BBG Watch Commentary
Voice of America (VOA) top executive David Ensor likes to brag that VOA “uses social media to interact with the audience for a lively give and take about issues that are not covered well in the official media,” but when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Chinese bloggers in Bejing on Feb. 15, 2014 to discuss Internet freedom, Chinese territorial disputes with Japan, North Korea, and human rights, Voice of America English news website and websites of the vast majority of VOA’s more than 40 language services had no reports on this meeting.
A search of the VOA English website produced no reports on the meeting with Chinese bloggers or even a mention of Internet freedom in connection with Secretary Kerry’s trip to Beijing.
The Voice of America Charter (U.S. Public Law 94-350) says that “VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” and that “VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.”
This is not the first time VOA under its current leadership has failed to meet its Charter’s obligations. VOA has failed to report in English and in many other languages on a recent statements on human rights in China by Vice President Biden and on many other U.S. foreign policy pronouncements ranging from China to Ukraine and Russia.
Fortunately, the VOA Chinese Service did report on Secretary Kerry’s meeting with Chinese bloggers, but many other VOA language services with programs to countries without media freedom did not. There was also nothing online from VOA about the meeting for English speaking audiences worldwide.
Voice of America central Newsroom and its website could have used, but did not, an excellent report from Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Kerry’s meeting with Chinese bloggers. Both VOA and RFA report to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and cross use of news reports is encouraged, but VOA has been undergoing a management crisis for some time. The BBG’s mission, posted on its website, “is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”
The leadership crisis is affecting VOA’s worldwide news reporting and morale of its journalists who question the management’s push for posting numerous features on Justin Bieber and the British royal family rather than focusing on reporting political and human rights news stories.
Canadian bad dreams and Justin Bieber at Voice of America instead of Obama video on Ukraine, BBG Watch, Feb. 2, 2014
Voice of America gives world news on Justin Bieber, omits Kerry’s statement on Ukraine, BBG Watch, Jan. 25, 2014
Voice of America Director David Ensor. Critics say that VOA news reporting under him and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redish has declined and nearly collapsed.
U.S. taxpayers paid for these programs by the Voice of America (VOA) while many human rights-related news stories and important U.S. foreign policy pronouncements by the White House, the State Department, and members of Congress went unreported on VOA websites in recent months and years.
Years and months later, these reports on the British royalty posted on the VOA English website show zero or very few Facebook “Likes” or any other indication of any notable audience engagement through social media.
IF YOU ARE A U.S. TAXPAYER YOU MUST CHECK THIS OUT
Excited Crowds Fill London Streets for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM
Royal Wedding Ceremony Steeped in Grandeur, Tradition Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM
Kate Middleton Wears Wedding Dress by Sarah Burton Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM
Wedding Celebrations Held in Streets Across Britain Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM
Americans Rise Early for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM
Celebrities, Sports Stars Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM
Britain Hopes for Billion-Dollar Economic Boost from Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM
Crowds Gather for Britain’s Royal Wedding; Syrian Diplomat Pulled Off Guest List Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM
London Readies for Royal Wedding Day Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM
Formal Clothing, Informal Speeches Typical at British Weddings Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 26, 2011 8:00 PM
British Public Divided Over Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM
Britain Preparing Security for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM
Britain’s Royal Wedding: From Cake to Clergy Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM
Bahrain Prince Declines British Royal Wedding Invitation Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM
David Beckham, Elton John Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM
Britain Notes Big Change in Royal Wedding Souvenirs Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 21, 2011 8:00 PM
Prince William, Bride-to-Be Middleton Visit Princess Diana’s Grave Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM
Britain’s Queen Formally Approves Prince William’s Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM
Britain’s Queen Celebrates 85th Birthday Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM
Royal Wedding: William & Kate Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:50 AM
A Royal Obsession, Do Americans Care? Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 19, 2011 8:00 PM
Muslim Group Applies to Protest Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM
YouTube to Air Britain’s Royal Wedding Live Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM
Princesses in Training Get Tips at Royal Tea Party Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 17, 2011 8:00 PM
10 Ways You Can Get Into the Spirit of the Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 14, 2011 8:00 PM
British Royal Engagement Sparks Interest in Modern Monarchies Voice of America (VOA) English website, November 29, 2010 7:00 PM
Britain Announces Royal Wedding Date Voice of America (VOA) English website, November 22, 2010 7:00 PM
VOA on British Royal Christening, October 2013
Among five reports on the VOA website on the royal christening in Britain posted on October 23 and 24, 2013, none has more than 20 Facebook “Likes” as of October 28, 2013, one had zero Facebook “Likes” and another one had three.
