BBC Live Program Dominance Over VOA (Part II)
by Dan Robinson
In a commentary published a few weeks ago on BBG Watch, I discussed the continuing dominance the BBC World Service has over the Voice of America when it comes to live programming.
Events of recent days — the latest police-involved shootings of black Americans in Louisiana, and Minnesota, and the apparent revenge shootings of police officers in Dallas — offer yet another opportunity to make some comparisons.
I said previously that: “On any given day, particularly where important U.S. domestic stories are concerned, the once proud VOA news machine will be outgunned by BBC and its superior planning, technical capabilities and implementation.”
At the time, I was drawing attention to superior live programming of the BBC on memorial events for Muhamad Ali.
That was the case again involving the disturbing events in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Texas.
Let’s take a look at two live programs aired by BBC’s superb “World Have Your Say”.
On July 7th, listeners to the BBC around the world — online, on mobile, and on the radio — heard the following during the 50 minute-long program:
A live interview with a black pastor participating in a protest at the Minnesota state capital.
A live interview with a black man in Baton Rouge.
A live interview with another black man in Baton Rouge.
A live in-studio interview with a black American and apparent Louisiana native visiting London.
A live phone interview with a 17-year-old teenager in Chicago.
Live interplay between Baton Rouge and Chicago.
A live phone interview with 18-year-old black woman in PG County Maryland.
On July 8th, the same BBC program which had as its general title “What’s Next For Law and Order and Policing in the United States” had the following content:
Latest news updates on identity of shooter in Dallas, with BBC announcer noting the program would go live to Washington, DC for a statement by the U.S. attorney general.
Live phone interview with an eyewitness to Dallas events
Break for live statement by U.S. attorney general
Pre-recorded interview with an organizer of the peaceful protest in Dallas.
Live phone interview with woman visiting Dallas with family.
News break mentioning content of U.S. attorney general statement.
Live interview with female black reporter for Dallas Morning News.
Live interview with president of Texas Police Chiefs Association, and a retired New York Police Department commander.
Live interview with chairman of National Black Police Association.
Put simply, the BBC continues to demonstrate its extraordinary ability to produce live programming that gets to the heart of major developments and holds audience interest with provocative and mind-challenging content.
A review of the audio file of the VOA English half hour program ‘International Edition’ yields the following, broadcast by the Voice of America, about an hour after the last play of the BBC’s hour-long “World Have Your Say” tour de force:
Actuality of Dallas police chief
Host reading copy about Dallas events
Recorded actuality of President Obama’s statement on Dallas
Live phone interview with a VOA correspondent in Texas.
Studio interview with VOA social media reporter.
Live phone interview with VOA correspondent Ramirez in Warsaw on the NATO summit.
A recorded piece on musical career of one of key stars of Hamilton on Broadway.
A policy-office recorded “editorial” on human trafficking.
The rest of the VOA program included a segment called “Science in a Minute”, a studio Q&A with a VOA reporter in New York City on the latest jobs figures, and a canned promo for VOA’s “Encounter” program.
One of the biggest criticisms over the decades has been that VOA programs are . . . there’s no other way to say it . . . boring, and that there has been a reluctance to think out of the box when it comes to formats.
So, here we had yet another major U.S. domestic and global story, involving the hot issues of race relations and police violence in America, near the end of the final term of the first African-American president of the United States. . . .
. . . and one of VOA’s only remaining hard news programs . . . stays with its established format . . . rather than doing what it might have done — break the clock, and pull out the stops to thoroughly cover this huge story.
BBC was again presenting its global audiences with engaging interplay between Americans, LIVE — as the BBC promo says, on line, on mobile and on radio . . .
. . . VOA listeners and users got. . . an announcer reading copy, a couple of actualities, a phoner with a VOA correspondent, and patter with someone identified as VOA’s “social media guru” but little else of much value. . .
Oh, and I almost forgot: a canned promo for VOA podcasts, a science factoid, and a VOA “editorial” thrown in.
It was plodding, good enough for government stuff . . . with that unmistakable VOA “sound” I like to call the audio equivalent of the smell of old newspapers decaying in a basement.
Day after day, too much of this stuff is churned out from 330 Independence Avenue — and I say this as someone who was often a participant in it for years.
To recall the key description that emerged from the 9/11 investigation, what we had here was a “failure of imagination”.
That someone has not applied a microscope, and then a sledgehammer, to VOA’s stale, boring way of doing things — and do so a few times each year — is astounding.
Dan Robinson retired in 2014 after 34 years with the Voice of America. In addition to his White House posting as senior VOA correspondent, he served as bureau chief in Nairobi, Kenya and Bangkok, Thailand. He was also the chief of the VOA Burmese Service and the Capitol Hill correspondent.