Voice of America English News takes nearly 4 hours to report on Obama-Putin phone call

BBG Watch

According to the time stamp on the Voice of America (VOA News) English report posted online at 7:55 PM ET, Wednesday, July 6, 2016, it took VOA Central Newsroom nearly four hours to report online on U.S. President Barack Obama’s telephone call to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin after the White House issued a press release on the phone call between the two leaders. The White House press release came out at about 4:00 PM ET.

More than four hours after VOA had posted its much-delayed report, Obama, Putin Discuss World Hot Spots in Phone Call,” it is showing only 3 Facebook “Recommends” on the VOA website as of Thursday, July 7, 12:24 AM ET. The VOA report is not open for comments, but those VOA reports that are get very few comments

The Voice of America has new director Amanda Bennett and new deputy director Sandy Sugawara. VOA is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which is run by its CEO John Lansing. He has been on the job since September 2015. It appears that management practices have not changed drastically. Many VOA managers and journalists are now taking their summer vacations, but the VOA Newsroom is poorly staffed even at the best of times.

Over the years, the BBG and VOA bureaucracy has eliminated numerous journalistic positions while greatly expanding its own ranks. Congress wants to reform the agency, but the bureaucracy is resisting some of the drastic reforms proposed in the bipartisan bill H.R. 2323.

Several days ago, the VOA Newsroom was behind BBC, Deutsche Welle, Russia’s RT and most other international and U.S. media outlets in reporting the death of famous Romanian-Jewish-American writer, activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. In addition to being late, VOA’s initial short report, which was then not updated for many hours, included no U.S. reactions to Wiesel’s death, while DW and RT reports were much longer and did include U.S. reactions.

One insider sent this comment to BBG Watch:

“Blame an understaffed Saturday night newsroom with only one writer and one editor on duty working with a piece of junk Dalet system that never fails to fail. Those who were there did the best they could with almost no resources with which to work. Considering his age and prominence, there should have been a Wiesel obit already in the can and ready to go.”

We could not confirm whether the Dalet digital processing and storage system, which has been breaking down regularly over the years and is making VOA broadcasters miserable, was indeed responsible for some of the delay and inadequate reporting on the Elie Wiesel story. It looks to us more like systemic understaffing due to years of mismanagement and the failure of leadership, as well as the lack of management planning to have a proper obituary of a famous American ready for posting.

The same delay, and indeed a much longer one on an important political news, has occurred again with the Obama-Putin phone call story late Wednesday afternoon. The VOA Newsroom is understaffed not only on weekends but also during the week after Washington business hours. VOA is now basically a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday operation with minimal staffing at other times. Yet its budget is $777 million (FY 2017 Budget Request) and it has thousands of federal employees as well as poorly paid and generally poorly treated contractors. In addition to VOA, BBG and their enormous bureaucracies, the budget also covers Radio and TV Marti to Cuba, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). RFE/RL, RFA, and MBN are all non-federal, grantee entities of the BBG. Their effectiveness has also been greatly diminished by the BBG bureaucracy over the years. Some legislative proposals call for the complete abolishment of the BBG and its bureaucratic structures.

The VOA Russian Service did a little better on the Obama-Putin phone call story on Wednesday. It took the Russian Service only one hour and 23 minutes to post a short report on the phone call. The time-stamp on the VOA Russian report was 5:23 PM ET.

Here is an e-mail from the White House Press Office showing that the press release about the Obama-Putin phone call was indeed sent out at 4:00 PM ET.

From: White House Press Office
Date: Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 4:00 PM
Subject: Readout of the President’s Call with President Vladimir Putin of Russia
To: [deleted]

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 6, 2016

Readout of the President’s Call with President Vladimir Putin of Russia

President Obama spoke today by phone with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to discuss President Putin’s June 20 meeting with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Serzh Sargsian of Armenia regarding the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. President Obama expressed his readiness to intensify efforts together with Russia and with France, as co-Chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Group, to achieve a comprehensive settlement to the conflict.

On Syria, President Obama emphasized his concerns over the failure of the Syrian regime to comply with the Cessation of Hostilities in Syria. President Obama stressed the importance of Russia pressing the Syrian regime for a lasting halt to offensive attacks against civilians and parties to the Cessation, noting the importance of fully recommitting to the original terms of the Cessation.

The Presidents confirmed their commitment to defeating ISIL and the Nusrah Front, al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria. President Obama also stressed the necessity for progress on a genuine political transition to end the conflict in Syria, as well as sustained humanitarian access, and expressed his support for the efforts of UN Special Representative for Syria Staffan de Mistura to make progress on those efforts.

On Ukraine, President Obama urged President Putin to take steps to end the significant uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine and stressed the urgent importance of moving forward with full implementation of the Minsk agreements.

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