BBG Watch Commentary
Hillary Clinton when she was U.S. Secretary of State called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) (FY2017 Budget of $777 million) a “practically defunct“ federal agency. She made this statement in 2013. Today, the agency is even more dysfunctional than it was in 2013, with the Voice of America (VOA) translating a hit video in which Donald Trump, now President-elect, was called a “pig” and other nasty names and posting the subtitled video online without bothering to ask Mr. Trump or any of his supporters for a rebuttal, as under the U.S. law the Voice of America is required to do by the VOA Charter. (Several days later, after criticism from BBG Watch, VOA management removed the video from Facebook.)
VOA broadcast similar hit pieces against Bernie Sanders, although without the use of harsh invectives.
The inexperienced VOA leadership was so confident of Mrs. Clinton victory that it ordered two television programs about her as the next U.S. president to be pre-written before the Tuesday vote while failing to have a similar program ready about Donald Trump.
The day after the election, VOA director Amanda Bennett wrote a thank-you note to the staff in which she failed to acknowledge that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. This Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist did not even mention Trump’s name.
No other VOA director, as far as we know, had written such a post-election note to staff without mentioning the winning candidate and the next president of the United States.
Ms. Bennett’s immediate boss, BBG CEO and director John Lansing, has no prior experience in U.S. government operations, international media, intercultural communications, U.S. foreign policy, or U.S. public diplomacy. His background is in cable entertainment TV. The Broadcasting Board of Governors agency and the Voice of America have never been in a state of greater chaos and lack of leadership as they are now under the Lansing-Bennett team.
Examples of missed news stories or one-sided reports can be found daily in Voice of America online output and programs.
On Friday, November 11, which was a federal holiday for many BBG and VOA executives, managers, and employees, President Obama’s White House issued a statement at 2:35 PM ET on the anniversary of the Holodomor (Ukrainian: Голодомо́р, “Extermination by hunger” or “Hunger-extermination”) also known as the Terror-Famine and Famine-Genocide in Soviet-ruled Ukraine in 1932-1933.
In a written statement, the White House Press Secretary noted that “This month, the United States joins in solidarity with Ukrainian people around the world in remembrance of the victims of the Holodomor, one of the most horrific man-made tragedies in modern history.” The statement also said that “The Ukrainian-American community and friends of the Ukrainian people have worked hard to ensure that the memory of those who suffered during the Holodomor live on as we collectively seek to build a better, freer, and more just world.”
It may be hard to believe but our online search has shown that the Voice of America English News Service, the Voice of America Ukrainian Service and the Voice of America Russian Service had nothing on their websites on the White House Holodomor statement as of Sunday, 11:00 PM ET.
But it gets worse. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is also overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors and funded by U.S. taxpayers. Our search has shown that as of Sunday, 11:00 PM ET, RFE/RL English News Service and RFE/RL Russian Service also had nothing online on the Obama White House Friday statement on the Ukrainian Holodomor.
Only the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service posted a report on the White House Holodomor statement of November 11 but not until 6:40 PM November 13, which is two days after the statement was issued.
The White House statement on the 1930s genocide in Ukraine, although the statement did not use this term, was not major news. We understand that. We do not expect every U.S. commercial media to report on this and other White House anniversary statements on Stalin’s crimes, but U.S. taxpayers definitely expect the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty to report promptly on such official U.S. government pronouncements.
How else can the U.S. win against Putin’s propaganda and disinformation, which relies heavily on distorting the historical record about the Soviet Union and more recent Russian policies?
Why should U.S. taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the BBG every year, if the Voice of America under its current leadership is committing unprecedented violations of the VOA Charter while missing such White House statements relating to Russia and Ukraine?
Why should U.S. taxpayers fund Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, if RFE/RL News Service and RFE/RL Russian Service do not report on such White House statements?
Why was the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service two days late in its reporting on the U.S. government’s statement on the Holodomor?
Frankly, we don’t expect much from BBG CEO John Lansing, his Russia advisor Jeffrey Trimble, VOA Director Amanda Bennett, Deputy VOA Director Sandy Sugawara, and RFE/RL President Thomas Kent, but audiences in Russia, in Ukraine and elsewhere certainly deserve better from the U.S. government’s information service.
