BBG Watch Commentary

WSJ LogoBBG Watch reported today that “in contrast to other Western broadcasters, such as BBC and Deutsche Welle, and its own Ukrainian and Russian services, Voice of America English News headlines and news reports, which appear more like commentaries than news reports, try to paint an image of the Ukrainian government in Kyiv as desperate, unpopular and near collapse. In this respect, VOA English News has become more like Al Jazeera and Russia’s RT.”

READ: Voice of America English headlines paint an image of unpopular and collapsing Ukraine government, BBG Watch, May 6, 2014.

There are many signs that the Voice of America has become a rudderless news organization, badly managed and without any effective leadership. Many of its experienced and talented reporters left the broadcaster because senior executives decimated the VOA Central Newsroom and created a hostile work environment. The VOA management also allowed millions of dollars in improper payments to contractors.

The Wall Street Journal seems to agree that the Voice of America is in a desperate state and needs a major overhaul. In an editorial tiled: “A New Voice of America: U.S. international broadcasting gets a 21st-century upgrade,” The Wall Street Journal wrote:

WSJ: “Voice of America and Radio Free Europe played an important role in winning the war of ideas against Communism during the Cold War. But more recently the U.S. international-broadcasting system has suffered mission drift: Its programs have at times run counter to U.S. foreign-policy objectives, and its massive bureaucracy is inefficient. Meanwhile, Washington’s adversaries have created slick broadcast organs, such as the Kremlin’s Russia Today and Beijing’s CCTV, to advance their strategic interests and disseminate their illiberal world views.”

The Wall Street Journal expressed its support for 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 Wall Street Journal wrote, “So it’s welcome news that the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bipartisan package of reforms designed to address long-standing governance problems in the system.” The paper also wrote, “Crucially, the legislation would also clarify the mission of Voice of America: to support U.S. foreign-policy goals.”

This re-stated mandate worries some VOA journalists, but the VOA Charter, which says that VOA news must be accurate, objective, and comprehensive is also included in the bill. The legislation actually refers to long-term U.S. foreign policy goals.

The VOA Charter already requires VOA to present and explain U.S. policies — something that the current VOA management avoided like the plague in recent years, preferring instead to post multiple reports on the British royal family, Justin Bieber, and a zombie VOA promo video for audiences in Pakistan showing a blood thirsty Uncle Sam zombie character attacking a Pakistani. (The VOA video can be seen on the BBG Watch homepage, as well as the video of Rep. Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introducing HR 4490, The United States International Communications Reform Act.) The Voice of America zombie video, in addition to numerous missed major U.S. news stories and serious mistakes, such as showing a map with Crimea being part of Russia, clearly calls for management reforms.

The Wall Street Journal talked to Jeff Gedmin, a former president of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Gedmin told the paper that VOA need not become a crude propagandistic outlet. “If you need to run an interview with a regime figure, do it—but frame it, rebut it. Make it clear that we’re not moral relativists, that we’re not sympathizers of the regime,” Jeff Gedmin told The Wall Street Journal.

READ WSJ EDITORIAL (subscription may be required): A New Voice of America: U.S. international broadcasting gets a 21st-century upgrade, The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2014.

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