Voice of America news failures offer audience gaining opportunities for Al Jazeera, state-funded media in Russia and China

BBG Watch Commentary

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In an op-ed for Digital Journal, former Voice of America (VOA) executive Ted Lipien pointed out that Russia’s state broadcaster, the Voice of Russia, offered more extensive coverage of President Obama’s meeting with Pakistani pro-girls’ and women’s rights and education campaigner Malala Yousafzai than did the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America. VOA was late in posting its short news report, which lacked both critical information and balance and did not include a White House photo from the meeting. The VOA newsroom and the VOA web team were alerted to the White House meeting by a VOA correspondent and given all the information well ahead of time but failed to post a comprehensive and journalistically solid news story.

Lipien also pointed out that another U.S. taxpayer-funded international media outlet, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), is doing well in its news reporting after recent management reforms.

Malala says she’s no Western puppet, she’s ‘daughter of Pakistan’, Voice of Russia, October 13, 2013.

What Ted Lipien’s article did not sufficiently explore is how the Voice of Russia, but particularly another state-supported Russian multimedia outlet Russia Today, are taking advantage of the world’s appetite for American news while capitalizing on VOA’s news failures, as do sometimes Al Jazeera and China’s state-run international broadcasters. BBC always provides extensive coverage of U.S. news and beats VOA by enormous margins in social media engagement and all other audience reach indicators.

It is hard to tell to what extent it is part of a conscious effort on the part of these international broadcasters to take advantage of the Voice of America being “dysfunctional” and “defunct” in news reporting about America. These terms were used by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with reference to U.S. government-funded international media outreach.

It may be that state-supported foreign media outlets are not yet fully aware of the potential for gaining large audiences for American news at the expense of VOA because of VOA’s management crisis.

But when BBG Watch looked at the news that VOA either missed, was late in reporting, or provided only superficial and unbalanced coverage — most of the time such news was U.S.-related and often U.S. Government-related.

Frankly and without any disrespect to Russia and President Putin, international audiences are still more interested in the U.S. than in Russia and in President Obama than in President Putin. VOA has failed to meet this demand with accurate, balanced and comprehensive news coverage.

It was clear to us that on U.S.-related news reports — where VOA failed in its reporting and got barely a few Facebook “Likes,” very few Tweets and practically no comments from online readers — Russia Today, BBC, and Al Jazeera were getting thousands and even tens of thousands Facebook “Likes” and hundreds of Tweets and comments for their far more comprehensive reports. Even U.S.-related news reports from Russia Today and Al Jazeera that lacked balance but included detailed information, videos and photos received high social media engagement scores.

It seems to us that Russia Today and Al Jazeera may not be yet fully aware of the opportunity to take advantage of VOA’s management-related news reporting troubles, but they are certainly displacing VOA online and in social media by phenomenal margins. They manage to do this even with their sometimes biased and anti-American news reporting from the United States, although some of their news reports are professionally very good and without obvious bias.

We don’t want to encourage biased and anti-American news reporting, but the Voice of America’s implosion is presenting Russia, China and other countries with an opportunity to report either way and to gain an international audience for their news reports from the United States.

What makes us think that some of these foreign media outlets are not yet fully aware of this opportunity is the fact that sometimes Al Jazeera and Russia Today fail to report on U.S. news that the Voice of America ignores or downplays. BBC, on the other hand, is highly consistent in its U.S. news coverage and beats VOA every time.

China CCTV Special Page on SF Crash 1Like Al Jazeera and Russia Today, China’s state-run international broadcasters are also not consistent in their U.S. news coverage, but they did step in when a South Korean airliner crashed in San Francisco in July 2013, and the Voice of America had no original news reporting on the crash for several days. There were a number of Chinese passengers on board of the aircraft.

Russia Today also offered quicker and far better coverage at that time than VOA.

Surprisingly, Al Jazeera and Russia Today failed to capitalize on VOA’s failure to properly cover Malala’s visit to the United States and her meeting with President Obama.

The less known Voice of Russia, however, had good and interesting reports online on Malala, her image in Pakistan, her attempts to show that she is not a puppet of the West, and her meeting with Obama.

The Voice of America English-language news report did not quote from President Obama’s statement on his meeting with Malala, the Voice of Russia report did.

While for some reason Russia Today, the far more popular Russian state-run international broadcaster, did not cover the Obama-Malala meeting story, it had other reports about Malala.

Russia Today still beats VOA by thousands or even tens of thousands of Facebook “Likes” for nearly every U.S. news story it does post. For example, Russia Today posted an unbiased news report that Malala won the Anna Politkovskaya Human Rights Award. The VOA English news website had nothing on this. The Russia Today report got over 4,000 Facebook “Likes” for its Malala-Politkovskaya Award online news report, vastly more than VOA can usually get for any of its news stories, even major news reports from Washington.

Pakistani schoolgirl shot by Taliban receives human rights Politkovskaya Award, Russia Today, October 5, 2013.

If foreign state-funded media outlets for international audiences have not yet fully realized by now that they can completely displace the Voice of America online, especially after Secretary Clinton’s comments, they will certainly figure it out sooner or later. As it is, they are doing extremely well and have already vastly outperformed VOA in all social media platforms.