In his successful private sector career, John Lansing was in charge of Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, DIY, and Cooking Channel. Amanda Bennett most recently has been a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. Sandy Sugawara most recently served as managing editor for Trove, a now defunct digital news startup owned by The Washington Post/Graham Holdings Company. Amanda Bennett’s husband, Donald E. Graham is Chairman and CEO of Graham Holdings Company. Thomas Kent joined Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in June 2016 after a career of more than 40 years at The Associated Press. Some of the VOA and RFE/RL executives and managers in the past were recruited from among former CNN managers and journalists.
Ironically, RFE/RL’s English news homepage prominently features its special photo gallery titled: “My Ukraine: Memory & Identity.” Some of the photos show smiling and relatively well-off Ukrainians in the later years under the Soviet Union. There is only a brief reference to the Holodomor in the RFE/RL text which accompanies the photos. Overall, the essay portrays a pleasant if not prosperous life for many of the families during the Soviet era. It is an interesting multimedia presentation, but it is far from complete when it comes to the entire history of the entire nation. It may be accurate when it comes to individual stories, but it is not an accurate picture of Ukraine as a nation in the turbulent 20th century. The RFE/RL photo gallery does not show dead and starving Ukrainian peasants under Stalin’s rule in the 1930s, such as the archive photo below from Wikipedia.
American taxpayers deserve better results for their money going to the BBG, VOA, and RFE/RL — hundreds of millions of dollars every year — more than the U.S. government spent on propaganda (in inflation adjusted dollars) during World War II and even during some periods of the Cold War.
Will the Trump White House tolerate such dismal performance by the BBG, VOA, and RFE/RL?
We doubt that the Trump White House will be as tolerant or as uninterested as the Obama White House.
We suspect hat most of these current top BBG, VOA and RFE/RL executives are likely to leave or be replaced in the next few months.
President Obama has already promised to replace current BBG Chairman Jeff Shell who had recommended John Lansing for the CEO position. Anticipating Hillary Clinton’s victory, the White House proposed Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel to replace Shell. After Trump’s win, the BBG — assuming it even survives — will have a Republican chairman nominated by President Trump. All of the current BBG members are serving on expired terms.
The Voice of America was not always as bad as it is now, although it was always mismanaged from the moment the BBG replaced the United States Information Agency (USIA) as VOA’s parent organization. VOA used to report promptly on such White House statements before, even under former BBG boards and even under the previous VOA director David Ensor. But already under John Lansing’s leadership (Amanda Bennett did not join VOA until a few months later), the Voice of America had ignored the Obama White House statement on the Holodomor anniversary in 2015.
SEE: Voice of America ignores White House statement on Holodomor genocide in 1930s Ukraine, as does RFE/RL, BBG Watch, November 8, 2015.
ALSO SEE HERE HOW THE VOICE OF AMERICA VIOLATED ITS CHARTER WITH BIASED REPORTING ON THE 2016 U.S. ELECTION CAMPAIGN.
NOVEMBER 11 WHITE HOUSE STATEMENT ON THE HOLODOMOR – NOT REPORTED BY VOA AND RFE/RL
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 11, 2016
Statement by the Press Secretary on the Holodomor
This month, the United States joins in solidarity with Ukrainian people around the world in remembrance of the victims of the Holodomor, one of the most horrific man-made tragedies in modern history. Eighty-three years ago, more than three million people in Ukraine died as the result of the merciless policies of Joseph Stalin. Through the deliberate seizure of Ukrainian land and crops, the Soviet Union caused widespread starvation. Under siege and without access to food, Ukraine – once Europe’s breadbasket – turned into a land of immeasurable human suffering.
As Ukrainians have proven to the world time and again, the human spirit is indomitable. Even during the darkest times, the Ukrainian people have continued with dignity the struggle for peace, freedom, and democracy. Today, faced with new threats to these values, Americans stand together with Ukrainians as they bravely defend their territory and democracy. The Ukrainian-American community and friends of the Ukrainian people have worked hard to ensure that the memory of those who suffered during the Holodomor live on as we collectively seek to build a better, freer, and more just world.
SERACH RESULTS FOR VOA AND RFE/RL ENGLISH, UKRAINIAN, AND RUSSIAN SERVICES