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Is VOA News Biased?

By · Jan 9, 2024 · 8 min read

Is VOA News Biased?

VOA (Voice of America) is an international broadcaster based in the U.S. that provides news and information in 40+ languages to more than 326 million people through digital, television, and radio platforms (VOA About Us).

Created in 1942, VOA states in its missions and values that they are “committed to providing comprehensive coverage of the news and telling audiences the truth.” As such, this article will analyze VOA News’ coverage and editorial decisions to determine whether or not they possess discernible bias in their writing. Through this analysis, we hope to provide a comprehensive answer as to whether or not VOA News is biased, and in the process examine factors that contribute to media bias in general.

How Does Biasly Rate News Sources?

Biasly’s algorithms produce bias ratings to help provide multiple perspectives on given articles. Biasly has analyzed 200,000+ news articles from more than 3,200 news sources through our A.I. technology and team of political analysts to find the most factual, unbiased news stories.

Biasly determines the degree of political bias in news sources by using Biasly’s Bias Meter Rating, in which Biasly’s team analyzes media sources’ reliability and bias and produces three scores, a Reliability Score that measures the accuracy of media sources; an A.I. Bias Score, evaluated by A.I.; and an Analyst Bias Score evaluated by political analysts. These scores are rated based on seven rating metrics including Tone, Tendency, Diction, Author Check, Selection/Omission, Expediency Bias, and Accuracy. These metrics help our analysts to determine the political attitude of the article.

Our A.I. a machine-learning system employs natural language processing and entity-specific sentiment analysis to examine individual articles and determine their bias levels. By analyzing the key terms in an article such as policies, bias phrases, political terminologies, politicians, and their nicknames, the algorithms can rate the attitude of the text.  Bias scores range from -100% and 100%, with higher negative scores being more liberal and higher positive scores being more conservative, and 0% being neutral.

Is VOA News Politically Biased?

Biasly’s rating for VOA News is based on two scores, one from its computer algorithms based on A.I., and one from our Analysts. Biasly rates VOA News with a Computer bias score of Center and an Analyst bias score of Center, meaning that they overall provide coverage from an American central political perspective. These analyst scores are based on an average of at least 15 articles each being reviewed by a liberal, moderate, and conservative analyst. So, the more articles rated by Biasly’s analyst for a particular source indicates a more accurate analyst score. As Biasly rates more articles, scores will become more accurate.

The remainder of this article will discuss ways to identify bias so you can separate opinions from facts in reporting.

Before we begin, we need to discuss bias. Bias is a natural function of humans, and we can express it both consciously and unconsciously. Bias is one of the most fundamental forms of pattern recognition in humans. This isn’t to lower the bar and say that “all things are biased,” but to explain the process in which we may come to trust certain news organizations that display patterns of coverage.

On the media’s part, there is an incentive to retain audiences, encourage them to purchase subscriptions, and rate products positively. Bias is a two-way street, people want to see news stories about things they care about, and the media needs viewers to continue their operations. This creates a positive feedback loop that influences what stories are covered and from what perspective. This also explains the actions of more liberal news organizations.

Analysis of Bias in VOA News Online Articles

According to Pew Research, Americans are following the news less closely than they used to. Since VOA News appeals to all Americans as a central source, one can wonder if this statistic has impacted their coverage and editorial decisions.

Graph of US adults closely following news

Source: Pew Research

When we look to analyze bias in news articles we can identify common metrics such as Tone, Tendency, Author, Diction and Expedency Bias, most of which are the primary metrics we’ll focus on today.

Tone is the attitude in the writing, whereas diction looks at the author’s word choices and specific vocabulary chosen. Last, the author metric examines the author and his/her personal background, determined through past articles and stances included in those alongside the author’s social media posts.

The first article we’ll look at is titled “Homeland Security Chief Cites Progress at US-Mexico Border ”, which is rated at -10% or “Center-Left” on Biasly’s News Check. The reason for this rating is due to a neutral reporting tone, along with no extreme diction and an author who has a history of neutral reporting. We will take a closer look below.

The tone is identified from the beginning of the article– without emotionally loaded language, the author establishes a slight-left lean, commending the Biden administration for their comprehensive approach:

“The Biden administration is promising a comprehensive response to youth migration now that the immediate crisis of unaccompanied minors overwhelming the U.S. Customs and Border Protection stations appears to be under control.”

In addition, the article cites Homeland Security to say that the Biden administration has reduced the number of minors held at border stations. Conflicting opinions appear later in the article in terms of policy differences between the Trump and Biden administrations:

“While Mayorkas noted that the increase in migrant arrivals at America’s southern border began last year during the final months of the Trump administration, Republicans insisted the situation has grown far more dire on Biden’s watch.”

As such, the slight left-lean tone present in the article is in accordance with Biasly’s center-left analysis of VOA. Next, the diction does not indicate favoritism concerning the issue of immigration, opting to use mild language about the issue of immigration, citing Mayorkas in “The Phenomenon of Uncontrolled Migration” or deeming migration to be “a very dynamic and fluid challenge.”

Last, author Aline Barros, who reports on immigration for VOA in Washington, DC has an open stance on immigration, as indicated by one of her Twitter posts:

“The U.S. immigration journey is complex and at times (to a lot of people) heartbreaking. Today, however, is a happy day. My mom finally became a U.S. citizen. My heart is full.”

