BBG Watch Commentary
The commentator, who lives in London, was responding to our post: Former senior correspondents discuss mismanagement at Voice of America, BBG Watch, March 19, 2014.
A VIEW FROM ABROAD: Very interesting to read the views of such well respected former VOA correspondents. As a long-time VOA listener (and a sporadic reader of the VOA website) I agree with the views expressed that things have reached a critical point, and it is now debatable whether the evident decline in VOA’s news-gathering capabilities can easily be reversed.
The crisis in Crimea brought home just how decimated VOA’s correspondent network across Europe and the Middle East now is, especially in comparison to listening in the 1980s and 1990s. 25 years ago VOA had English language staff correspondents based in London, Moscow, Cairo and Jerusalem (as it does today), but also in Paris, Bonn, Geneva, Vienna and Amman (where an Arabic Service staff correspondent also filed in English) – so if a major news event broke, there were enough in-region reporters to travel to where the story was, without leaving huge parts of Europe and the Middle East without staff coverage.
In contrast, a couple of weeks ago, with VOA’s London correspondent in Kiev, the Middle East correspondent in Crimea, and the Moscow correspondent in Sochi covering the Olympics, there didn’t seem to be any VOA Central News staff correspondents in Europe west of Kiev/the Crimea, and only one reporter left in the entire Middle East (and none in Moscow). This significantly weakened VOA’s capacity to analyse the international diplomatic and political reactions to the Russian invasion.
And when VOA did have two veteran, experienced reporters in place on the scene in Kiev and Crimea, they were significantly under-used by VOA radio, as the programme line-up on VOA English radio is no longer set up to facilitate live or regularly updated reports from correspondents in the field. VOA’s news background show ‘International Edition’ has very few live editions each day, and as the live editions go out in the knowledge they will be repeated an hour or two hours later, they cannot really break format to cover developments live. As a result, VOA sounded constantly behind the news on the fast developing Ukraine news story in comparison to pretty much all of its major competitors. And that’s not even mentioning the VOA website’s well documented slowness.
I used to listen to VOA regularly in part due to its excellent coverage of breaking news (when all VOA news analysis programmes went out live the programme line-up was tailor-made for this) and in part due to VOA’s extensive network of correspondents. Both are now seemingly almost destroyed, and I suspect that they can only be re-built via a deliberate, planned, long term project to restore VOA News to what it used to be (a project that sadly there is currently no sign of). Opening some additional news bureaux and increasing the number of live news programmes would at least be a start.