BBG Watch Commentary

VOA Website Screenshot 3-8-14 10.45AM EST
VOA Website Screenshot 3-8-14 10.45AM EST

VOA Homepage Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 10.03AM ESTAfter nearly all major international media outlets had reported on the missing Malaysian Airlines plane and Voice of America (VOA) did not, VOA has improved its coverage in response to criticism, but web management problems remain as do top executives who have damaged VOA news reporting, ignored journalists’ complaints for years, and forced some of the best ones to leave with bullying tactics, sources told BBG Watch.

Initially, VOA was not only late in reporting that the plane was missing, but when it did, it failed to include it in its “TOP NEWS” stories, and even when a headline appeared, the story was not put on the VOA Asia News page for well over an hour, possibly much longer.

VOA’s coverage of the plane story, however, has improved considerably since last night, possibly in response to criticism from BBG Watch and frustrated VOA correspondents who have to work without sufficient resources under bad management.

VOA sources told us that last Thursday and Friday some VOA executives discussed among themselves how BBG Watch reporting of their failures to arrange for adequate coverage of news events in Ukraine and U.S. responses to them makes them look bad to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), VOA’s oversight federal board. Subsequently, however, they still failed Friday to arrange for proper multimedia coverage of President Obama’s special statement on Ukraine. It took approximately 20 minutes from the time the president started speaking and 15 minutes from the time he finished to post a VOA first headline about his statement and only one sentence about what he said was posted and not augmented for a long time.

It seems, however, that remaining few VOA Newsroom staffers and VOA correspondents took the handling of the plane story into their own hands early this morning while executives were at home. After a late start, VOA posted this comprehensive correspondent report, Families Voice Frustration in Wait for Word on Vanished Malaysian Airlines Flight, VOA, William Ide, Rebecca Valli, March 8, 2014.

VOA also posted rather quickly this update as its first news homepage story, Oil Slicks Spotted in Search for Missing Malaysia Airliner, VOA, March 8, 2014.

But in another example of mismanagement under VOA executive editor Steve Redisch, “TOP STORIES” on VOA homepage was still showing: NO TRACE OF MISSING MALAYSIA AIRLINER for at least two hours after the story of oil slicks appeared and was still there as of 11:15 AM EST. This headline was finally changed at about 11:30 AM EST, but as of 11:40 AM EST, “VOA Asia News” page still has not been updated.

VOA journalists have complained about these management problems for years to Steve Redisch and also more recently to VOA Director David Ensor, but their complaints have been ignored.

Last year, Voice of America embarrassed itself by its poor coverage of the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport. VOA had posted online six news reports in October 2013 on the British royal baby christening, but later failed to report on various statements on Ukraine by Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and key members of Congress. Reporting on Ukraine has improved somewhat only very recently due to pressure from critics and members of the broadcasting Board of Governors. Meanwhile, some experienced VOA correspondents have left citing hostile work environment.

China’s CCTV coverage of San Francisco plane crash puts Voice of America to shame, BBG Watch, July 7, 2013.

It has become obvious that despite constantly using words like “digital” and “multimedia,” VOA top executives lack experience in both breaking news coverage and multimedia approach to presenting news. That’s in addition to having been rated in Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys as being some of the worst managers in the federal government and forcing experienced journalists to leave VOA because of mismanagement and hostile work environment they created, sources told BBG Watch.

VOA employees do not blame David Ensor as much as they do managers who have been with the organization much longer, but they blame him for not doing anything about these discredited executives during the two years he has been VOA director, sources also told BBG Watch. They are losing all hope that anything will change, especially after Ensor’s chief of staff told The Washington Post that improving employee morale at VOA is a long-term process which might take from three to five years, one frustrated VOA employee wrote to BBG Watch.

VOA executives complain of insufficient resources, but when Canadian pop star Justin Bieber got arrested for drunk driving, they found enough resources to post not one but six news stories about his escapades. They also had enough resources for two news stories on a dog show in New York and dozens of news reports earlier on the British royal wedding in 2011 and the British royal baby christening in 2013.

Meanwhile, many human rights, Ukraine and Russia related news stories were not being reported, including important statements from the White House and the State Department. While VOA journalists are doing what they can and often manage to produce outstanding news reports, their work is being seriously hampered by poor management and bad executives to the detriment of America’s international audiences.

These audiences rely on VOA to inform the world about America and to counter disinformation and anti-American propaganda with timely, accurate and balanced news. This is a very important and very serious task for America. Members of the Broardcasting Board of Governors should take immediate actions to force personnel and management reforms at the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America.