The popular Voice of America (VOA) satirical television program “Parazit”, which was broadcast to Iran, has been off the air for the last nine months. No one was informed, especially not the officials allegedly in charge of VOA: the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
We at AFGE Local 1812 were hardly surprised. Sources in several Divisions tell us new programs and missions are being created almost weekly, with no additional resources.
In one Division, sources are telling AFGE Local 1812 that production needs are no longer being met, with frightening consequences.
We know for a fact that VOA Mandarin shortwave radio broadcasts to China, contrary to the will of the Congress, were curtailed, where listeners, because of a unilateral decisions by the powers-that-be, can only listen to repeat broadcasts and have to wait 17 hours before they can hear updated news. Why? To transfer resources to a TV program. Soon, the BBG Executive Staff will bring in pollsters who will announce that VOA radio broadcasts have lost listeners and will propose to cut radio once again. Another typical setting up of a Service for failure.
The VOA’s main English-language newsroom has been eviscerated and more cuts are coming. Every month, it seems, the amount of news being put out by the newsroom seems to drop. For real updates, listeners better go elsewhere.
Voice of America’s Charter requires that it must serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news that must be “accurate, objective, and comprehensive.” Since its inception and until about 10 years ago, the VOA pursued its mission diligently.
But after September 11, 2011, and as new multimedia technologies emerged, VOA’s work started to get more muddled to the point where today, AFGE Local 1812 members tell us, they feel as if they are living on top of a Ponzi scheme. As management seeks to employ all technologies regardless of costs and practicality, and create ever more programming to ingratiate itself with other U.S. agencies, the VOA is stretched to the limit and things are beginning to fall apart.
Production needs are not being met. Radio broadcasters are going live on the air with holes in their programs. Programs are being filled with “fillers” because solid news is not available, for lack of journalistic reports. Web sites are being updated sometimes, sometimes not. Correspondents have stopped covering important meetings or events. And as the BBG found out, programs are “disappearing” without warning.
While the Agency is adrift, management scurries from one project to the other, oblivious of the basic needs of staffers stretched well beyond the limits. In the past year, we have heard a growing chorus of indignation from our members regarding unpaid overtime, which is becoming the norm rather than the exception. When we say the norm, we’re talking about overtime everyday of the week, not the occasional 15 minutes here and there.
In the meantime, while paying itself substantial bonuses, management is still bent on transforming a radio operation into “a worldwide CNN”, even as it fails to produce quality TV programming or even decent web content.
Congress needs to step in before it’s too late. The Voice of America needs to regroup or risk losing a valued and precious foreign policy tool.
We suggest that it is time for VOA to again present to the world the “accurate, objective, and comprehensive” news the world is always starved for, rather than being dismantled or privatized to compete with U.S. broadcasters it was never meant to rival.
It is time for VOA to shed technologies that do not provide enough bang for the buck. And as the OPM Employee Viewpoint Surveys have shown over and over again, it is time for VOA to have new leadership.
Posted: Tuesday, Aug 21, 2012