October 23, 2013 12:08 PM
……..was born on July 22. In the arms of his mother as she left the the palace’s Chapel Royal, George was dressed in a long cream satin robe that was a replica of an 1841 gown made for the christening of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. Kate, a style icon whose outfits often increase sales of similar garments, wore an off-white, ruffled skirt-suit, made by British fashion house Alexander McQueen, and pillbox hat by British milliner Jane Taylor ….
October 23, 2013 8:20 AM
……..William and Kate’s decision is a break with the tradition of choosing royal dignitaries to take on the ceremonial role, and a continuation of their effort to portray a more informal, modern image to austerity-hit Britons. After the christening, guests will attend a private tea at Clarence House, hosted by Prince Charles and Camilla. Hollywood photographer Jason Bell has been tapped to take official photos of the event, that will include a “historic multi-generational photograph” of the queen
Reporters: VOA News
October 23, 2013 12:14 AM
Carla Babb Prince George, the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is being christened in Britain on Wednesday. In a break from tradition, the christening of the world’s most famous baby will be as low key as possible. Three months ago, Prince William and his wife Catherine shared their bundle of joy with the world. And just as the royal couple broke with tradition ….
Reporters: Carla Babb
October 22, 2013 9:59 AM
Reuters A British photographer known for his portraits of rock stars and Hollywood actors was named on Tuesday as the official photographer of the world’s newest celebrity – Prince George. Prince William and his wife Kate have chosen Jason Bell to photograph the christening on Wednesday, October 23, of their son, the third-in-line to the British throne, a palace statement said. Bell, 44, is an award-winning photographer best known for portraits of celebrities such as musician Paul McCartney, footballer David Beckham ….
October 23, 2013 12:19 PM
a central London chapel, where he made his first public appearance since his birth in July. Prince George was seen in the arms of his father, Prince William, as the elder prince and his wife Kate arrived at the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace for Wednesday’s traditional Anglican Christian ceremony. The infant was wearing a white satin gown, a replica of one made for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter in 1841. In a private ceremony inside the chapel ….
John Kerry even tweeted about his meeting with Chinese bloggers, and VOA Director David Ensor also bragged recently that because “social media is exploding, …VOA programs are effective because they bring people together in the global conversation, and also offer something people want that is simply not available elsewhere — a window into American thinking.” Most of the time, these are just empty words, as VOA news fails again and again to bring significant news to countries without free media, but uses social media to offer instead reports on dog shows in America.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) February 15, 2014
A VOA report on a dog show in New York was posted three days before Kerry’s meeting with Chinese dissident bloggers, a meeting that got no attention from VOA English news. In fact, it was already the second report on the VOA news website about the same dog show.
VOA executives obviously have money from U.S. taxpayers to report news ($206.2 million in FY2012). The question is what kind of news these executives tell their staff to report on.
[VOA News Report]
February 12, 2014
A 5-year-old wire fox terrier named Sky has won best-in-show at the 138th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Tuesday’s competition featured more than 2,000 entries in more than 190 breeds and varieties.
This was a record 14th time a wire fox terrier has won the two-day competition. Among others, Sky bested a top-ranked standard poodle, a bloodhound, a Cardigan Welsh corgi, and a miniature pinscher to take the prize — a silver-plated, bowl-shaped trophy.
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is America’s second-longest continuously held sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby. The show has aired on U.S. television since 1948.
Over the years, Westminster winners have been featured on magazine covers, rung the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ markets and accepted invitations to the White House.
Sky, a wire fox terrier, wins best in show
[End of VOA News report]”
BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, Richard Stengel, the former managing editor of Time magazine, who was recently confirmed as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and will represent Secretary Kerry at BBG meetings, and BBG members Susan McCue, Michael Meehan, Matt Armstrong, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and Kenneth Weinstein should ask VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch about their programming priorities, their leadership and their management style at the Voice of America.
VOA English News reports on Kerry’s visit to China posted online on February 15, the day the Secretary of State met with Chinese bloggers, do not mention the meeting or Internet freedom. VOA reports focus on general issues of world politics that have been also widely reported on by international and Chinese media. VOA reports on that day did not mention Internet freedom or other sensitive issues that authoritarian governments in countries like China, Iran, or Russia would rather not hear about.
