BBG Watch Commentary
As a further example of how mismanaged and provincial the Voice of America (VOA) has become, the U.S. taxpayer-funded broadcaster for overseas audiences has failed to report on Sunday (as of 5PM Washington, DC time – 11PM Gdansk, Poland ) that the son of Russia’s imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky accepted a human rights award for his father from Solidarity leader, Nobel Peace prize laureate and Poland’s former President Lech Walesa, who turned 70 today.
The $100,000 Walesa Human Rights Award was announced on Thursday, but the Voice of America also missed the news on Thursday on both its English and Russian news websites.
UPDATE: Hours after our report had been posted, the VOA Russian Service website posted a very short news item (less than 100 words) (early morning Monday Moscow time, almost 24 hours after the event in Gdansk) about the Walesa Award ceremony for Khodorkovsky on Sunday. There was still no reporting on the story on the VOA English news website.
Asked for a comment, Ted Lipien, former director of the VOA Polish Service during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy, said that “VOA’s failure to cover the news that the Polish electrician and labor leader, who had helped to pull the plug on communism in East-Central Europe, was giving a human rights award to an imprisoned Russian dissident is incredible, considering that in countries like Iran and China many trade union activists are still behind bars, and President Putin is suppressing media freedom in Russia. When VOA Central Newsroom fails to cover such events, it means that they are also overlooked by the vast majority of VOA language services. VOA should be in the forefront in such news coverage, providing original and comprehensive reporting as part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) mission of informing, engaging and connecting people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. Sadly, this is not the first such failure. Due to mismanagement at the top levels, VOA has failed to meet its Charter obligations in recent years, Lipien said.
Other critics also say that the Voice of America is grossly mismanaged, with resources previously devoted to news gathering and reporting going to the ever growing bureaucracy centered in the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). IBB and VOA executives have been eliminating programs and reporters’ positions in the VOA English Newsroom, VOA English Service and in VOA language services, critics point out.
The Voice of America was, however, in some good company in its failure to report on a human rights news story. The state-funded Russian broadcaster, Russia Today, which usually beats VOA daily by enormous margins on timely posting of news, and especially on audience engagement through social media, also did not have a news item on Walesa’s award for Khodorkovsky, probably because it reflects poorly on President Putin.
Al Jazeera also did not have a Walesa-Khodorkovsky story.
Numerous U.S. and international media, however, reported on the award and recent statements by Lech Walesa on international politics and human rights issues.
Khodorkovsky received the award for “courage in promoting civil society values, determination in creating the foundations of economic freedom and an uncompromising attitude in the fight for justice and human dignity.”
He is Russia’s best-known political prisoner. In May 2011, Amnesty International declared Khodorkovsky to be a prisoner of conscience.
His website, Khodorkovsky.com, has this description of his activities:
Prior to his arrest on October 25, 2003, Khodorkovsky had been known as one of Russia’s most successful entrepreneurs and as a pioneering philanthropist. He led the fight against corruption in Russia, encouraged inward investment and promoted civil society; actions he hoped would make Russia a global leader in the 21st century. His actions however came up against a process of consolidation by the Kremlin of the country’s power and wealth. Since his arrest Khodorkovsky has endured two show trials and he remains in jail today serving a thirteen-year prison sentence.
The Washington Post, Fox News, The Huffington Post, Salon — all reported Sunday on the award for Khodorkovsky, using an AP news story.
BBC Russian Service reported on the Walesa Award for Khodorkovsky on September 26.
See: Ходорковского наградили премией за укрепление демократии, BBC Russian, September 26, 2013.
The BBC English website did not have have a report on the award today.
The Radio France Internationale Russian Service had posted today a report on Khodorkovsky’s son receiving the award from Walesa in Gdansk.
See: Павел Ходорковский: Премию Леха Валенсы Михаил Ходорковский отдаст на благотворительность, Radio France Internationale, September 29, 2013.
