Broadcasting Board of Governors employees post devastating condemnation of top management

BBG Watch Commentary

AFGE Local 1812In a devastating expose of mismanagement at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and its flagship broadcaster the Voice of America (VOA), AFGE Local 1812, the union representing BBG’s government employees has accused the agency’s top management of deceiving the American public and the U.S. Congress and playing into the hands of America’s enemies abroad.

The article titled “A Voice of Gimmicks,” posted on the AFGE Local 1812 website, lists some of the BBG management’s decisions in recent years that have damaged taxpayer-supported U.S. international broadcasting operations:

“The elimination of the VOA Arabic service, to the immense benefit of Al-Jazeera.”

“The elimination of the Russia radio broadcasts, to the immense benefit of autocratic Russia.”

“The near-elimination of Mandarin and Cantonese broadcasts, to the immense benefit of communist China.”

The article also points out that many of the new media sites launched by BBG managers and promoted as a substitute for radio and television broadcasts have hardly any followers. Some of the new media BBG contractors employed by the BBG take in more than $400,000 a year and, in addition, spend tens of thousands of dollars traveling around the world at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. To pay these contractors, BBG executives eliminate broadcasts, downsize language services, and lay off dozens of broadcasters and journalists. Some of the new media products developed by the BBG new media team have literally only a few visitors or followers and generate practically no comments.

The article notes that the BBG management team, which includes government executives at the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), has been rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as the worst in the entire federal government. BBG Watch is reporting that despite this record, BBG, IBB and VOA managers have given themselves large bonuses in 2011, some as high as $10,000. Many of these bonuses were higher than in 2010 and included a large bonus for a top-level executive with anger management issues who has publicly embarrassed the agency. These bonuses were approved by IBB director Richard Lobo. The ultimate control over the agency rests with the bipartisan BBG board which currently has seven members.

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It used to be that the Voice of America was one of the most reliable source of news in the world. Around the clock, it would, as provided by its Charter, “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.” VOA news were supposed to be “accurate, objective, and comprehensive.” 

Today, thanks to middle managers whose goal has been to turn VOA into a “worldwide CNN”, the Voice is but a shadow of itself and pretty much an amalgam of gimmicks.

Gimmickson web sites that seek to use a dizzying amount of new technologies, but can’t be updated in a timely fashion for lack of staff. Hence a disgraceful coverage of the recent Olympic games, with US medals announced well after most other media organizations. 

Gimmickson web technologies such as Facebook or Twitter, where some services report having no more than a dozen or two dozen followers, again because while the technologies are pushed, there are no staffers to maintain them.

Gimmicks because the BBG pretends to maintain language services while eviscerating them to the point where they have become meaningless, a mere shadow of their former selves.

Gimmicksbecause while the VOA’s Cohen building is littered with advice about civility, management’s treatment of rank and file has been so vile that the Agency is rated among the worst in government.

Gimmicks because management actually makes decisions months before going through the public motion of consulting staffers. 

Gimmicksbecause while pretending to listen to Congress, management charges ahead with disastrous changes, regardless of the long list of failures in the past 10 years. Shall we name a few:

1. The elimination of the VOA Arabic service, to the immense benefit of Al-Jazeera.
2. The elimination of the Russia radio broadcasts, to the immense benefit of autocratic Russia.
3. The near-elimination of Mandarin and Cantonese broadcasts, to the immense benefit of communist China.
4. The near-elimination of worldwide English, to the benefit of the BBC, CNN and RFI.

These are but a few examples of the utterly disastrous policies maniacally followed by the Agency these past 10 years, at the expense of U.S. taxpayers who know that the VOA Charter stands, and that it is being violated on a daily basis.

We ask: when will Congress put an end to the “experiment” and save what’s left of the Voice of America?

Isn’t time for an audit of monies spent on new technologies these past 10 years, and an honest accounting of what they paid for and what they achieved, if anything?

Today, anyone going on Yahoo news or Google news – not to mention the BBC or RFI – can access news that are better presented and more up to date than anything the VOA can place on its web site. For the simple reason that the Agency has sought to pursue too many new technologies on a radio budget. In the end, as we predicted, the VOA has lost a large chunk of what used to be one of the largest radio audiences in the world, and has traded it for a web audience that can only diminish, since content cannot be sustained.

Posted: Wednesday, Aug 15, 2012
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