From a journalistic perspective, there is nothing specifically wrong with these general news reports and they should have been posted, as they were. But there was also more to Kerry’s visit to Beijing that Voice of America should have been especially focused on as a news institution supported by U.S. taxpayers and given a Charter from the U.S. Congress that requires such reporting in addition to providing general international news that even Chinese and Russian state-controlled media are not afraid to cover. That is where VOA fails again and again.
Voice of America
February 15, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Indonesia, the last stop on his Asian tour.
Secretary Kerry arrived in the Indonesian capital Saturday after a visit to China.
On Sunday, he will make a major speech in Jakarta on climate change. A senior State Department official says Kerry will call on the global community — both countries and individuals — to do more now to address the threat.
The top U.S. diplomat flew to Jakarta from Beijing where he talked with President Xi Jinping about global warming, human rights, and what the United States sees as China’s efforts to assert itself in Asia by setting up an air defense zone over the East China Sea. The zone includes islands also claimed by Japan.
Kerry said he urged Beijing to take a less confrontational approach to territorial disputes. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China prefers a peaceful resolution, but will not hesitate to protect its sovereignty.
After meeting with Mr. Xi, Kerry said he was pleased with Beijing’s commitment to pressure North Korea to return to nuclear talks. He said China could not have more forcefully reiterated its commitment to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang said Beijing would never allow chaos or war in Korea, and is serious in both words and actions.
China is North Korea’s only major ally and a key source of trade and economic aid.
Voice of America
February 15, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has completed a two-day visit to China, pleased at Beijing’s commitment to pressure North Korea to return to nuclear talks.
After meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday, Kerry said China could not have more forcefully reiterated its commitment to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would never allow chaos or war in Korea, and is serious in both words and actions.
China is North Korea’s only major ally and a key source of trade and economic aid.
Pyongyang has test-fired missiles and carried out underground nuclear tests. It has resisted pressure to give up its nuclear program in return for more food and aid.
Kerry and President Xi also talked about global warming, human rights, and what the United States sees as China’s efforts to assert itself in Asia by setting up an air defense zone over the East China Sea. The zone includes islands also claimed by Japan.
Kerry said he urged Beijing to take a less confrontational approach to territorial disputes. The Chinese foreign minister said China prefers a peaceful resolution, but will not hesitate to protect its sovereignty.
Kerry left Beijing Saturday afternoon and headed to Indonesia – the last stop on his Asian tour. He plans to make a major speech on climate change while in Jakarta.
Voice of America
February 15, 2014
JAKARTA — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says unannounced, unilateral actions in contested waters of the South China Sea challenge regional stability.
After meeting with leaders in Beijing to discuss rival maritime claims between China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia, Kerry then traveled to Indonesia on Saturday, where officials are working with the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to help resolve those disputes.
Stepped-up Chinese patrols in the South China Sea raise fears among rival territorial claimants that Beijing may move to create the same kind of air defense zone there as it now has around islands claimed by Japan in the East China Sea.
Kerry told Chinese President Xi Jinping that Washington is hoping for better transparency in the South China Sea to reduce possible “misinterpretations.” Assistant U.S. Secretary for East Asian Affairs Danny Russel says China is engaged in an “incremental pattern of assertiveness.”
“No one can justifiably, in compliance with international law, simply assert the right to exercise control over great swaths of a sea,” he said.
Beijing agrees the disputes should be settled through international law but says Washington should be careful not to make things worse.
“The United States is not a direct party in the South China Sea dispute and should keep its commitment of not taking sides on issues of territorial sovereignty and be cautious in words and actions,” said Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry.
Much of the concern over the South China Sea is based on commercial shipping there. Beijing University analyst Jia Qingguo contends that shipping will not be affected by China’s so-called nine-dash line, a U-shaped line on maps marking its claim of sovereignty over a wide area including the disputed Spratley and Paracel Islands.
“The Chinese government has repeatedly stated that there is freedom of navigation within the nine-dash line,” said Jia. “In other words, the nine-dash line is not in [conflict] with the U.S. request of freedom of navigation.”
American University professor Lou Goodman says pressures of trade and security make the South China Sea a potentially dangerous flashpoint for Beijing and Washington.
“A power like China, a power like the United States can’t back off of anything,” he said. “New solutions have to be found to disputes like this that are win-win for the sides that are talking.”
