Voice of America Needs a Strategy, Michael Rubin in Commentary

BBG Watch Commentary

Michael Rubin (Commentary Photo)

Michael Rubin (Commentary Photo)

In an article posted on the Commentary magazine blog, Michael Rubin proposes a simple strategy for the Voice of America.

In “Voice of America Needs a Strategy,” Rubin offers this proposal:

“The Broadcasting Board of Governors should identify in each country hostile to the United States or behind an iron curtain what journalists in that country aren’t allowed to pursue.”


“Given limited resources, VOA broadcasting to that country should focus on those banned subjects. That would guarantee relevance, an audience, and invariably bolster American interests as well.”

READ MORE: Voice of America Needs a Strategy, Michael Rubin, Commentary, May 5, 2014.

We agree with Michael Rubin. This had been the strategy of many VOA language services and journalists before the current dysfunctional management structure was put in place and new executives took over running VOA and the agency. VOA services used to focus on these tabu topics from the perspective of the U.S. government, U.S. experts and journalists. Not every country to which VOA directs its news programs is as closed as Iran, but U.S. news and opinions still do not get coverage unless VOA provides it.

This strategy is still followed by a few VOA language services, including the outstanding VOA Ukrainian Service, which continues to provide hard to get news and opinions from the United States, working without adequate resources not being provided by the powerful, self-serving and constantly expanding bureaucracy.

What the Voice of America needs is a new effective management that understands VOA’s mission as described in the VOA Charter.

Rubin writes that that “VOA should not be simply an ordinary news service” and refers to its past failures in programming to Iran, with which he was familiar and wrote about it. He admits, however, that he has not followed VOA programming to Iran in recent years.

But there are more recent examples of VOA’s failures not only in news reporting to Iran but to the entire world. One such example was provided last year by a member of Congress and Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL). His observation and more recent reporting by BBG Watch confirm that there have been no significant improvements. If anything, mismanagement has gotten worse, and VOA continues to fail as a news organization.

As the Iranian people went to the polls in historic numbers, BBC Persian provided 24/7 coverage of the elections, yet PNN ( Voice of America Persian TV ) instead chose to broadcast a music program and a show about historical maps rather than offer continuous election news, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) said at a congressional hearing in June 2013.

REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL), HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS HEARING< JUNE 2013: Why? If I can just ask, is the mission so unclear? Is it so muddled that it would be impossible for the editors, for the people who run the station to know, that on the election day, when the entire world is focusing on your country, that the news network might actually cover the news taking place in that country? And if so, how do we fix that? How do we clarify the mission? Who needs to do it? Who needs to be told? What has to happen so that they actually behave like a news networks so that the Iranian people can get good, can get clear, real news from this outlet?”

These problems are not limited to the VOA Iranian Service. A 2011 study commissioned by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) from a highly respected media scholar and independent journalist in Russia, revealed that Voice of America allowed “pro-Putin bias” to creep in into its Russian news.

Earlier this year, VOA English News published a map online showing Crimea to be part of Russia.


Voice of America map shows Crimea as no longer part of Ukraine, even though the U.S. Government, which funds VOA, does not recognize Crimea as being part of Russia or as a separate territory.

Voice of America map shows Crimea as no longer part of Ukraine, even though the U.S. Government, which funds VOA, does not recognize Crimea as being part of Russia or as a separate territory.

In 2011, VOA produced a news video consisting of largely unchallenged North Korean propaganda and scenes of well-stocked stores and well-fed children of the elite in a country known to have experienced starvation. VOA executives even bragged about this video in a press release.

Link to the video on YouTube.


A few months ago, VOA produced a video showing a blood-thirsty zombie character dressed as Uncle Sam attacking a Pakistani.

Link to Video on YouTube


Between 2011 and 2014, VOA posted dozens of reports on the British royal wedding, the British royal baby christening and Canadian pop-star Justin Bieber while sometimes failing to report on important statements about Ukraine and Russia from Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry, and key members of Congress.



VOA posted online a fake interview with a Putin critic designed to discredit the democratic opposition in Russia. It was probably produced by Putin’s security services and delivered to VOA in such a way as to make it appear genuine.

VOA mistranslated comments by a former U.S. secretary of defense. This recent mistake was then exploited by Putin’s propaganda machine as the crisis in Ukraine raged.

Michael Rubin’s article refers to the bipartisan bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), its Ranking Democratic Member, which was unanimously approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week for consideration by the full House and the Senate, HR 4490, The United States International Communications Reform Act.

The bill is not perfect, but without it there will be no reform at the Voice of America.

Voice of America not only needs a strategy; it desperately needs a new management.