Technical and management troubles don’t cease at Voice of America, BBG

BBG Watch Commentary

New Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing may be finding out that the narrative he was presented of an outstanding, pro-digital forward-looking and proactive BBG executive staff, he inherited: SES agency managers struggling to bring technologically backward-looking Voice of America (VOA) broadcasters kicking and screaming into the 21st century — is simply not true.

Nor is it true that the BBG executive staff needs more authority, more money and more flexibility to complete its digital reform mission, or knows how to do it. If anything, Voice of America broadcasters are far more pro-digital and pro-reform than their BBG leaders in the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). VOA reporters and multimedia professionals are fed up with technical difficulties dating back years and years of broken promises from IBB executives to fix them. We need more money and more authority to fire permanent employees and replace them with poorly-paid contractors, shout longterm IBB executives, because we are visionaries and want “flexibility” to respond quickly to fast-occurring technological and political changes.

This narrative is a monumental falsehood, say VOA employees. They have not had any effective leaders for years. This is the management that has failed, making the agency dysfunctional and “practically defunct,” in the words of former Secretary of State and former BBG member Hillary Clinton. BBG can hardly engage in the “information war,” to use another term mentioned by Hillary Clinton if its broadcasters can’t be even provided with a reliable power supply and reliable digital editing facilities.

BBG/IBB managers try to blame all failures on BBG broadcasters and journalists and anybody else they can think of except themselves.

According to the management’s narrative, which was fed to Mr. Lansing by IBB executives, Voice of America broadcasters suffer from low employee morale because IBB management staff is aggressively pursuing technological transformation. Change is difficult for these employees, BBG/IBB executives say. All media enterprises suffer from low employee morale these days, they add. The last statement may be true to some extent, but the employee morale problem at the BBG is monumental by comparison. Mr. Lansing needs to fix it.

The IBB, with its combined bureaucratic and technical support budget of $250 million (34%), has not been able to solve even the most basic problems, such as emergency power supply and digital editing, as Mr. Lansing is quickly finding out. As he also found out last week, the $400 million class action lawsuit filed against BBG by VOA contract employees is a direct result of contracting and personnel policies introduced in violation of Federal rules and regulations by IBB and VOA executives he inherited. These executives claim that their contracting practices condemned by OIG were also done in the name of “progress and flexibility,” when in fact they were implemented to cover up waste and incompetence and to beef up IBB budgets and positions while at the same time cutting programs and support for the Voice of America.

John Lansing was also reportedly prevented from having informal meetings with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) rank-and-file employees when he recently visited the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague so he would not find out about management and employee morale problems at the BBG-overseen grantee media organization. Most of his meetings at RFE/RL were with the managerial staff, according to complaints that have reached BBG Watch.

This morning brought news of more technical problems at the Voice of America, although they have been so frequent that this is really no news. But at the request of a group of VOA employees we are reposting the latest announcement:

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From: Steve McClain
Sent: Monday, December 28, 2015 8:12 AM
To: VOA MEDIA TEAMS; VOA Newsroom
Cc: Technology Support Services Directorate; TSS Managers; Information Technology and CIO Managers; Terry Balazs; Andre Mendes
Subject: DaletPlus Omneon Media Grid
 
ALL:
 
Starting at about 7:49am this morning, we started experiencing a house-wide issue with the Omneon Media Grid. This is the network portion that handles high resolution video. All language services must be prepared with a backup plan for video playback. The system administrators are currently looking into the issue to see what the cause may be and how to quickly resolve the issue.
 
The Dalet application remains available but no media operations in the Control Rooms will be possible until the Media Grid is back online. Please use the emergency pre-production workflow to prepare for broadcast production.
 
We will keep you informed of any changes or updates. We apologize to our Broadcast Community for this inconvenience and appreciate your support in this matter.
 

 
Steve M. McClain
IT Specialist
Digital Media Support Division 

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SEE: Power outage disrupts Voice of America broadcasts, BBG Watch, December 7, 2015

 

SEE: Voice of America power and broadcasting outage UPDATE, BBG Watch, December 8, 2015

 

SEE: BBG employees ‘crippled’ by technical breakdowns ‘lose confidence’ in leaders, BBG Watch, December 22, 2015

 

SEE: Voice of America broadcasters fed up with technical mishaps, BBG Watch, December 24, 2015

 

SEE: $400M class action suit may signal more trouble ahead for new BBG CEO, BBG Watch, December 28, 2015

 
 
 

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