“The news may be good… the news may be bad, but we shall tell you the truth.”
That was the solemn pledge a Voice of America program host in New York made to listeners at the opening of the first VOA broadcast in German to war-torn Europe early in the morning on February 1, 1942.
Now, nearly eight decades later, VOA is reporting from the frontlines of yet another brutal conflict, the struggle between warring factions in northern Syria. The grim facts there cry out for a solution. This, after Turkish troops crossed the nearby border between Turkey and Syria in early October to attack Kurdish-populated cities with the intent of driving out Kurdish families, some of whom have lived there for decades. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched the invasion after notifying President Trump.
On October 11, VOA correspondent Carla Babb reported from the Pentagon that the U.S. Defense Department criticized Turkey’s military offensive into northeastern Syria as damaging to U.S.-Turkish relations and the continuing fight against the Islamic state. As U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper put it: “We are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces.” (The Syrian Kurds had performed a vital, primary, frontline role with U.S. forces behind them in abolishing the Islamic state’s control over shrinking territory last March in ISIS’s last territorial stronghold in Syria).
Recently, teams of VOA multimedia broadcasters with video cameras as well as radio microphones have been in Qamishli, northern Syria, to witness the seemingly endless humanitarian tragedy. International aid organizations are fleeing, leaving Kurdish families without essential protection, food and medicines to survive the Turkish onslaught.
THE IMPACT ON CIVILIANS OF TURKEY’S MILITARY INCURSION IN SYRIA
VOA correspondents Heather Murdock and Zana Omar have been on the scene to witness the devastating impact on Qamishli civilians of the latest fighting.
As Zana Omar reported October 11: “Panic erupted among residents of Qamishli as a suspected Islamic state (ISIS) car explosion rocked a downtown market, and Turkish troops continued their assault on the city. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said four civilians were killed and nine more injured from that explosion.”
Four days later, VOA’s Heather Murdock painted a graphic picture in words of the humanitarian impact of the Turkish offensive on the Syrian city:.
“Eight-year-old Sara hardly speaks anymore. She spends most of her time watching cartoons on a mobile phone under a rugged pink cover. One of her legs is severed above the knee, the other is broken.
“About 15 minutes after her family decided to flee the area, a bomb fell about eight meters from Sara and her three siblings. Doctors say hospitals in northeast Syria are already working beyond their capacity, as aid organizations evacuate their foreign staffs.”
Moving photos of Sara and her family taken by a VOA contract photographer accompanying its team in Qamishli greatly enhanced the video, audio and on- scene reporting by correspondents Murdock and Omar. Will the Turks be persuaded to show restraint? As VOA White House correspondent Steve Herman reported two weeks ago, the Trump administration “is loading ‘very powerful’ sanctions to impose on Turkey for its attacks on Syrian territory but it is not yet pulling the trigger.”
As a historian of U.S. international broadcasting, I can’t help wondering how famous actor William Harlan Hale who announced that first 15-minute radio-only program via VOA scratchy shortwave transmission in German on February 1, 1942 would marvel about the immediacy, reach and range of the Voice today? Transmissions on TV, radio, texts, photos, clear transmission-sound and more — in 46 languages to 276.5 million people each and every week.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More