BBG Watch Commentary
Voice of America’s (VOA) dismal digital outreach after years of mismanagement under its current leadership and that of its parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) was laid bare for the world to see in the low number of LIVE Facebook Views and Facebook Comments for the VOA English video post from the the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Awards ceremony held Wednesday at the State Department and attended by the First Lady Melania Trump.
Screenshots taken from Facebook during the Women of Courage Awards ceremony showed that the State Department Facebook feed had about 3,500 LIVE views while VOA feed in English had only 496 LIVE Views at 11:12 AM EDT on Wednesday, March 29. The State Department outperformed VOA English News Service multiple times in the number of LIVE views and had about ten times more Comments than the number of Comments in the VOA post during the LIVE transmission.
Coverage of other events by the VOA English Newsroom in which the First Lady Melania Trump had participated has been spotty, with some VOA reporters apparently finding it difficult to hide their contempt for her, as well as for her husband. Some VOA journalists and readers of VOA English online content complained that much of VOA’s coverage of U.S. politics now shows a high degree of personal bias and personal partisanship on the part of some VOA reporters, editors and managers. A few VOA English Newsroom reporters had ridiculed Mrs. Trump and Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, in a satirical production performed by them during a public holiday party organized during office hours in the VOA federal building in Washington last December. “And the No. 1 top reason to love America: It’s where a woman who posed naked for a men’s magazine can be First Lady!,” a VOA journalist said in a professional radio voice while some of his colleagues laughed uncontrollably. Their high federal government salaries are paid by U.S. taxpayers.
We were told, however, that many other VOA journalists, including those working for VOA language services, were appalled by such conduct by some of their Newsroom colleagues, and that not everyone in the Newsroom was amused by such a display of poor taste and bias. Donald Trump was also ridiculed by the same group of VOA English Newsroom reporters and editors who called him “A Joke” multiple times in their amateur satirical skit, which one person was uploading LIVE to Facebook.
We were told that some of the women journalists at the Voice of America were particularly offended by the crude joke of their male colleague aimed at the First Lady who also happens to be an immigrant. Many of VOA’s journalists working for the foreign language services are also immigrants.
But even though, most of the top managers at the Voice of America are now women, the raunchy atmosphere when it comes to the use of the language even in actual VOA news content seems to continue under the present leadership. VOA director Amanda Bennett has recently praised a VOA report in which a VOA correspondent said that information given out by the White House can be compared to “manure.”
BBG CEO John Lansing told NPR that his agency has “the greatest respect for the President.”
Critics say that Bennett and Lansing, both of them holdovers from the Obama administration, seem to have a limited idea what is going on at the Voice of America, while other BBG managers claim that the agency has a fabulous digital outreach abroad.
In reality, about half of VOA English-language web traffic comes from the United States, with some of VOA’s reporting by federal government employees, which critics describe as biased or otherwise violating the congressional VOA Charter, possibly having an impact on U.S. public opinion. Such impact from any biased content produced by VOA reporters who are federal government employees would have been paid for by U.S. taxpayers whether they want it or not or whether such content meets the requirements of the VOA Charter. Many VOA employees fear that lack of effective leadership and poor management by senior executives may lead to future cuts in funding and jobs. In the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), BBG’s federal employees have rated their senior leaders lower than even their previous record low leadership score and also scored them lower on employee engagement. The BBG’s FEVS employee satisfaction and morale score has been record low for years among similar federal agencies.
Public displays of bias among some of VOA’s federal employees and dismal digital outreach numbers have raised questions among critics in Congress and elsewhere about the value of VOA English-language program coverage in its current minimal impact form. NBC had LIVE Facebook coverage in English of the Women of Courage Awards ceremony with Melania Trump, as did other U.S. media outlets, with the number of views many times greater than what VOA was showing.
In contrast to VOA English News Facebook post’s low numbers from the Women of Courage Awards ceremony, the State Department formerly LIVE feed post showed 391,000 Views, 4,100 Likes, 2,063 Shares, and 2,826 Comments as of close to 6:00 PM EDT on Thursday, March 30.
The Voice of America formerly LIVE feed post showed only 47,000 Views, 1,700 Likes, 178 Shares, and only 286 Comments as of 6:00 PM EDT on March 30.
The low number of Shares and Comments for the Voice of America Facebook post suggests low audience engagement for VOA English content, while a slightly higher number of Views, although still many times below that of the number of Views for the State Department’s post from the same event, suggests that VOA may be trying to boost its Views and Likes artificially with paid Facebook ads.
VOA English News report, “US First Lady Presents International Women of Courage Award,” posted on March 29 and last updated at 7:00 PM EDT was showing zero (0) comments as of 6:00 PM EDT on March 30, more than 24 hours after the VOA report was first posted online.
The 2017 awardees were: Sharmin Akter of Bangladesh, Malebogo Molefhe of Botswana, Natalia Ponce de Leon of Colombia, Rebecca Kabugho of Democratic Republic of Congo, Jannat Al Ghazi of Iraq, Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka of Niger, Veronica Simon of Papua New Guinea, Cindy Arlette Contreras Bautista of Peru, Sandya Eknelygoda of Sri Lanka, Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh of Syria, Saadet Ozkan of Turkey, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh of Vietnam, and Fadia Najib Thabet of Yemen.
Some of the VOA language services also did very poorly in terms of audience engagement for their Facebook posts.
We could not find a separate post for the Women of Courage Awards on the VOA French to Africa Service VOA Afrique Facebook page, even though Rebecca Kabugho of Democratic Republic of Congo and Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka of Niger were among the awardees.
From Latin America, Natalia Ponce de Leon of Colombia and Cindy Arlette Contreras Bautista of Peru were among the Women of Courage awardees. The VOA Spanish Service posted on its website a report, “Melania Trump entrega los premios ‘Mujeres de Valor’,” on March 29, which as of 6:00 PM EDT on March 30 was showing zero (0) comments.
The VOA Spanish Service Facebook post on the event, posted at 3:27 PM EDT on March 29, was showing 1,300 views but only 10 Likes, only one (1) Share and 0 (zero) Comments as of 6:00 PM EDT on March 30. A later VOA Spanish Service Facebook post with a video of Cindy Arlette Contreras Bautista was showing 400 views, only six (6) Likes, zero (0) Shares, and zero (0) Comments three hours after its posting on March 30. Zero Shares and Zero Comments suggest dismal audience engagement on social media for VOA Spanish content.
Only the VOA Vietnamese Service Facebook post on the Women of Courage Awards ceremony with Melania Trump showed a respectable number of Views, but since VOA had admitted to placing paid Facebook ads to boost its numbers in the past, all VOA Facebook figures are now suspect. South East Asia is famous for hosting “click farms,” which can generate views in response to paid ads. VOA has denied hiring “click farms” directly, but it has outsourced social media publicity campaigns to outside contractors. The VOA Vietnamese Service Facebook post was showing 38K views, but at the same time it had only 72 comments after nearly 24 hours, which suggests a very low audience engagement for VOA Vietnamese Facebook posts as well.