See: Lech Walesa turns 70: He conquered communism in Poland. Now, the 70-year-old can look back at a life as a labor union leader that helped to change the world. Deutsche Welle, September 29, 2013.
The Voice of America English and Russian websites had nothing recent about Lech Walesa or about today’s news from Gdansk on the award for Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
A Google search for “Walesa Khodorkovsky” has produced about 90 results from today, three days ago when the award was first announced, and from previous reporting.
Walesa’s statements in the last few weeks that Poland and Germany should unite and that Russia and Poland should overcome historic contradictions also have received a lot of international media attention recently, but not from the Voice of America.
There were also numerous news reports on Walesa’s 70th birthday, a commemorative stamp issued by the Polish Post Office, and a new movie about Walesa by Poland’s internationally acclaimed film director Andrzej Wajda.
The movie had its world premiere next week at the 70th Venice Film Festival, out of competition. It will be shown in Poland in October.
In reviewing the film from Venice for Variety on September 11, Jay Weissberg wrote:
There’s something fitting about Andrzej Wajda bringing Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa to life, just as it’s proper that he subtitles the film “Man of Hope.” For “Walesa. Man of Hope” is a natural companion piece to the great director’s landmark “Man of Marble” and “Man of Iron,” his influential duo on resistance to communist oppression. With a bit of understandable triumphalism devoid of hagiography, Wajda tracks Walesa’s career from shipyard worker to Nobel Prize winner, crafting an old-fashioned (in the best sense), at times stirring biopic that masterfully integrates an exceptional range of contempo footage. Sales have been brisk, and Euro theatrical play will be strong.
The film will also be shown in the United States, but the Voice of America failed to notice it. It also failed to notice any of the political and human rights-related news stories connected with Lech Walesa and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The Voice of America has become even worse than newspapers and media outlets in provincial American cities, some of which took note of these news developments, if only through AP or Reuters reports, inside sources told BBG Watch.
Fox News - 6 hours agoSolidarity founder Lech Walesa has given a $ 100000 human rights award to the son of imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
5 hours ago – GDANSK, Poland — A son of Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovskyreceived a $100,000 human rights award on behalf of his imprisoned …
5 hours ago – Imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is the winner of this year’s Lech Walesa award for human rights.
7 hours ago – GDANSK, Poland—Solidarity founder Lech Walesa has given a $100000 human rights award to the son of imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail …
6 hours ago – Khodorkovsky’s son gets Walesa’s award for father.
5 hours ago – Solidarity founder Lech Walesa has given a $100000 human rights award to the son of imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
6 hours ago – Solidarity founder Lech Walesa has given a $ 100000 human rights award to the son of imprisoned Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
3 days ago – WARSAW (Reuters) – The jailed Russian former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been awarded the annual Lech Walesa …
6 hours ago – GDANSK, Poland (AP) — Solidarity founder Lech Walesa has given a $100000 human rights award to the son of imprisoned Russian tycoon …
Deutsche Welle, the German public broadcaster for international audiences, published a full-length interview with Lech Walesa on his 70th birthday. Ironically, Lech Walesa talks in the interview about the important role of the United States in global affairs.
DW: Looking back, you helped substantially to bring about the fall of communism. Today, there are still many dictators throughout the world. Is there a secret to overcoming them?
Lech Walesa: My recipe is called “solidarity.” Things will, of course, be different from country to country. Of particular importance is that the United States, as the only remaining superpower, lends help courageously to realign the world, so that everywhere that anti-Semitism, racism, ethnic cleansing or chemical weapons appear, it acts immediately and eliminates problems.
The Voice of America is managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a bipartisan federal board which says that its mission is “to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”
Another BBG-run broadcaster, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), reported on Walesa’s birthday, the Walesa Human Rights Awards for Khodorkovsky, and Wajda’s film about Walesa to be shown in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Neither the Voice of America Russian Service nor VOA’s English website had anything posted on these topics.
