Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Dysfunctional, Defunct and Proud of It! – Self-Flagellation
by The Federalist
The recent Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) piece by former Voice of America (VOA) correspondent and news analyst Gary Thomas has generated comments to his piece on the CJR website.
One of the comments posted comes by way of Kyle King, the VOA Public Relations Director.
Generally speaking, the VOA Public Relations office is a paper mill often presenting the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) world view that one would perhaps find out of kilter with reality.
Mr. King did not materially aid the IBB’s cause with his comments about the Thomas piece and actually generated some stinging, angry rebukes.
Keep in mind that Mr. Thomas provided Mr. King and his IBB bosses the opportunity to respond to questions he put together before his piece was published.
The agency took a pass. But it seems it went beyond that. Sources indicate that the agency also attempted to smear Mr. Thomas’ reputation behind the scenes – standard operating procedure from the worst agency to work for in the Federal Government.
“It is disappointing CJR would publish this commentary, which contains multiple errors, and calls for changes that are either unrealistic or have already been proposed by the very organization Mr. Thomas maligns.”
Our first thought is that Mr. Thomas’ piece is less a commentary and more a reflection of his firsthand experiences with the agency.
As with the previous agency response, Mr. King does not provide examples of what are claimed to be “multiple errors.”
As to the changes in US Government international broadcasting that Mr. Thomas offers in his piece, Mr. King dismisses them out of hand or claims have been proposed by the (IBB) organization.
Let’s get down to it:
In a dysfunctional and defunct organization, any calls for change are warranted and are not unrealistic in and of themselves. The agency is in a serious downward spiral which the IBB seemingly intends to accelerate to support its own agenda.
Last week, the House Foreign Affairs committee held a hearing on this defunct agency. It took testimony from three former members of the BBG (James Glassman, Jeffrey Hirschberg and Enders Wimbush). There was no consensus as to an effective remedy for the situation.
[Note: We believe there is no remedy as long as the rogue and insubordinate IBB is able to pursue its agenda.]
In short, Mr. Thomas’ views should be heard and are no less important than those of the three former BBG members.
Mr. King attempts to plant the notion that Mr. Thomas is maligning the organization (agency). That is wrong. What appears to be the case is Mr. Thomas is being critical of how the organization has been rendered defunct by the machinations of the IBB.
Mr. King then goes on to say,
“A simple look at the Voice of America’s website demonstrates we are a hard-hitting and effective international multimedia news organization.”
In our own experience, we have seen instances in which the VOA English website is many hours behind breaking or developing news.
The VOA English website is something of a portal for social media and entertainment “news” and less for original agency reporting and analysis of events.
We have also read emails from agency news personnel repeating the situation we note above: hours of delay after stories are filed. In addition, we have read of headlines being changed, sometimes putting a different context to stories. Reporters have had to demand that headlines be changed back to properly reflect the story and to keep subject matter in its proper context. These instances may not be intentional, but they are pedestrian.
And we must also note that the agency’s Internet operations have the smallest of all the agency’s media audiences – substantially lagging behind radio (which the IBB intends to bludgeon to death) and television. On top of that, sources indicate that most of the agency’s meager Internet traffic is from within the United States, not with global publics abroad.
Our sources (and BBG Watch editors) note that web operations of the BBC, Russia Today and others have far more viewer traffic than agency websites and beat Voice of America multiple times in social media engagement. 43 to 1 in social media engagement between Al Jazeera English and VOA English for the initial Morsi ouster news story, or using just one statistic, 14,599 Site Facebook “Likes” for Al Jazeera story to VOA’s 71 Facebook Site “Likes/Recommends.”
In short, Mr. King’s statement attempts to generically sustain the carefully constructed IBB fantasy regarding the impact of its web content.
More from Mr. King,
“Our audience numbers have never been higher. They are based on VOA’s credibility as an independent news organization. In Africa, we are big on radio and mobile. In Iran, one in five adults watch us every week on TV.”
We’ve said it before: the agency’s audience research is suspect. We are very aware of the many ways the agency can “game the research” by the way questions are asked, how they group responses and how they can purloin numbers from host radio and television stations and try to make those numbers their own.
