BBG Watch Commentary
Not all is defunct at the Voice of America (VOA) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) when it comes to Ukraine and Russia. Some VOA services and BBG grantees provide outstanding news coverage in some areas, but they could do much better if the agency were reformed and had better leaders. If more resources, which are now tightly controlled by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), were given to program producers, U.S. media outreach in Ukraine and Russia could be greatly enhanced.
The IBB has been responsible for major strategic mistakes and is still a bureaucratic nightmare and a black hole for valuable but limited resources.
The most mismanaged among BBG program producing entities, the Voice of America (VOA), lacks any kind effective leadership. Its language services do not get adequate support from the enormous VOA and IBB bureaucracy. VOA central English newsroom has been so decimated and mismanaged by senior executives that it posts propaganda tweets from Russia’s RT and someone calling herself (WARNING: PROFANITY) “Steiner – @Steiner1776 – A frustrated #german and #socialist. Pro-#Russia,#Assad,#Gaddafi. Fuck the #EU,#US.”
Despite this managerial mayhem at VOA and IBB, the surrogate grantee entity, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which managed recently to free itself somewhat from IBB’s interference thanks to its former CEO, Kevin Klose, is doing an outstanding job of reporting from Ukraine and Russia.
However, neither VOA nor RFE/RL can count on the kind of emergency surge support from the central IBB and VOA agency management in Washington. This emergency surge support on a major scale is now needed more than ever. It is needed immediately. Many months into the crisis, there is still no significant surge program delivery on television, radio and even online.
Because of strategic mistakes by IBB and VOA executives, Voice of America does not even have a regular satellite television program in Russian or any significant radio program to Russia and eastern Ukraine.
Both RFE/RL and VOA lack effective radio program delivery to European Russia, Belarus and Ukraine on medium wave (AM) [This could be done from Lithuania, but VOA and IBB executives seem to be opposed to it.] and internally in eastern Ukraine on local FM stations.
VOA Ukrainian Service works very hard with a very small staff. It is doing extremely well in some areas, such as television, but lacks resources to do more effective online and social media outreach. Resources that would allow it to do it are tied up in the VOA and IBB bureaucracy. While there is a new interim management team at IBB, which is much better than the previous one, the current bureaucratic structure prevents major reforms and cannot deliver effective leadership no matter how hard the current management team may try.
Things have gotten so bad that some of VOA Ukrainian Service social media outreach is done by Myroslava Gongadze on her own time. Fortunately, IBB executives had failed to eliminate VOA Ukrainian satellite television news program, which she hosts, (They had eliminated VOA Ukrainian radio program.) as they had eliminated VOA Russian satellite television news program and VOA Russian radio program several years ago.
VOA Russian Service has had its share of news reporting problems due to mismanagement at both higher and lower level. All of VOA suffers from poor central leadership and lack of experienced journalists. Senior IBB and VOA management forced many of these journalists to leave and replaced them with poorly paid and exploited, poorly trained and poorly supervised contractors. Employee morale at VOA is dismal.
VOA Russian Service is now doing somewhat better than before, but it also lacks resources and program delivery options. VOA English News and its website, however, are an absolute disaster, as is the overall management at the Voice of America.
There are many Russia and Ukraine related news stories that VOA still cannot cover because resources and being misdirected and wasted instead of being shared with program producers. RFE/RL, although far better managed, is also not getting sufficient support from IBB, which controls 34% of the BBG’s budget. The agency and U.S. international media outreach can only be saved if the Congress passes and the President signs a bipartisan reform bill in some form.
But a lot of outstanding work is still being done here and there, especially by the grantees and some individual VOA language services, as described in this BBG press release.
We also noted that this press release, although originating from the BBG, meets all the VOA Charter requirements for accuracy and balance. This is unlike many VOA English news stringer reports from eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, which seem to focus on one side only — the pro-Russia separatists. When one adds to this VOA English retweets of RT news reports and VOA English retweets of pro-Kremlin, anti-US and anti-EU comments by shadowy characters one gets a picture of a news organization in deep managerial crisis.
BBG PRESS RELEASE
MAY 9, 2014
As the world waits to see what happens next in the standoff with Russia, the networks of the BBG are providing comprehensive coverage, exclusive interviews and unique reporting on the latest developments in Ukraine and the region.
In addition to ongoing coverage ontelevision, radio and online, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are providing up-to-the-minute reports, ongoing analysis and important context for audiences throughout the region.
Elena Rykovtseva, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Russian Service, was in the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa when clashes broke out between pro-Russian separatists and supporters of the government in Kyiv on the evening of May 2.More than 40 people died in the city that day, most of them in a fire in the city’s trade-union building. Immediately after the fire, several rumors emerged – that a pregnant woman was among the dead, and that a local doctor had been prevented by Ukrainian nationalists from helping the injured and that he was told that he and the city’s other Jews would also be dead soon. Articles on RFE/RL’s Russian-language “Lie of the Day” and English-language #UkraineUnspun blogs helped expose the truth behind these provocative – and false – claims. VOA’s Ukrainian Service covered the State Department deputy spokesperson’s statement on the Odessa tragedy, which called for a thorough investigation and for the immediate implementation of the April 17 Geneva agreement to de-escalate the crisis.
Perhaps nowhere is the failure of the Geneva agreement more evident than inDonetsk. None of the agreement’s goals has been reached in the city, and tensions and violence are on the rise. Two Russian journalists were recently captured there and later deported to Russia, and after OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović expressed concern, VOA Russian asked several journalists inside the country to talk about the reporting environment there. RFE/RL reported that Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Velykovych declared that Russian commandos operating in eastern Ukraine are targeting doctors and journalists for kidnappings.
In an exclusive interview, VOA Russian spoke with Mikhail Kasyanov, former Russian prime minister and current opposition leader and co-leader of the Republican Party of People’s Freedom (PARNAS) Party. Kasyanov explained, “Demonstration of potential aggression in eastern Ukraine is meant to force West to accept the annexation of the Crimea and to recognize its legitimacy.”
However, as RFE/RL reports, since the Russian takeover, life in Crimea has become increasingly difficult for many living there. RFE/RL interviewed Crimean Tatar leaderMustafa Dzhemilev, who was denied entry into Crimea on May 2. He was told by Russian-backed authorities running Crimea that the Crimean Tatars’ main self-government body, the Mejlis, will be liquidated. In addition to the interview, RFE/RL provided important context on why the group is at the center of ethnic tensions with a detailed explainer piece called What Is The Crimean Tatar Mejlis?
Voice of America is continuing to provide important coverage of U.S. and international reaction. In addition to its own coverage of the Obama-Merkel meeting in Washington, D.C., the Ukrainian Service conducted a live 10-minute interactive for Hromadske TV via Skype on the possible new sanctions on Russia.
VOA Ukrainian also covered the U.N. Security Council meeting at which U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power commended Ukrainian government restraint and supported as legitimate the actions of the Ukrainian government against armed separatists. The Service also covered the announcement of the approval of a new $17-billion IMF loan package for the country. And when a Ukrainian-American demonstration was held at the White House calling for additional sanctions against Russia for its aggression, VOA Ukrainian was there to cover it.