Рикард Йозвяк Символ движения “Солидарность” и демократических перемен в Польше празднует юбилей Утро 14 августа 1980 года. Бастующие рабочие захватили судоверфь имени Ленина в Гданьске. Протест был массовым. Выступали, среди прочего, против повышения цен на продукты питания. Их лидером был Лех Валенса. Через 17 дней лидер появился перед рабочими и заявил: “У нас есть независимый профсоюз под нашим управлением. У нас есть право на забастовку”! Лех Валенса. Заявление рабочим. 1980 год Валенса был первым на социалистическом пространстве, кто добился от правительства права на независимое профессиональное объединение. Через несколько месяцев профсоюз “Солидарность” включал в себя 10
Авторы: Рикард Йозвяк
Премия имени Леха Валенсы присуждена экс-владельцу компании ЮКОС Михаилу Ходорковскому. Об этом сообщил сегодня на пресс-конференции в Гданьске Ян Кшиштоф Белецкий – глава Института имени Валенсы. Михаил Ходорковский сейчас отбывает 11-летний срок заключения по обвинению в экономических преступлениях. Денежную часть премии – 100 тысяч долларов – 29 сентября его сыну Павлу Ходорковскому вручит в Гданьске сам Валенса. Премия была учреждена в 2008 году Валенсой – бывшим президентом Польши
В Петербурге прошла российская премьера художественного фильма польского режиссера Анджея Вайды “Валенса. Человек надежды”. Фильм рассказывает о политическом взлете президента Польши, избранного после падения коммунизма. Действие фильма начинается в начале 1970-х, когда ЛехВаленса работал электриком на Гданьской судоверфи, и заканчивается в 1988 году, когда профсоюзный лидер стал реальным кандидатом на пост главы государства, Российская премьера фильма прошла в субботу в рамках Санкт-Петербургского международного кинофестиваля. Вайда выступил перед его участниками с видеообращением. Фильм
The RFE/RL English website had a special report with video on Lech Walesa’s legacy.
See: At 70, Lech Walesa Can Look Back On An Enduring Legacy, By Rikard Jozwiak, RFE/RL, September 28, 2013.
While other BBG-funded broadcasters like RFE/RL and Radio Free Asia (RFE) are well-managed and doing well, the Walesa-Khodorkovsky story is not the only failure of the Voice of America’s top management to insure timely and comprehensive news reporting, not only on topics related to human rights, but often on major U.S. foreign policy stories, such as U.S. responses to events in Iran, Syria, and Egypt.
VOA executives have been rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) as being some of the worst managers in the federal government.
According to VOA insiders, news reporting and news posting on the VOA English website are in complete disarray. Experienced VOA correspondents have to fight with top managers to get their reports posted online, sources told BBG Watch.
VOA even ran a fake interview with prominent Russian political leader, blogger and Putin’s critic Alexei Navalny.
VOA news stories on the English website barely get one or two dozen Facebook “Likes” compared to thousands or even tens of thousands for Russia Today, BBC, and Al Jazeera.
VOA journalists tell BBG Watch that VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch have ignored numerous warnings and complaints from VOA employees about their management style, waste of resources, disorganization, and dismal employee morale. Both Ensor and Redisch say, however, that the Voice of America is doing great and making progress. Richard Lobo, the head of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the management arm of the BBG, says that IBB-supported broadcasters are engaging foreign audiences more than ever before.
The Voice of America used to be a major and respected international news provider, especially to countries without free media. During the later part of the Cold War, the Voice of America Polish Service had became a major and popular news and opinion source in Poland, highly valued by Lech Walesa and other Polish opposition leaders who were regularly interviewed by VOA.
In 2002, Lech Walesa recorded this tribute to the Voice of America in a conversation with VOA Polish Service Warsaw correspondent Maria Bninska.
Lech Wałęsa: “Of course, what I’m about to say is well known.
