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SIPRI Yearbook 2024 Armaments, Disarmament and International Security : Trump and the Voice of America - Kate Wright
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SIPRI Yearbook 2024 Armaments, Disarmament and International Security

Trump and the Voice of America

By: Kate Wright, Martin Scott, Mel Bunce

Paperback | 11 July 2024

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The Voice of America (VOA) is the oldest and largest U.S. government-funded international media organization. In 2020, Donald Trump nominated Michael Pack, a right-wing documentarian and close friend of Steve Bannon, to lead the organization and curb what Trump saw as the network's overly negative reporting on the U.S. During the seven months that Pack oversaw the agency, more than 30 whistleblowers filed complaints against him, a judge ruled that he had infringed journalists' constitutional right to freedom of speech, and he refused to respond to a subpoena issued by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. How did such a major international public service media network become intensely politicized by government allies in such a short time, despite having its editorial independence protected by law? What were the effects on news output? And what can we learn from this situation about how to protect media freedom in the future?

Capturing News, Capturing Democracy puts these events in historical and international context--and develops a new analytical framework for understanding government capture and its connection to broader processes of democratic backsliding. Drawing from in-depth interviews with network managers and journalists, and analysis of private correspondence and internal documents, Wright, Scott, and Bunce analyze how political appointees, White House officials, and right-wing media influenced VOA changing its reporting of the Black Lives Matter movement, the presidential election, and its contested aftermath. The authors stress that leaving the VOA unprotected opens it and other public media to targeting by authoritarian leadership and poses serious risks to US democracy. Further, they offer practical recommendations for how to protect the network and other international public service media better in the future.

Industry Reviews
"A free and independent media is crucial to well-functioning societies worldwide. This book draws on a rich and comprehensive data set to analyse how Voice of America became dangerously politicized under the Trump administration -- and why VOA still remains vulnerable to government capture, while reminding us why avoiding that path is so crucial for democracies everywhere." -- Jodie Ginsberg, President of the Committee to Protect Journalists "Capturing the News unfolds like a riveting detective story, but is also theoretically sophisticated and historically contextualized, reaching out to comparisons across the globe. It offers hard-won lessons for what it will take to secure the journalistic autonomy of international public media - and for all media struggling to achieve their civic missions in an era of intensifying political and economic pressures. Policymakers take heed!" -- Rodney Benson, NYU, (lead author of How Media Ownership Matters) "Prescient and worrying, Wright, Scott and Bunce have created a timely study of the Trump-era management crisis at Voice of America. With the benefit of specially declassified documents the authors argue persuasively that the Trump years at VOA show that America's international public service media is just as vulnerable to state capture as media around the world under authoritarian rule. This book is a valuable addition to public diplomacy studies and to the literature of the twin crises in democracy and free media. It deserves to be read carefully by all who seek to sustain free media on the world's airwaves, but especially those on Capitol Hill." -- Nicholas J Cull, USC (author of Reputational Security: Refocusing Public Diplomacy for a Dangerous World) "Wright, Scott, and Bunce have written an original and timely book that engages multiple fields, including journalism studies, political communication, comparative media research, international relations, and media sociology. Meticulously researched, brilliantly historicized, and provocatively argued, this important study offers cautionary tales and key lessons for preventing the capture of international public service media systems -- and thereby protecting their vital journalistic roles as well as the democratic ideals they serve." -- Victor Pickard, University of Pennsylvania (author of Democracy without Journalism?) "This carefully researched book treats Proust fairly without at any time allowing the secondary sources -- including not only major entries in Proust scholarship, but also moral psychology, phenomenology, and philosophical scepticism -- to make of Proust's novel merely an example...This book makes a compelling argument about Proustian subjectivity with all of its (perhaps errant) truth claims, but also reminds us what makes À la recherche worth reading in the first place." -- French Studies "A fascinating book that offers a nuanced and critical view of the political firestorm that began to compromise the Voice of America's press freedom between 2020- and 2021. Especially useful is the historical framework the authors provide, which shows that both major political parties in the U.S. have tried to influence the network at different points in time. Even so, the book shows that the Trump administration posed a worrying set of threats to the VOA - threats that have not entirely disappeared in the current moment. The book is a vital read for communication scholars and media practitioners alike" -- Lindsay Palmer, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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