BBG Watch Commentary

“Voice of America is not a propaganda organization and it is not a mouthpiece of the White House or of anybody else.” — Voice of America Director David Ensor, From The Director Blog, “VOA is Nobody’s Mouthpiece

2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.

3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.VOA Charter (Public Law 94-350)

VOICE OF AMERICA

BUDGET: $206.2 million (FY12)
EMPLOYEES: 1151
LANGUAGES: 45
AUDIENCE: 134 million weekly

27 Voice of America Reports on Royal Wedding in Great Britain

From VOA report on British royal wedding, April 28, 2011. It still shows zero Facebook Likes on Dec. 31, 2013.
From VOA report on British royal wedding, April 28, 2011. It still shows zero Facebook Likes on Dec. 31, 2013.

First of all, we want to assure our readers that this is not a joke. 100% U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) charged with providing uncensored news to audiences abroad, especially those that may lack free media or have a strong anti-American bias, had posted on its website two years ago not one or two but at least 27 separate reports, many with video, about the royal wedding in Great Britain. We are not kidding. If you don’t believe us, see the list with links at the end of this report.

That’s one part of the story. The vast majority of these 27 separate reports were posted within a few days of each other and all of them were devoted exclusively to the British royal wedding and issues related to it. The Voice of America produces news programs in 45 languages. If most of these services used at least some of these 27 VOA English reports — and we know that they did — there could have been hundreds of U.S. taxpayer-funded VOA programs on the British royal wedding. That is in fact what happened.

Now comes the interesting part.

0 or May Be 1/2 VOA Reports on State Department and White House Reaction to Terrorist Attacks in Russia

Ambassador McFaul'posted his statement more than 10 hours ago on his Facebook page and on his Twitter account. RT (Russia Today) reported on it soon afterwards. The VOA English website still does not mention it. Among VOA's 45 language services, it appears that only the Russian Service reported on the statement, but with a delay of a few hours and well behind RT.
RT (Russia Today) reported on Ambassador McFaul’s statement soon afterwards. The VOA English website mention it briefly many hours later. Among VOA’s 45 language services, it appears that only the Russian Service reported on the statement, but also with a delay of a few hours and well behind RT.

When a brutal terrorist attack was carried out in Russia on Sunday, both U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and the State Department in Washington issued separate statements expressing condolences to the victims’ families and condemning the violence.

This time, there were no numerous separate reports on the Voice of America English website on Sunday devoted to these two statements or any other U.S. reactions to this horrific event treated as a leading news by all major international media. Several hours after Ambassador McFaul had issued his statement, VOA posted a Reuters report on the terror attack in which his remarks were mentioned in one sentence. That report, also from Reuters, quickly disappeared from the front pages of the website. Information in it on other aspects of the attack soon became outdated. VOA English Newsroom never reported on the State Department’s official statement issued Sunday afternoon. For many hours VOA also did not update its by then outdated report from Moscow.

VOA English News website did not report on  this State Department statement. It was posted online on the Department's website Sunday afternoon
VOA English News website did not report on this State Department statement. It was posted online on the Department’s website Sunday afternoon

It was not until Monday afternoon, after a second terrorist attack was carried out in Volgograd, that VOA finally reported some U.S. reactions — not in its own report but in another report from Reuters. That report was very short on details regarding the State Department briefing on Monday and never mentioned the earlier State Department statement on the terrorist attack on Sunday or Ambassador McFaul’s statement. The Reuters report dealt largely with security issues surrounding the Winter Olympics in Sochi. It did not offer any other U.S. reactions to the terrorist attacks. One could argue that it was half a report on State Department’s and White House reactions to the attacks.

The report quoted an unidentified State Department official (it was Marie Harf, the State Department’s deputy spokesperson) as saying “We’re taking lots of security precautions” related to the Winter Games.

She actually said much more than that. She not only condemned the attacks but also expressed solidarity with the Russian people and had additional comments that did not made it into the Reuters report.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks in Volgograd. We send our sincere condolences to the families of the victims and stand in solidarity with the Russian people against terrorism of any kind.”