The United States is pushing to settle rival claims through the regional ASEAN alliance.
“These are all countries that it would be well worth China developing stronger harmonious relations with,” Goodman added. “And having conversations like this might be a good step forward in general in addition to focusing on the particular dispute that they are talking about.”
But smaller ASEAN countries fear being bullied by China, and Washington’s reliance on Beijing on issues such as Syria and Iran offer them little reassurance, says American Enterprise Institute analyst Michael Auslin.
“The U.S. has so little influence over China, or has chosen to act toward China in ways that minimize any influence it really could have,” he said. “Obviously China looks at ASEAN as at best a negotiating partner, at worst [as] a collection of countries they can pick apart at their time of choosing.”
Indonesia is an important stop for Kerry’s efforts on the South China Sea as it is home to the ASEAN secretariat and a government that is playing an increasingly important role in resolving the rival maritime claims as a leading economy that has good relations with Beijing.
Radio Free Asia has saved the day with this report, but unfortunately many Voice of America audiences around the world will not learn about it from VOA and RFA does not reach many of these audiences.
Radio Free Asia
Chinese writers on Monday welcomed a call from visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for more Internet freedom in their country, while the ruling Chinese Communist Party styled his comments “naive.”
Kerry told a group of Chinese bloggers in Beijing on Saturday that he would like to see more online freedom in China, sparking a sharp retort from the foreign ministry.
The bloggers reportedly asked him for help to “tear down” the Great Firewall, China’s intricate network of blocks, filters and human censorship that limits what its citizens can see online.
Kerry told the bloggers that he had raised the issues of press and Internet freedom in his discussions with Chinese leaders last week.
“Obviously, we think that Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the Internet,” he told the roundtable session, which was attended by investigative journalist Wang Keqin and outspoken tweeter Zhang Jialong, among others.
‘A bit naive’
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying hit out at Kerry’s remarks as “naive,” however.
“China’s affairs must be decided by Chinese people based on their own national situation,” she told reporters on Monday.
“Isn’t it a bit naive to use methods like this to push China in the direction of the change they would prefer?” Hua told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
She said the 40-minute chat between Kerry and bloggers could equally well have touched on mass online surveillance carried out by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and leaked by its former contractor, Edward Snowden.
But Chinese commentators said Kerry’s remarks were “very meaningful.”
“They might encourage more Chinese Internet users to protest against this dictatorial regime,” online writer Liu Yiming said. “The situation has been extremely worrying in the past two years.”
Increasing official control
Last year saw increasing levels of official control over freedom of expression, including criticisms of the government that were merely implied, according to a report by the Hubei-based Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch.
Activists say the number of outspoken Internet users detained by the authorities had risen sharply in 2013, after the administration of President Xi Jinping formally took power in March.
China has detained a number of high-profile tweeters in recent months, after they sent out critical or overly revealing posts about government activities.
The Communist Party’s powerful but secretive central propaganda department is worried about unapproved opinions and reports making their way onto China’s tightly-censored Internet, via microbloggers with huge personal followings, known as “big V” tweeters.
According to global media freedom monitor Reporters Without Borders, China’s press freedom ranking fell from 173 to 175 last year, as the party continues to ramp up online censorship and keep in jail the largest number of journalists and netizens in the world, including Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Censorship so entrenched
Many now say that the system of censorship is so entrenched, and Chinese journalists and citizens so vulnerable to reprisals, that the impact of social media reports on matters of public interest is extremely limited.
Liu said the meeting with Kerry had likely been arranged under the watchful eye of Chinese officials.
“I think that those people who went to that meeting…were probably skewed towards China’s choice,” he said.
“They are all fairly independent and outspoken, but they aren’t at all radical, so they would have been acceptable to both sides.”
Freelance journalist Sun Lin, known online by his pen-name Zimu, said his own social media account had simply been closed after he posted content that was critical of the government.
“I spent two years on NetEase building up more than 80,000 followers, and they shut it down, just like that,” Sun said.
“So we can say that there are very tight controls on freedom of expression on the Chinese Internet,” he said.
He said that while Kerry’s comments were similar to other expressions of concern over freedom of speech from other world leaders, he was unsure how much effect they will have.
“Yes, he can make a bit of a noise, but how far will that noise carry, and who will hear it?” Sun said.
“We will have to wait and see.”
Reported by Jiang Pei for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.