6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Media Ownership in An Era of Distrust: A Conversation with the Director of Voice of America

Webcast available

Webcast Recap

Publics around the world overwhelmingly agree that the news media should be unbiased in its coverage of political issues – but many also say that their country’s media outlets fall far short of that standard. Concerted disinformation campaigns and claims of “fake news” have also come to the fore, eroding the public’s trust.

At the same time, in many countries around the world, the primary source of news comes from state-owned outlets, leading many to question whether it is actually possible to find news that is not in service of a governmental agenda.

In the context of today’s complex global media environment, how do government-funded media outlets differ from government-owned outlets? As larger corporations buy up local media outlets in the United States, are political and economic pressures leading to increased self-censorship? What are the best strategies for combatting disinformation at home and abroad, and what role does U.S. government-funded media play in the fight?

Amanda Bennett, the director of Voice of America, addressed these and related issues alongside Wilson Center President Jane Harman.

04-24-2018 Media Ownership in an Era of Distrust: A Conversation with the Director of Voice of America

Selected Quotes


Jane Harman

“For many Americans, the name ‘Voice of America’ still conjures up images of freedom-hungry people huddled around a basement radio in the Soviet Union. Of course, VOA has undergone – and so has the Soviet Union! – major transformations since then, in terms of scope, means of dissemination, and approach.”

“Like all media organizations in the world, VOA now finds itself in uncharted waters: The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reports that for the first time, the media is the least trusted institution globally... More than 60 percent of respondents said they did not know how to tell good journalism from rumor or falsehoods. Globally, nearly 7 in 10 respondents also said they worry about fake news or false information being used as a weapon.”

Amanda Bennett

"We are prevented from broadcasting in many, many parts of the world – prevented outright and impeded in many others. As a matter of fact, I think there’s hardly a place that we broadcast into where we are not impeded in some significant way. But you find – and this is the optimistic side of all of the bad statistics that we’ve heard recently [about trust in the media and disinformation] –  that people are reaching out to us. They are looking to us. They are actively pushing past things that are preventing them from finding us.”

“If you might be imprisoned for [listening to VOA content], if you’re getting in trouble for it, if you might lose your job for it, then why are people doing it in Iran, why are people doing it in North Korea, why are they doing it in China? What’s the reason if they don’t trust us? Are they doing it to look at it and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to risk jail’ and say, ‘I don’t trust this, this is really bad'? I don’t think that would be their motivation. I think they’re turning to us because they at least hope that they can trust us.”

“I do think and I do observe that people can tell the difference. If you watched RT for half an hour, watched Voice of America for a half an hour, and watched one of the Chinese broadcasts for half an hour, I’m pretty sure you can tell what’s going on, and I’m pretty sure that people in those countries can tell what’s going on, too.”

“I have a feeling that we’re all feeling super discouraged and overwhelmed by this thought of fake news and that it’s way too powerful for us, that we can’t possibly work against it. And I’m saying I don’t believe that yet. Maybe when the bots all take over and there’s millions of them and they’re botting or whatever bots do all day long – then we may have a problem.”