Reuters — a UK-based agency did not think that giving the whole quote or additional details was important. But Reuters is not subject to the VOA Charter, a public law in the United States, which in its second and third point gives VOA the following tasks that must be observed:

VOA CHARTER IS THE LAW IN THE UNITED STATES

2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.

3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350)

IS VOA ADHERING TO ITS CHARTER

While it may not be necessary for Reuters to report fully on U.S. official sentiments toward the people in Russia at such a tragic moment, in our view the VOA Charter clearly puts this obligation on VOA.

To meet this obligation, VOA would have to originate its own report from the State Department, which it did not do, as it has failed to do numerous times on other foreign policy issues, even those involving statements and actions by Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, and a chief Republican spokesman on foreign affairs Senator John McCain.

When it comes to bipartisan U.S. foreign policy pronouncements and actions, VOA executives frequently forego coverage of such events. It’s most likely not done by design but as a result of lack of any kind of effective leadership, bad management and incompetence at the top levels. Not too long ago, senior VOA executives not only approved but praised a VOA video report from North Korea that repeated North Korean propaganda claims without any significant challenges and focused on showing shops well stocked with food and consumer goods in a country where ordinary people have starved to death.

VOA English News even failed to properly cover President Obama’s meeting at the White House with Malala Yousafzai, a famous Pakistani girls rights activist and a victim of of an assassination attempt by the Taliban.

Keep in mind that the British royal wedding was also a singular news event of sorts. It got at least 27 separate reports on the VOA English website, some of which were from Reuters, but others were originated by VOA. Meanwhile, VOA has been reporting on major foreign policy speeches or statements from Secretary Kerry, Vice President Biden, or Senator McCain in one or two sentences, or does not report on them at all.

Should VOA Be A Mouthpiece For The White House Or For The British Royal Family — Or Should It Observe Its Charter?

Nicholas Kralev and David Ensor
Nicholas Kralev and David Ensor

In a recent media interview, VOA Director David Ensor said that “Voice of America is not a propaganda organization and it is not a mouthpiece of the White House or of anybody else.” He also has a post on his official Voice of America “From the Director” blog, titled: “VOA is Nobody’s Mouthpiece.”

The assumption is that if the Voice of America starts to focus primarily on U.S. government policies and statements, it will lose journalistic credibility. However, the VOA Charter clearly says that VOA must report on them accurately, clearly, objectively and comprehensively. It does not mean that VOA must become a mouthpiece for the White House or the State Department. But it also does not mean that clear, objective, and comprehensive news reporting can be reduced to one or two sentences or no reporting at all, which is what VOA has been doing under Director Ensor and Executive Editor Steve Redisch.

This is what David Ensor said in an interview:

“Some of the best impact and audience growth at Voice of America has occurred when we were telling it like it is, about stories that aren’t necessarily complimentary to the United States. The Abu Ghraib scandal was a stain on America’s honor and it was so reported by Voice of America. Our many audiences around the world, I think, find us a highly credible voice because we are honest about America’s failings as well as its strengths, and that gives us credibility, and credibility, as you know as a journalist, that’s the coin of the realm.”

We have absolutely nothing against hard-hitting journalism. In fact, we believe that most of the 27 British royal wedding reports — which by the way got a minuscule number of Facebook “Likes” as does the vast majority of reports on the VOA English website these days — should have been replaced with reports on substantive news developments abroad, U.S. news, and U.S. policies.

We completely agree with Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Matt Armstrong who at the last BBG Board meeting on December 18 sharply questioned Director Ensor about serious inadequacies in VOA news coverage. The BBG is a bipartisan oversight board. It has a new energetic and reform-minded chairman Jeff Shell and some new members, including Matt Armstrong. BBG Watch has reasons to believe that they are planning management reforms at VOA.

Link to Video on YouTube.

