Voice of America reverses course, says reporters can call Hamas terrorists
The agency directed employees in previous guidance not to use that term, saying it was against VOA’s fairness standards.
VOA said Tuesday that it had gone back and reviewed its guidebook and realized that it did not, in fact, forbid using the term.
“Correcting guidance that was issued October 10, 2023, and reissued on October 20, 2023, there is NO prohibition in our Best Practices Guide against our labeling the people and organizations that commit acts of terror as ‘terrorists’ or against using the word ‘terrorism’ in our stories without attribution,” VOA’s managing editor and acting director wrote in a memo to employees.
VOA’s reversal was first reported by National Review.
VOA had suffered severe criticism for the previous directives which, as the agency now acknowledges, ran contrary to its guide.
The news agency has struggled on several fronts with how to cover the Israel-Hamas conflict to the point where the head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees VOA, had to issue a warning to employees to stop acting like activists.
“Activism can be a noble practice that changes the world. If, however, you are working in one of our USAGM news networks, you have chosen to serve the world as journalists. And activism is NOT what we practice here,” Amanda Bennett, a Biden political appointee, lectured journalists last month.
In addition to VOA, she also has oversight of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
But VOA, as the most prominent of those, has drawn the most scrutiny, particularly over the Hamas label and the network’s decision not to accept the U.S. government’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist group.
Instead, VOA’s editor for news standards told employees to use terms like “militant” or “fighter” to describe those who raided Israel and slaughtered civilians, including children and children, and took hostages on Oct. 7.
“We cannot favor one side over another or do anything that feeds even the perception of bias,” Carol Guensburg wrote in an email telling employees to “avoid calling Hamas and its members terrorists, except in quotes.”
The agency at the time repeatedly pointed to its own standards guide as the reason.
In the new memo Tuesday, VOA officials pointed out that those who engage in acts of terror “are, by definition, ‘terrorists,’ so the term is safe to use in this context.
“If a group has been labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States government, as Hamas has been since 1997, your story should include that reference,” the agency leaders said.
But they warned that the term “should NEVER be ascribed to an ethnicity.”
“Labels such as ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ carry a lot of weight,” they said. “The Best Practices Guide leaves to editors and journalists the decision of which terms are most appropriate for use in an individual story. The editor’s decision is final.”