BBG Watch Commentary
A former Voice of America (VOA) journalist took issue with some of the observations in a BBG Watch commentary, “Some in Congress fuming over BBG lobbying for status quo EXCLUSIVE.”
The journalist objected to our observation that “a lack adequate staff and resources” was responsible for many VOA language services not posting any reports for several hours on President Obama’s Guantanamo statement.
Our focus was on top leadership, but we don’t disagree with the journalist, who wants to remain anonymous, that poor management and performance are not limited to the top leadership only. The journalist is right: the Broadcasting Board of Governors is also rotten far below its head, which does not mean that there are no outstanding VOA journalists, a few good mid-level managers, one or two good senior executives, and a few well-performing services despite a severe lack of good leadership and support from the top. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs is also right: “This Broken Agency is Losing the Info War to ISIS & Putin.”
A VOA English news report on President Obama’s Guantanamo statement had only three (3) comments on VOA’s main English-language website after one day, while the same story covered by The Washington Post was showing over 1,800 comments.
A few VOA foreign language services — a very small number — are doing well. According to VOA acting director Kelu Chao, who had to work under some spectacularly bad top leaders in recent past, “Audience engagement went through the roof when Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy joined VOA Khmer for the service’s February 3 Facebook Live broadcast. Within two hours, Khmer generated nearly 4,000 comments and reached more than 200,000 Facebook fans. With initiatives like this, it is no wonder why Khmer’s Facebook page is the most popular in Cambodia, with 2.8 million fans. VOA Vietnamese also had tremendous audience engagement with more than 37,000 views, 2,300 comments, and 4,000 “likes” in its first Facebook Live broadcast.”
The VOA French to Africa Service does not appear to be anywhere near the VOA Khmer Service in audience engagement. Most VOA services are not.
BBG is also rotten far below its head
By A Former Voice of America Journalist
When BBG Watch states that: “Many VOA foreign language services did not report on President Obama’s Guantanamo statement for several hours because they lack adequate staff and resources to update their websites and social media platforms 24/7 while the number of high-paying bureaucratic positions has been increasing rapidly in recent years”, it’s not totally true.
Take the case of Voice of America French to Africa Service, for example. It is now a surrogate radio. Nothing wrong with that if all VOA Charter-mandated news reporting was also done by the service. In this case, however, VOA French to Africa is no longer a Voice of America service. It simply no longer recognizes what is an important U.S. news story, and does not seem to care. It plastered a bunch of African stories on its web site (again nothing wrong with that as long as U.S. VOA Charter-manated news is also covered), long before it could be bothered to post, not its own VOA news report, but an AFP (Agence France Presse) one on Guantanamo.
I have observed that VOA French to Africa Service hired quite a few contractors and staffers in the past few years. Some of them were coming in at GS-12 and even above. Why then is the Voice of America copying and pasting AFP reports on important U.S. news stories that have a major international impact?
Some managers claim they don’t have the resources when in fact they are managing their resources very poorly.
When I was still working for the Voice of America, I was appalled to see two people working on news for the main news program, then four people rotating during the day to do the same news for short news broadcasts. Then two to three people working on news items for the web. Every one of these news writer was working on the same stories. There was no coordination, reports ended up not being edited. It had become the most disorganized and inefficient way to work I have witnessed in my 35 year journalistic career. It was plain grotesque. Any time you have half a dozen people doing what two of them had done in the past, you don’t get much done that should be done.
I just don’t like Voice of America managers hiding behind “we don’t have resources”. It’s also that they don’t manage that well.
I really hope House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce pushes for reform! Gosh, I really do.