It is hard to imagine – when the communist system was still in existence, when we had been betrayed but did not give up the fight — if there were would have been no other media that could encourage, may be not encourage, but to show, to provide the proof, to speak the truth, to speak about what was happening here and elsewhere — something we could not see for ourselves, being cut off from the real information, and fighting within our limited capabilities.
Therefore, it is difficult to imagine what would have happened if it were not for the Voice of America and other sources with the help of which the true information squeezed through, which showed a different point of view, which said that we are not alone and that something is happening in the country — because our mass media did not do that.
Therefore, I will say it briefly — we would not have what we have without the segment of propaganda, which was found in the Voice of America. It is not conceivable that it would have happened so quickly and so effectively if not for the Voice of America.
Even as a child I remember how my parents surreptitiously listened to the free word of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and others.
I also listened. I listened when they were listening.
And because of that, opposition was awaken, and the information and the real image of what was taking place here and in the free world.
And so, the great glory to the Voice of America and other media that had enabled us to survive, [gave us] the real information, [ability] to compare information, and so on, and so forth.”
Lech Wałęsa: “Oczywiście, ja, to co powiem, to jest ogólnie znane.
Trudno sobie wyobrazić — kiedy u nas obowiązywał system komunistyczny, kiedy zostaliśmy zdradzeni i kiedy nie zaniechaliśmy walki — żeby nie było innych ośrodków, które by zachęcały, może nie zachęcały ale pokazywały, udowadniały, mówiły prawdę, mówiły o tym co się dzieje tu i gdzie indziej — czego my sprawdzić nie mogliśmy będąc odcięci od prawdziwej informacji, walcząc w ograniczonych możliwościach.
Dlatego trudno sobie wyobrazić co by było gdyby nie było Głosu Ameryki i innych jeszcze źródeł przez które przeciskała się informacja prawdziwa, która pokazywała inny punkt widzenia, która mówiła o tym, że nie jesteśmy sami i że coś się w kraju dzieje, bo nasze publikatory tego nie robiły.
W związku z tym powiem krótko, nie byłoby tego co mamy bez tego wycinku propagandowego, który mieścił się w Głosie Ameryki. Nie wyobrażalne jest by mogło to mieć miejsce tak szybko i tak skutecznie gdyby nie Głos Ameryki.
Już jako dziecko pamiętam jak moi rodzice, ukrywając się, słuchali wolego słowa Głosu Ameryki i Wolnej Europy i innych. Ja też słuchałem, słuchałem kiedy oni słuchali.
I w związku z tym, budził się sprzeciw, i informacja i prawdziwy obraz, który ma miejsce tu i w wolnym świecie.
I dlatego wielka chwała Głosowi Ameryki i innym środkom, które pozwoliły nam na przetrwanie, na prawdziwe informacje, na porównywanie informacji, i tak dalej, i tak dalej.”
Maria Bnińska: What does the 50th anniversary of the Voice of America mean for you?
Lech Wałęsa: I think, it is the present victory; its role in this victory.
At the same time, it is contribution to general knowledge, my own and for generations that lived through this period.
Many did not see the effects of their work.
We must remember many, in history and in everything else; they have made a great contribution.
This is, I think, for today the great contribution of the Voice of America.
Maria Bnińska: Co dla pana oznacza i czym jest dla pana piędziesięciolecie (2002) Głosu Ameryki?
Lech Wałęsa: No myslę, że obecnym zwycięstwem, udziale w tym zwycięstwie.
Jednocześnie jest to uzupełnieniem wiedzy ogólnej, tak moim jak i pokoleń, które w tym okresie przewinęły się.
Wielu nie doczekało efektów swojej pracy.
O wielu musimy pamiętać, i w historii i w tym wszystkim, że mają wielki wkład.
To tym, myslę, tylko i wyłącznie na dzisiaj jest ta wielka zasługa jaką jest Głos Ameryki.