In Iran, there is no reason to believe the numbers the agency presents. In our view, this is a bald-faced attempt to justify the enormous amount of taxpayer money used to prop up the agency’s Persian News Network (PNN). This part of the agency’s operations came up in the congressional hearing last week. Glowing superlatives regarding the PNN operation were not part of the discussion.
Moving on with Mr. King,
“There is nothing “schizophrenic” about what we do.”
Oh yes, there is.
The word “schizophrenic” has been used to describe the operations of the VOA Central Newsroom and the demolitions effort by senior agency officials. The first time we saw this description, it did not come from communication generated by Mr. Thomas. It continues to be used and expresses a general observation by staff in the VOA Central Newsroom.
And, the situation isn’t getting any better.
The VOA Central Newsroom is under-resourced and will become even more so under the IBB FY2014 budget proposal. The VOA Central Newsroom is also mismanaged lending to the schizophrenic, helter-skelter approach to daily Newsroom operations. Things have devolved to the point where staffers from the agency’s language services are being cherry-picked to provide some support in the Newsroom – even though the language services themselves are under-resourced.
In this respect, Mr. King is mouthing a defense of the indefensible, concocted by his IBB handlers.
More from Mr. King,
“Times have changed from the days when newsroom journalists rewrote wire copy for shortwave radio. Today, VOA produces dozens of television programs, has nearly 50 separate websites and a wide range of mobile platforms, in addition to radio, podcasts and social media.”
Things are always changing. The agency uses this as an excuse for lack of due diligence and following time-tested guidelines for sourcing news stories. The agency now runs with one source or operates as a transit lounge for stories from other news organizations like the Associated Press or Reuters.
We are not picking a bone with these news organizations and the skills of their reporters. Our point is: why do we need to spend around $800-million dollars a year of American taxpayer money to run a news recycling operation?
As we noted, the IBB budget proposal for FY2014 calls for $25-million dollars less money than it has in its enacted FY2013 budget. In short the agency is attempting to do more with less and is doing it badly and ineffectively. This is part of that IBB “flim flam, Soviet-style, Politburo-like, schizophrenic strategic plan.”
In addition to being under-resourced, it is evident that the IBB honchos have the agency overextended. As one staffer noted in a recent agency “town hall” meeting, the agency is awash with technology but doesn’t have the people to provide content for the new technology. That situation is likely not to improve under the FY2014 budget or anything close to it.
Last and definitely not least,
“Audiences look to VOA for accurate and balanced news they cannot get on state controlled media in many countries, and we provide that in more than 40 languages.”
That might have been true at some other time. Now, competing international broadcasters are piling up audiences at the expense of the agency. The reasons why — in addition to being unable to generate good quality hard news coverage in a timely manner for the Internet and social media — are:
- Global publics cannot find US Government international radio broadcasts. The IBB is intentionally eliminating them.
- Global publics cannot access the Internet because it is blocked or represents a resource that is unaffordable. It is also targeted for surveillance.
- Television operations by other international broadcasters far exceed what the agency cobbles together and are better funded.
The agency is reeling. Its presence and effectiveness diminish by the day, along with any credible resonance with global publics, particularly with strategic audiences in China, Russia and the Muslim world.
The image we have is of senior agency officials parading around the Cohen Building in lock step proclaiming success while figuratively whipping themselves on their backs with the consequences of their agency-destroying decision-making.
From Kyle King, Director, VOA Public Relations:
It is disappointing CJR would publish this commentary, which contains multiple errors, and calls for changes that are either unrealistic or have already been proposed by the very organization Mr. Thomas maligns.
A simple look at the Voice of America’s website demonstrates we are a hard-hitting and effective international multimedia news organization.
Our audience numbers have never been higher. They are based on VOA’s credibility as an independent news organization. In Africa, we are big on radio and mobile. In Iran, one in five adults watch us every week on TV.
There is nothing “schizophrenic” about what we do.
Times have changed from the days when newsroom journalists rewrote wire copy for shortwave radio. Today, VOA produces dozens of television programs, has nearly 50 separate websites and a wide range of mobile platforms, in addition to radio, podcasts and social media.
Audiences look to VOA for accurate and balanced news they cannot get on state controlled media in many countries, and we provide that in more than 40 languages.
Posted by Kyle King, Director, VOA Public Relations on Wed 3 Jul 2013 at 05:23 PM.