As some former Voice of America journalists are listening to online VOA radio newscasts that are not being updated with new significant information for many hours while Ukraine is invaded by Russian troops, and as they look at the VOA English homepage, also not being updated with the latest news, they often refer to the time when VOA was led by outstanding executives and managers who, together with VOA employees, would never tolerate what the current leadership and management has done to news reporting and to this once splendid organization.
The ultimate irony is that the failures of these executives are reflected not only in the dismal employee morale, but above all online, in 24/7 news delivery, which has been destroyed, and on social media platforms. Their failure to manage the organization are visible to everyone in real time.
VOA journalists are dispirited and helpless. The Voice of America still has some of the wonderful and talented workforce from former years and some new outstanding employees, as well as poorly paid and exploited contractors. They are all being prevented from doing their job right by these entrenched bureaucrats.
Despite the pessimism and the oppressive atmosphere, we are still hopeful that the Broadcasting Board of Governors will learn the lessons from VOA management’s appalling failures this weekend and immediately institute much needed reforms. But the time for reform is quickly running out, as this former VOA broadcaster is pointing out with great sadness. We share her frustration and concern.
A Comment From A Former Voice of America Broadcaster
Appalling what a gaggle of bureaucrats has done in its reckless efforts to destroy the Voice of America. In lofty tones, VOA higher management proclaims that its new mission is to “engage, connect and inform people in support of freedom and democracy.” In its woeful response to the present Ukrainian crisis, the Agency has shown it does none of those things and moreover, has abandoned the heroes in Ukraine that at one time may have believed that America was indeed a beacon of freedom and democracy in the world, the last best hope for mankind.
Gone are the days when the VOA Czechoslovak Service Chief, Zdenek Sedivy, his editors and broadcasters worked three days in a row during the Dubcek crisis, some sleeping in chairs and cots, or Jozsef Takacs and his Hungarian Service reporting on the Soviet tank invasion of Hungary, or the VOA Polish Service working double/triple shifts during the Solidarity crisis and the imposition of martial law in Poland or, as late as the 1990’s, the VOA Russian Service covering the crisis in Moscow or the Baltic services reporting on the astounding events in those countries or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Reporting on those events was a joint effort between management and the broadcasters and Central News in tandem with the language services. We were all in it together. In my mind’s eye, can still hear the teletypes incessantly clacking out the updates from VOA Central News as breaking news was broadcast and translated as it happened. That was the VOA legacy and the sense of camaraderie which the present management cannot duplicate because it has drained the lifeblood out of the organization.
Now we are populated by a vast bureaucracy of Senior Executive Service people who work 9 to 5 at six-figure salaries and receive obscene five-figure bonuses while whittling down the numbers of rank-and-file broadcasters who do the actual work of the Agency.
Bureaucrats can’t be bothered to make weekend, evening and night staffing provisions during a crisis or even to report on worldwide events the way that other international broadcasters do. The professional journalism, dedication, and inspiration of all those who, during the past 70 years made VOA the great institution it was, are being slowly obliterated.
If things proceed on this trajectory, chances are that the glory days of VOA will be gone forever, a flickering memory for those of us who still remember the way we were.
As the song goes: those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end…..
It looks as if those unforgettable days may very well be gone forever. — Marie Ciliberti