Is Voice of America talking down to foreign audiences?

BBG Watch Commentary

Compared to BBC, Deutsche Welle (DW), Radio France Internationale (RFI) and even Russia’s RT and SPUTNIK, if you ignore the Kremlin propaganda element for the last two, many Voice of America (VOA) English news reports are much more simplistic than what other major international media outlets produce. VOA news reports are sometimes preachy. Some VOA reporters and announcers talk down to foreign audiences as if they were composed of elementary school children lacking basic human knowledge. A few of VOA reports and programs appear downright disrespectful to the audience.

Only once in a while can one find a well-written, in-depth analysis of U.S. 2016 election issues on the main VOA English News website such as this one: “Election 2016: The Candidates’ Foreign Policy” | VOA.

While VOA still has some good reporters, no one is enforcing any standards. Quality varies and is generally poor. Reporters who lack good voices and good diction are allowed to present their reports in a boring, tired manner. The biggest problem, however, is the overall appearance of amateurish, good-enough-for-government-work production and lack of awareness of what the foreign audience wants and expects from VOA. Judging by very few readers’ comments on the main VOA English website, there is practically no audience engagement. Some VOA English News reporters lack sufficient knowledge of history and international politics to be able to spot Kremlin propaganda and report news without falling for Russian disinformation campaigns.

Journalistic and production standards at the Voice of America were much higher before the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) was created in 1999 as the oversight agency. It’s been a downward slide ever since.

In the opinion of one former Voice of America foreign correspondent, the VOA video report on 2016 U.S. election campaign embedded below “amounts to spoon feeding those ‘poor dumb audiences’ over there…who likely already listen, and view, the BBC with its superior programming — which does not attempt to talk down to people.”

Here is a link to BBC’s U.S. election page with truly superior coverage:

US & CANADA | US Election 2016 | BBC

 
Compare the BBC page to VOA’s “2016 USA VOTES” page. The VOA page looks like something designed by high school students for their first journalism class, as does the rest of VOA English website. It’s embarrassing.

2016 USA VOTES | VOA

 
[The VOA “2016 USA VOTES” was not even loading early this morning. VOA suffers from constant IT problems.]

Compare this BBC report, “Does America need to change how it elects its presidents?” | BBC, or any other BBC U.S. election report to almost any report on the VOA’s “2016 USA VOTES” page, and BBC comes out far ahead.

Check out this Deutsche Welle report “The Iowa battle: winning over the polls and the people” | DW. Deutsche Welle does not treat the audience as a bunch of poorly educated foreigners. “Made for minds” is DW’s new slogan.

Here is one of these new simplistic U.S. pre-election coverage videos from Voice of America. No doubt, each one cost U.S. taxpayers a few hundred dollars to produce.

VOA

 

How America Elects: Polls and Debates | Voice of America

 
Published January 20, 2016

VOA: “Now that you’ve entered the presidential race, how can you tell if you’re succeeding? One way is through polls, which measure public opinion.”

Comment: Really VOA? It’s embarrassing.

Does Voice of America think that foreign audiences don’t know what public opinion polls are?

Even if for some foreign visitors to the VOA site English is not their native language, they probably know more foreign languages and are better educated than most Americans. They know that public opinion polls can sometimes measure a candidate’s popularity with some accuracy, unless it’s Russia, Russian-occupied Crimea, Iran or China, where people may be afraid to tell pollsters what they really think.

I guarantee you will not see anything like this on the BBC site, or anyone else’s site,” a former senior VOA correspondent told us. Just because someone is not a fluent English speaker does not mean they are undereducated.

FORMER SENIOR VOA CORRESPONDENT:VOA is the only place where people still think it’s our manifest destiny to instruct poor third worlders in the intricacies of the American electoral system [rather than explain it]. This video does not even appear to have been produced for teaching English. It appears directly on the “2016 USA Votes” page, or whatever that main election page is called. So, it’s for general consumption.”

 

 
The video embedded above was not produced for learning English. It was posted on VOA’s main English news website.

VOA Learning English team often produces better and more intelligently written news than the VOA English Newsroom. It is also understandable that VOA programs designed for learning English would use simple English words and phrases. While VOA Learning English programs are generally excellent and often better than regular VOA English content, some VOA Learning English hosts have also developed a bad habit of talking down to their audiences.

A VOA BROADCASTER: “This is another example of what it’s come down to for the place. Voice of America journalists are proud of a lot of the work that VOA Learning English does. But this kind of video is a perfect example of what is left for VOA, which is to over-simplify things for an audience that really does not need it.”

Just because some people are trying to learn English does not mean that they are small children.

You would never see the BBC doing this. Only VOA, trying to squeeze every ounce out of the last parts of the organization that seem to matter to any extent,” a former VOA correspondent said.
 

VOA

 

Join VOA LE for a Chat With Men in Space!

 

 
A comment left under this VOA video by someone from the United States also shows that VOA has a poor record of updating its site, providing useful links and making it easy for audiences to find what they are looking for.

So in addition to talking down to the audience, VOA’s websites are “incredibly basic.” That’s also an embarrassment.

by: Bob Hurley from: USA
 
01/20/2016 2:28 PM
 
“So…WHERE IS THE INTERVIEW?? 5 minutes into the interview I realized I had to copy and paste the text in your article. Very poor execution on the website. Hyperlinks are incredibly basic. the video promo should have been replaced with the Live Feed. Period. Why make people run all over your site searching for what they want to see, ultimately missing it.”

We won’t even comment on these two Voice of America video reports.

What do they say about what VOA thinks of its audiences abroad and how it treats them?

Voice of America “WWII Victory Flyover Reaction” – VOA Correspondents Jim Malone and Andre Denesnera comment on the WW II Victory Flyover on the National Mall, May 8, 2015.
 

 

 
 
 

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