By Dawit Ashenafi,
THE Voice of America has removed Peter Heinlein as Chief of the Horn of Africa service after investigation into allegations of deliberate distortions and professional misconduct.
VOA Director David Ensor convened the section staffers last Friday and made a surprise announcement that Heinlein was replaced by his Senior Advisor William Marsh.
The director told the gathering that Marsh would serve as an interim chief of the Horn of Africa service. It emerged that Heinlein was demoted to English to Africa with no managerial and administrative roles.
Heinlein had faced internal and external complaints of misconduct including recent allegation of deliberate distortions with regard to Azusa Pacific University’s decision to revoke an honor it had already bestowed on Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Heinlein played a key role in repeatedly crafting and broadcasting distorted and misleading reports. Some staff members of VOA Amharic had also filed complaints against Heinlein regarding ethical and administrative issues.
Journalist and activist Abebe Gellaw, who lodged formal complaints and coordinated a concerted campaign against Heinlein and Henok Semaegzer said that the measure vindicated no one but the truth. “Though such a measure is no cause for celebration, I am certain that it will greatly restore the quality and credibility of the section.”
“Journalism is a fact-based profession. Resorting to damaging fabrications and distortions is a disservice to this great profession. In this case, the facts and the subsequent events speak for themselves,” Abebe added.
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An investigation conducted by the Office of Program Review (OPR), an office under the Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG) that oversees US government’s international broadcasts, into allegations of distortions established that the contentious August 12 broadcast on VOA Amharic was incomplete. It also found that the segment was below VOA’s standard of quality journalism. VOA management reportedly looked into a number of issues including dubious sourcing and failure to properly correct glaring mistakes.
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Here is a background to the whole story:
In what appears to be a bold cover-up effort by two staff members of the VOA Amharic program, journalist Henok Semaezger and his boss Peter Heinlein recently attracted the attention of Ethiopians across the world.
The stranger-than-fiction case involves the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Azusa Pacific University (APU). It was during the Africa Leaders Summit in the United States that the California-based University had planed to organize an honorary award for PM Hailemariam Desalegn.
However, journalist Abebe Gelaw and the Global Alliance for the Rights of Ethiopians (GARE) strongly protest the decision in light of gross human rights violations in Ethiopia being perpetrated under his leadership.
The decision was then reversed as honoring a human rights violator was against APU’s core values and motto, in the first place. Seriously humiliated, PM Hailemariam returned back to Ethiopia with out his promised honorary degree. That was the fact.
However, three weeks later [on August 12], Henok Semaezger under the direct orders from his boss Peter Heinlein aired a new version of the story claiming the original news report was false. To back up his claim, he uses dubiously conflicting quotes from APU spokeswoman and some unverified and distorted facts to finally say that the event was cancelled because PM Hailemariam phoned and informed APU.
“The Prime Minister phoned and told to us [APU] he could not attend the ceremony. As he explained that he had to return to Ethiopia, the event was cancelled.”
But, how come the PM return to Ethiopia before he came to the U.S.? The APU event was slated for July 31st. He came to the U.S. on August 4, 2014. ?!?!
Alas! That ticks the strong Ethiopian diaspora to explode. What follows was a serious of protest rallies across U.S. major cities, in front of VOA building and the State Department. They vent out their outrage and call out VOA to clean its house and restore its credibility. … and here comes the verdict.