BBG Watch Commentary
Comparing Voice of America (VOA) 2016 U.S. presidential election night LIVE Facebook views (41) on November 6, 2016 to BBC LIVE Facebook views on the election night (17,800) and to the Russia’s RT LIVE Facebook views for the North Korean military parade in Pyongyang on April 14, 2017 (42,200) shows what a complete failure VOA digital outreach has become under the enormous and dysfunctional Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) bureaucracy. Hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money are being spent each year on the federal agency in charge of U.S. international web, TV and radio broadcasting (BBG FY 2017 budget is $777 million).
Many of VOA’s foreign language services are not doing any better on social media than the crippled VOA English news service. Last Wednesday, a VOA LIVE Facebook program to Africa was showing below 60 live views. The next day, a VOA program to Asia LIVE on Facebook was showing mere 34 live views. On Friday, April 14, 2017, another VOA program to Asia was showing 66 live views on Facebook.
With over 42,000 LIVE Facebook views from the North Korean military parade last Friday (VOA had no live coverage of any kind), RT has demonstrated that it easily outperforms the Voice of America in worldwide English news coverage on digital media multiple times. RT was able to generate a thousand times more live Facebook views for its live coverage from North Korea than VOA English news was able to generate on the U.S. election night with its live coverage from Washington, DC.
BBC is also vastly ahead of VOA in digital outreach on all web platforms, including social media. A BBC English LIVE Facebook program last Thursday on Esperanto, the artificial international language, had 2,000 live views. A LIVE BBC Facebook interview with an expert on North Korea last Friday had 4,600 live views. A BBC video from the North Korean military parade had over 800,000 views on Facebook as of yesterday.
Even the U.S. State Department was able to beat VOA on Facebook in the number of live views by a ratio of almost 10 to one in the recent coverage of the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award.
CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post and almost any mainstream private U.S. media outlet easily beats VOA multiple times in English-language digital outreach despite the fact that nearly half of VOA’s web traffic comes from the United States. Congress and taxpayers want VOA’s audience to be abroad.
“Where and when did we go wrong? And can we ever recover?,” a VOA Newsroom reporter who wants to remain anonymous wrote in an e-mail to BBG Watch. VOA rank and file journalists blame these problems on years of BBG mismanagement and the current inexperienced VOA and BBG leadership.
While Nikita Khrushchev’s phrase “We will bury you!” turned out to be famously wrong, the Russian state’s propaganda machine continues to beat the U.S. media outreach abroad hands down because of the wasteful management and incompetence at the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors. Unfortunately for Vladimir Putin, RT cannot just as easily solve Russia’s own growing political and economic problems. They are getting worse in Russia, along with corruption. If the Voice of America and its parent agency are ever reformed, there is a chance that the U.S. may be able to stand up to Russia’s propaganda and disinformation campaigns on the web, but for now it is just one embarrassment after another. The time for management changes at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America is long overdue.
In this iconic VOA Facebook screenshot taken on the U.S. presidential election night one can see not only the embarrassingly low number of LIVE views well into the VOA show but also the astonished expressions on some of the VOA reporters’ faces who did not expect Donald Trump to win. As reported by VOA journalists and BBG Watch, some VOA managers, editors and journalists were so confident of the Republican candidate’s defeat that they had two pre-written programs depicting what they thought would be Hillary Clinton’s historic victory and no such programs about Donald Trump.