“Every time there is a breaking news event — I’m not talking about a car chase or a white Bronco on a freeway — I go to VOA websites, not just English, but the other websites, those that I can sort of ascertain, realize … I’ve actually studied three other languages … not that I can speak any of them, and I also use Google translate to try to help me, and then I get the pictures and look at the general layout, and what I find surprising is what appears to be the lack on the website of any event and that we lag significantly behind other media outlets whether they would be our direct tier-one competitors, whether it it is CCTV, Russia Today, CNNI, BBC, whatever it’s going to be. And then when we do file a story, it seems it’s thin at the least, especially when I compare it to these other offerings. And so when I want to pick on the VOA English website — and you make a comment that English is number one audience with 35 million — it seems to me that with English being a major audience for you and lingua franca around the world and if we want to build VOA as a premier news and information provider around the world that there should be a greater integration and timeliness and completeness of news and information on the web, not just in English.” — BBG Governor Matt Armstrong

Ensor’s response to Governor Armstrong was that “this is a resource question.” He would not admit, as many critics point out, that this is also, if not primarily, an issue of poor management.

Management Meltdown At VOA

We believe that most of the problems at VOA result from bad management. The Voice of America has lost its ability to report news, good or bad. Not only it fails to report adequately on U.S. policies and debates, most importantly, it also fails to carry out its first obligation under the VOA Charter: “1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”

While no one wants VOA to become a mouthpiece for the White House or the State Department, or for the Democrats or the Republicans, the VOA Charter clearly says that the Voice of America must “represent America, not any single segment of American society,” “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively” and must do so by “present[ing] a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions” and “responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.”

The Voice of America did not fulfill any of these obligations with its minimal, late and un-updated reporting on the terrorist bombings in Russia and has not done so on many other issues and occasions — Ukraine being one of them. This has become more common during the last few years under Mr. Ensor’s directorship, but it has been going on under his deputies for a long time even before he came on board.

There is a balance between being someone’s mouthpiece and meeting legal and professional obligations, not only those listed in the VOA Charter, but simple basic rules of good journalism resulting in news reporting that can attract audiences overseas.

Mr. Ensor seems to be worried that if VOA reports too much about U.S. policies — and let’s not forget discussions on these polices since Americans do not always agree on many issues — audiences will start to think of VOA as a propaganda tool of the U.S. government or may be even a tool of other U.S. political forces. He is wrong in taking such a negative and extreme view.

Historically, VOA has always attracted audiences abroad because in their minds VOA was linked with the United States, its government, its policies, its traditions, its other institutions and its potential to influence world politics in support of freedom and human rights. Some, especially those holding dictatorial powers and their supporters, may also be attracted to VOA because they fear freedom and human rights and want to know what the U.S. might do that could possibly increase opposition to their rule. In any case, audiences abroad are looking to VOA for the American point of view, whatever it may be.

VOA was never viewed and will never be viewed abroad or at home as a purely journalistic organization completely disengaged from any links with the government or the United States in general. Mr. Ensor does not seem to understand this. He also does not seem to understand that members of the U.S. Congress and American taxpayers who pay for VOA to operate are serious about the requirements of the VOA Charter. The Congress passed these rules for a good reason. It did not pass them to be ignored, as they are now.

But the main problem, in our view, is not even Mr. Ensor’s questionable programming philosophy. It is plain lack of leadership and shortage of good management skills that have made VOA largely “defunct” and one of the worst places to work in the entire federal government. Under Mr. Ensor’s deputies, employee morale at VOA is dismally low. Some VOA language services are still doing outstanding job in this terrible environment. The central VOA news operation has ceased working. News, good or bad, is not being reported, or is reported late and superficially. Many VOA language services are the victims of this dysfunctional system and incompetent top management. Important U.S. policy statements and opinions from the U.S. government and all U.S. political factions outside of it are being ignored while the British royal wedding gets 27 separate reports.

Mr. Ensor became VOA director in July 2011, after VOA posted 27 reports on the British royal wedding. But his current top deputies were in charge then, as they are now managing VOA and its news operation. (This year’s British royal christening got five separate reports — you can check it out by doing a search of the VOA English website. By then (October 2013), Director Ensor was already in his position for over two years.)

As VOA English News was posting its five reports (some were from Reuters) on the British royal christening, it failed to report at all on Nobel Peace laureates’ appeal to free Chinese dissident and also Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, while it also posted a news report on finishing schools in Switzerland.