Source: Twitter

From here, we can assume that Barros has at least a slightly liberal political bias, however, that does not impair her reporting as this article is an example of a Center-left news report with no immediate bias. Barros’ article is objective and aligns with Biasly’s ratings for VOA News as a whole with a more centered American political perspective.

Article bias can differ between articles and authors, even when they come from the same organization. In turn, this shows the importance of looking for signs of bias, even if you can’t find any obvious signs, such as in the article above. Yet, factors such as tone, diction, author, tendency, author and expedency bias are critical to examine when determining if an article has bias or not.

Consider another article from VOA News titled “Voters Reject Replacing Minneapolis Police Department” which leans slightly left, given Biasly’s “Moderately Liberal” or -28% rating, this highlights that there is an inherent bias in this article. Using the same metrics above, we can further analyze the rating of Moderately Liberal.

The tone of the article is slightly left-leaning, given a policy leaning favoring the liberal American political perspective. Further, the article opens by acknowledging sweeping police reforms since the controversial death of George Floyd:

“Sweeping police reforms have been at the center of a debate in the United States since the May 2020 death of African American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A year-and-a-half later, amid spiking violent crime rates nationwide, voters in the city rejected scrapping its police department and replacing it with a proposed Department of Public Safety.”

The sentence from above gives headway to a necessary police reform due to spiking crime rates around the country and the manner in which Floyd was treated by officers that ultimately led to his death. Additionally, the author makes assertive statements about racial injustices and police misuse of force as seen below:

“Critics of the Minneapolis police force maintained the department has a long history of mistrust, abuse and discriminatory practices.”

“Floyd’s death triggered months of anger, racial injustice protests and demands to end police brutality in the United States and around the world.”

While Republicans are in favor of a strong police force, a moderate liberal lean is used in the article, given the examples provided. Next, the diction, which at times is emotionally loaded due to its disturbing nature, further demonstrates the author’s personal left-leaning biases in the article using words such as referring to police using “excessive, sometimes deadly force against Blacks” as well as “demands for an end to police brutality” with feelings of anger and racial injustice involved.

Author Chris Simpkins joined VOA as a National Desk writer and correspondent, as he covers issues of interest to the African American community. So, in combination with tone and diction, we can assume that the author takes a liberal perspective on these views, largely because he is African American himself, and thus his community is directly impacted by George Floyd’s death.

Even though this article falls to the left of the spectrum, article bias can differ between articles and authors, even when they come from the same organization. This shows the importance of looking for signs of bias, including tone, diction, author, and omission bias in any article you read.

Analysis of VOA News Opinion Articles

Before getting into this section, we need to distinguish between opinions and reporting. Reporting is intended to be neutral by giving the readers facts and quotes from primary sources and letting the reader form their own opinions. Contrastingly, opinions are an outlet for columnists to express their personal views on issues of the day. While we saw elements of factual reporting in the analysis above, let us investigate whether or not this is the case with all of VOA News’ articles. VOA News has an “Editorials” column that can be found here.

VOA’s Editorial section does not include articles with heavily emotionally loaded titles as often as other news sources do. Rather, all of VOA’s editorials have short, unbiased titles that suggest unification between Americans, such as “Thanksgiving 2023,” “For Peace to Reign,” and “Banding Together to Fight Ransomware Attacks.”

These articles, including the ones analyzed above, only form a small section of VOA News’ overall coverage meaning that there is the potential for articles out there to have far more media bias than what has been analyzed in this specific article. With that being said, it is highly unlikely that a VOA News opinion article will have emotionally loaded language and a great deal of opinion that impairs its writing, yet this highlights why it is so important to look at signs for determining bias to form genuine reporting.

Who Owns VOA News?

VOA News first began its broadcasting in 1942, to combat Nazi propaganda with accurate and unbiased information (VOA History) as a unit of the United States Information Agency (USIA). Headquartered in Washington, D.C, they cover content not only in the United States but also in the world– with a section on the following respective parts of the world; Africa, the Americas, East Asia, Europe, Middle East, and South & Central Asia. More information about the source can be found on its Public Relations page. This source was established by President Eisenhower, pictured above.

The White House

Source: The White House

VOA News, the largest U.S. international broadcaster, provides news across the globe in a variety of 40 languages– creating content for digital, television, and radio platforms. VOA is a part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), a government agency that oversees all non-military U.S. international broadcasting. As a result, they are funded by the U.S. Congress.

How to Evaluate and Uncover Bias

It can often be difficult to tell if the news you watch is biased. If you have settled on a news channel, it’s usually because you trust the information you are gaining. Unfortunately, many trust the information they are hearing because it confirms what they already believe. This is referred to as “confirmation bias.” It is important to challenge your beliefs and get third-party verification that what you are hearing is the full story. This is why we recommend using Biasly to compare different news stories side-by-side using our bias ratings to figure out what both sides think of a political issue.

Recall that Biasly gave VOA News a Center-Left bias score, although it is important to remember that VOA News articles will differ in terms of their respective bias. Some articles, depending on their topic or author, will inherently have more or less bias than others. General news articles will be less biased than opinion articles, for example. Finally, while every article you read will have a bias to some degree, it is critical to use Biasly’s News Check to determine the bias in every article you read.


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