Federally Funded VOA Off the Air in Baghdad
NOAH ADAMS, host:
Voice of America, funded by the U.S. government, has had a reduced presence in Baghdad for the past six months. The agency's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Alisha Ryu, left Iraq after she said she was targeted by car bombers and gunmen. Ryu had just broken a big story about witnessing U.S. forces removing emaciated Iraqi detainees from a secret prison. She reported the prisoners had been tortured possibly by the Shiite militia. David Jackson is the Director of the Voice of America.
Mr. DAVID JACKSON (Director, Voice of America): She received a personal threat some time after that, which was credible enough that we thought it was prudent to withdraw her from Iraq for a short period of time until we thought it was safe to send her back in.
ADAMS: So you have nobody there at all now?
Mr. JACKSON: Well, that - that's not really true. We actually have seven stringers in Iraq, including in Baghdad, who are - have been reporting for us all along.
ADAMS: Most of them Iraqi journalists?
Mr. JACKSON: Yes, like most western news organizations; we all rely a lot on Iraqi reporters to supplement our reporting.
ADAMS: Now, do you come into the office every week and start looking at it again, looking at the budget numbers, looking at the security issues about opening a bureau?
Mr. JACKSON: Yes, and it's not a budget problem. We had first-rate security for Alisha Ryu, who was our reporter there. What we look at most of all, though, is when we can send Alisha back in. And, in fact, we have plans to send someone else in from Washington fairly soon.
ADAMS: As you know, the Bush administration has been saying that conditions indeed are improving in Baghdad, that it has become, in many ways, more safe to move around the city. But if a government-sponsored news agency doesn't feel safe enough to operate there, couldn't you argue that that undermines the White House assertion?
Mr. JACKSON: Well, no. I'm a journalist and I'm focused on the journalism of this story, and our feeling is that we had a specific and unique threat against one of our employees. And we did something that any journalistic organization would do, and that is to think first to the safety of that employee. It doesn't mean that other employees can't work there. Alicia's eager to get back, and we're hoping to send her back in soon.
ADAMS: But what then would be the signal that things are okay? Would it be a stand down from the insurgency in some sort of situation that would indicate a truce and a reduced threat?
Mr. JACKSON: I'm - I'm not looking for, you know, the conditions there to change so much as I'm looking for the condition for Alisha Ryu. When our security service says that her personal situation would be safer, then she will go back in.
We are - we are constantly looking at what we need to get out of Iraq that we're not already getting. We're looking at other individuals who can go in there with a camera or with a microphone, depending on whether we're supplying our radio or our TV broadcast.
The situation in Iraq has been dangerous for a long time and, you know, I think that there's no surprise that it's going to be a dangerous place for journalists, because terrorists have shown that they are not afraid to target journalists. And they've found that it's very productive for them to kill journalists because they've discovered that the world does not end.
And as a journalist myself whose worked in the private sector for thirty years - most of that with TIME Magazine - I think it's a terrible threshold that we've crossed when terrorists can attach journalists with impunity. But that's the world we're operating in, and it shouldn't cause us not to cover stories. And, as far as VOA's concerned, it hasn't stopped us from covering that story.
ADAMS: David Jackson, the Director of the Voice of America speaking with us from Washington. Thank you, sir.
Mr. JACKSON: Thank you, Noah.