By the way, many of these reports on the VOA website show 0 (zero) Facebook “Likes” after many months online.

We do not want the Voice of America to be seen as or become a mouthpiece of the White House or the State Department. But neither do we want to see VOA executives wasting U.S. taxpayers money and becoming a mouthpiece for the British royal family.

The Voice of America should do its job under its current Charter and report on important U.S. foreign policy issues clearly, objectively and comprehensively the way any good journalistic organization would but also with an understanding that this is required under the VOA Charter, which is something unique and not something other journalistic entities have. This institution is too important for U.S. interests and national security to be allowed to drift this way and becoming more and more “defunct” every day, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had described the current U.S. media outreach abroad. VOA and its management are a major part of this problem.

IF YOU ARE A U.S. TAXPAYER YOU MUST CHECK THIS OUT

From VOA report on British royal wedding, April 28, 2011. It still shows zero Facebook Likes on Dec. 31, 2013. VOA English website had at least 27 separate reports on the 2011 royal wedding in London but not a single separate report of its own on the U.S. official reaction to the terrorist attacks in Russia on Dec. 29  and Dec. 30.
From VOA report on British royal wedding, April 28, 2011. It still shows zero Facebook Likes on Dec. 31, 2013. VOA English website had at least 27 separate reports on the 2011 royal wedding in London but not a single separate report of its own on the U.S. official reaction to the terrorist attacks in Russia on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30.

1.

Excited Crowds Fill London Streets for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM

2.

Royal Wedding Ceremony Steeped in Grandeur, Tradition Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM

3.

Kate Middleton Wears Wedding Dress by Sarah Burton Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM

4.

Wedding Celebrations Held in Streets Across Britain Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM

5.

Americans Rise Early for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM

6.

Celebrities, Sports Stars Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM

7.

Britain Hopes for Billion-Dollar Economic Boost from Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM

8.

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

9.

London Readies for Royal Wedding Day Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM

10.

Formal Clothing, Informal Speeches Typical at British Weddings Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 26, 2011 8:00 PM

11.

British Public Divided Over Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM

12.

Britain Preparing Security for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM

13.

Britain’s Royal Wedding: From Cake to Clergy Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM

14.

Bahrain Prince Declines British Royal Wedding Invitation Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM

15.

David Beckham, Elton John Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM

16.

Britain Notes Big Change in Royal Wedding Souvenirs Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 21, 2011 8:00 PM

17.

Prince William, Bride-to-Be Middleton Visit Princess Diana’s Grave Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM

18.

Britain’s Queen Formally Approves Prince William’s Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM

19.

Britain’s Queen Celebrates 85th Birthday Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM

10.

Royal Wedding: William & Kate Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:50 AM

21.

A Royal Obsession, Do Americans Care? Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 19, 2011 8:00 PM

22.

Muslim Group Applies to Protest Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM

23.

YouTube to Air Britain’s Royal Wedding Live Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM

24.

Princesses in Training Get Tips at Royal Tea Party Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 17, 2011 8:00 PM

25.

10 Ways You Can Get Into the Spirit of the Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 14, 2011 8:00 PM

26.

British Royal Engagement Sparks Interest in Modern Monarchies Voice of America (VOA) English website, November 29, 2010 7:00 PM

27.

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.

Zones: Breaking News , Europe

Prince William, Kate Hold Private Christening for New Prince

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 ….

Tags: Britain , duchess catherine , Kate Middleton , prince george , Prince William , royal christening

Zones: Europe

Reporters: Reuters

Prince George’s Godparents Named Ahead of Christening

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

Tags: Britain , monarch , prince george , royal christening

Zones: Europe

Reporters: VOA News

Royal Baby Christening Breaks with Tradition

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 ….

Tags: British royal family , christening , Prince William , Princess Kate , royal baby , royal christening , royalty

Zones: Europe

Reporters: Carla Babb

Hollywood Photographer to Record British Prince’s Christening

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 ….

Tags: Britain , christening , prince george , royals

Zones: Europe , Arts & Entertainment

Reporters: Reuters

Britain’s Future Monarch Christened in Low-Key London Ceremony

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 ….

Zones: World News , Europe

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