Ted Lipien pointed out in his op-ed that top executives at the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) do not think that they have any problem. It is therefore the duty of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to step in and fix the problem.

American taxpayers, of course, should be greatly concerned about the Voice of America’s news failures which allow countries such as Russia, China and even Iran to take advantage of these failures and to offer their own sometimes biased and sometimes anti-American news reporting because the appetite for U.S.-related news is very high around the world and will continue to be that way.

To understand why accurate, balanced, comprehensive and solid Voice of America reporting is needed around the world, one must read this outstanding analysis in USC Center on Public Diplomacy blog by Rob Asghar.

MALALA IS A RARE LEADER—BUT PAKISTANIS AREN’T FOLLOWING by Rob Asghar

OCT 11, 2013

“If you’re of Pakistani origin, as I am, and if you long to see that embattled country right itself, the saga of Malala Yousafzai can drive you to tears. Not just tears of joy for the way she was a favorite for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Not just tears for how she captured the imagination of Westerners who want to believe the best about Pakistan’s hopes and prospects. More than anything, they are tears of frustration, caused by the manner in which many Pakistanis reject her.”

READ MORE

On the Obama-Malala meeting, China’s CCTV posted quickly a Xinhua news report that puts VOA English news report to shame. The CCTV-Xinhua report was both comprehensive and balanced.

We re-post both reports, VOA’s and CCTV’s, below for comparison.

The CCTV-Xinhua report even mentions President Obama’s Proclamation on the International Day of the Girl, which the Voice of America failed to cover.

Note that VOA does not indicate the time when its reports are put online, which hides the fact that this VOA news item and many others are often posted with long delays, while other important news developments are not covered at all by the Voice of America, including U.S. news and U.S. government-related news.

Obviously, CCTV and Xinhua would not offer an unbiased news story if, instead of Malala, it had to be for example about blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng or any other topic considered sensitive by the Chinese communist government. But, as it happens, the Voice of America English website ignored a recent news about Chen Guangcheng receiving an academic fellowship from the Catholic University of America and the whole controversy over pressure from Beijing against American institutions helping Chinese dissidents.

Fortunately, in this case, the VOA Chinese website had its own original reporting and offered an excellent and comprehensive report. However, on the Obama-Malala news story, most VOA foreign language websites either ignored it or provided incomplete and unbalanced reports based on the incomplete and unbalanced report on the VOA English-language website. Unfortunately, this happens almost every time when VOA central news reporting fails, which is now a daily occurrence.

CCTV-Xinhua

CCTV English

Obamas salute Malala’s inspiring work on girls’ education

10-12-2013 10:28 BJT

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) — U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan at the White House on Friday, thanking her for her “inspiring and passionate work” on girls’ education in Pakistan.

“The United States joins with the Pakistani people and so many around the world to celebrate Malala’s courage and her determination to promote the right of all girls to attend school and realize their dreams,” the White House said in a statement.

Malala, 16, a nominee for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, is an activist advocating girls’ education in Pakistan and a survivor of an assassination attempt by the Taliban last year.

She was shot in the head and neck by Taliban gunmen on her way home from the school on Oct. 9, 2012, in her home town of Mingora, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. She survived the assassination and recovered from her wounds later in a hospital in Britain. Her story has sparked national and international outpouring of support, though Taliban threatened to kill her and her father.

Malala said after the White House meeting that she was honored to meet with Obama and the First Lady, whom she thanked for the U.S. support to education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees.

However, Malala expressed concern about the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, which she said “are fueling terrorism” because they killed innocent victims and led to resentment among Pakistanis.

“If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact,” she said, while calling for greater U.S.-Pakistan cooperation on promoting education of girls in her home country.

The Obamas’ meeting with Malala came on the day when Obama signed a proclamation to mark the International Day of the Girl.

“Across the globe there are girls who will one day lead nations, if only we afford them the chance to choose their own destinies. And on every continent, there are girls who will go on to change the world in ways we can only imagine, if only we allow them the freedom to dream,” Obama said in the proclamation.

“We salute Malala’s efforts to help make these dreams come true,” the White House statement said.

VOA News

Voice of America

Obama Meets Malala Yousafzai

VOA News
October 11, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama has met at the White House with Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, who was attacked by the Taliban for her efforts to promote education for girls.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama met the 16-year-old on Friday, the same day the Nobel committee awarded its Peace Prize.

Malala was seen as a favorite to win the award; however, the prize went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is currently working to destroy Syria’s arsenal.

The White House says the president wanted to thank Malala for her work on behalf of girls’ education in Pakistan.

Malala was 11 when she became an activist for women’s education, freedom, and self-determination in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where the Taliban banned women from attending school in 2009.

She began a blog, writing under a pseudonym, and quickly became a prominent voice for women’s rights.

Malala and a classmate were shot while returning home from school in the Swat Valley last year, in an attack that brought her campaign for children’s education to the global forefront.

In an interview Friday with the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service, Malala said she has been given a second life for the cause of education.

On Thursday, Malala won the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Malala’s new book, I am Malala, was published earlier this week.

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