that the US approach to the freedom of speech and expression is slightly problematic. More specifically, this policy is full of the elements of fraud. The general opinion is that the United States is obstructing the investigation of the crimes against humanity it has itself committed by insisting on extradition and harsh punishment for the founder of WikiLeaks. In addition, it severely undermines the freedom of the media, speech and expression and creates a global trend towards restricting journalistic opportunities: “Julian Assange has done the work of every journalist. He fulfilled his professional duty and disseminated hidden information. For example, he obtained and circulated video footage of US soldiers killing 12 civilians on baseless suspicion and without any documentary evidence. This has nothing to do with espionage, it is evidence of the war crimes and atrocities of the US armed forces, but the US prefers to accuse Assange, not its own military. Targeting and punishing Assange is an attack on the journalistic profession by the United States,” the statements say.

International organizations emphasize that the United States is actually setting a wrong trend by calling journalists spies and criminals. “This is not a new phenomenon in the United States. The first example of the Foreign Agents Registration Act was registered in the United States. This Act also covers journalistic activities. The world is observing a bad example of journalists being described as foreign agents for their actions. Similar laws are being adopted in other countries of the world these days. Starting from 2001, the US has laid the foundation of an even more negative trend. It has adopted numerous documents under the pretext of anti-terror and security measures. These documents have limited the free activity of the media. As part of the anti-terror measures carried out by the United States, it has banned the dissemination of news on human rights violations. This has set a poor example for the world. By handing down a harsh punishment for Assange, it now sets another negative trend.”

It is quite paradoxical. On the one hand, the United States allocates millions of dollars in grants through USAID and other funds to promote freedom of speech and expression and calls freedom of the press a fundamental principle of democracy. But on the other, it takes steps to limit the freedom of speech and expression and media activities. In this context, negative global trends are taking shape. The facts disclosed by international journalistic organizations in the background of the campaign to defend Assange show that the US is cultivating a network that turns a blind eye to its own criminal acts under the guise of supporting freedom of the media, speech and expression, while also exaggerating minor problems in rival states and taking them out of context. In other words, it commits fraud and misleads the international public opinion in pursuit of his own interests.

Such a paradoxical approach is quite obvious in the activities of media outlets established by the US government. For example, “Voice of America” (VOA) has not supported the campaign to defend Julian Assange. Its name is not on the list of the media organizations providing information support for the campaign. In this context, VOA limited itself to circulating only the bare bones of this information. The worst thing is that VOA reports on the subject attempt to justify US law enforcement agencies for wanting to extradite Assange, not Assange.

In an article on the subject, VOA quotes Claire Dobbin, the lawyer of the US government, as saying that Assange is not a journalist but just a disseminator of information. He also employed illegal workers. “Evidence shows that since its inception, WikiLeaks has employed hackers with access to classified information. It has obtained and disseminated military secrets. This is political work and crime, not journalism,” the VOA article states (https://www.voanews.com/a/us-lawyers-say-assange-wanted-for-indiscriminately-publishing-sources-names/7496499.html).

The fact that “Voice of America” defends the US state and not journalist Assange contradicts the principles enshrined in its own charter. More precisely, the political interests of the United States come face to face with the charter demand of the “Voice of America”, but the editors prefer to proceed from the interests of the United States, not from the requirements of their own charter.

The charter states that “Voice of America” is committed to freedom of the press around the world: “Regardless of location, VOA opposes any restrictions on journalistic activities, freedom of speech and expression. It gives a platform to journalists who face threats...This page seeks to tell their stories... Since its inception in 1942, VOA has been committed to communicating the truth to its audience” (https://www.insidevoa.com/p/5831.html). However, the article on the trial of Julian Assange shows that VOA violates all these principles. Because this is required by the interests of the United States.

“Voice of America” was established by the US Congress. It is funded through the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM). Its mission is to promote the US foreign policy course in target countries. VOA is not an independent media organization and depends on US finances and politics. If a country needs to be criticized or praised and respected, an order is placed with VOA. And it does its job with all its heart. If it dares to deviate from the political course, it will be severely punished. For this reason, it has never gone against the centrifuge. But it presents itself as an independent media organization and hides his essence by inventing false slogans. It tries to appear objective and unbiased and gain trust.

One of its slogans is to contribute to democratic development and defend freedom of speech and expression. VOA is one of a handful of media outlets that has established a special “Freedom of the Press” category on its website. In this category, all states have a place allocated to them.

From Japan to the Republic of South Africa, wherever there is a small incident related to the media, VOA is sure to cover it. It follows the process. When necessary, it prepares 5 to 10 reports on one incident. For example, if you search for “Journalism in Azerbaijan” on the website, you will find 228 articles. All are negative.

On the example of “Abzas Media” alone, they prepared eight articles in the last two months. Each of these articles interprets the “Abzas Media” incident from the perspective of US Congressmen

For comparison, notice that there are only 94 articles on Armenian journalism on the VOA website (Figure-7). Most of them have a positive background. For example, one of the articles mentions “100,000 Armenians who migrated from Karabakh and Armenian journalists among them”

The reason is quite clear. The US wants to show Armenia as a democratic country and VOA is doing the job. It tries to connect the negativity in the Armenian media with “pressure from Azerbaijan”.

There is no problem with a media outlet established by the US Congress acting in the interests of this country. Similar practices exist all over the world. A media organization established by the state promotes the policies of that country. The problem is hypocrisy. A media outlet that claims to be independent acts in a biased manner.

Mushfig Alasgarli

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