BBG Watch Commentary
International audiences listening to Voice of America English radio news online and on shortwave, including African Internet and shortwave radio listeners, would not have known on the U.S. election night that Americans were voting and for whom they were voting. For most of the night, the same audiences going to the VOA English news website would see just one short news report on U.S. election results that was infrequently updated with new information and had no multimedia elements.
BBC and other major international and U.S. media reported online long before VOA on the Republican Party winning majority in the U.S. Senate. They immediately provided live analysis, much of it online, that VOA did not have until late into the next day.
VOA English News Facebook and Twitter pages were also not being updated on the U.S. elections evening and night for anywhere from four to six hours. There was nothing but short, five minutes VOA English newscasts — without any U.S. election news and hardly any other U.S. news — on the U.S. elections night. The rest of the VOA radio program for the whole evening and the night after the elections was filled with music. This is what international listeners now usually get from VOA English 24/7 online live radio stream and in what little remains of VOA shortwave radio transmissions. There was no special U.S. elections night coverage on the VOA English website, on social media, in video/TV and radio. It was business as usual.
And yet the management of the Voice of America wants everyone to believe that this news failure online, on social media and on radio/video/TV is perfectly excusable because VOA is now serving individual affiliate stations around the world.
Really?: in China?, in Tibet?, in Iran?, throughout Russia?, in North Korea? in Vietnam?, in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa?, in large areas controlled by IS and in other regions ruled by terrorists, extremists and regimes hostile to the United States?
As far as the VOA management is concerned, it seems that results of the last U.S. elections, as they were being reported by BBC and other international media — even Russia’s biased RT — offered no special lessons for undemocratic regimes, dictators or oppressed populations who might have been listening to VOA on the web, satellite or shortwave radio, or checking VOA social pages, assuming — of course — that the Internet is not blocked where they live, which frequently it is (it may not be for regime officials).
Voice of America journalists were not fooled by the management’s PR campaign. They were appalled by “THE SILENCE OF THE VOICE.”
But, for the record, this is what the Voice of America public relations article says in part:
VOICE OF AMERICA PUBLIC RELATIONS: “Audiences throughout the world turned to Voice of America for coverage of the U.S. midterm elections and VOA delivered.
VOA correspondents on Capitol Hill and the State Department combined with VOA reporters around the country in filing TV, radio and web packages that gave global audiences a vivid picture, in English and VOA’s 44 other languages, of U.S. democracy in action. In a web piece, VOA national political correspondent Jim Malone likened what happened on Tuesday to a “political earthquake.”
For VOA’s thousands of affiliates around the world, the U.S. elections are an especially good time to be partners with the U.S. international broadcaster. In Nigeria, VOA affiliate Channels TV led its Tuesday evening international newscast – The World Today – with coverage of the U.S. mid-terms, starting with a VOA story on Ebola’s impact on the elections. On Wednesday, Channels again led The World Today with VOA’s election coverage. A VOA editor in Washington spoke with a Channels anchor about the impact the elections would have on President Obama’s agenda for the next two years.”
If anyone were looking at the VOA English news website, VOA English News Facebook and Twitter pages, or listened to VOA English radio on the U.S. mid-term elections night they would have had no idea that any kind of “political earthquake” was taking place. We did not find a single reference on the VOA English News website to any “political earthquake” until well into the next day. By then, VOA audiences would have gone to BBC and others who had already covered the story at length online and in other platforms.
BBG Watch reposts the AFGE Local 1812 article in full.
By American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812
Responding to criticism of the less-than-mediocre showing of the Voice of America (VOA) on its coverage of the midterms on Election night, November 4th, there were a number of comments on a blog article. One commenter defended the VOA’s lack of coverage by stating: “English speakers in developing countries can’t possibly be fixated on U.S. elections.”
In addition, in a press release, BBG’s management extolled the coverage of the mid-term Elections which created the impression that U.S. international broadcasting’s coverage was stellar. To many of us at the AFGE Local 1812, that press release exemplifies the divide between Agency management and many in its rank-and-file. It also epitomizes the utter inability of those running the Agency to understand and comply with the VOA Charter, which, like it or not, contains the inherent mission of the Agency.
In its sparse coverage of the U.S. midterm Elections, VOA missed a great opportunity to explain the American political process. Did VOA management deem this a boring issue for a global audience, preferring to rely on reports from Reuters or playing continuous music or outdated posts on its website rather than broadcasting its own accurate, comprehensive and balanced coverage, in compliance with the Charter? Has the VOA News Division been so decimated that it cannot cover major events like the midterm Elections, thereby ignoring its Charter requirement of “representing America?” Is the Agency in such financial straits that it could not report on many individual races, as many competitors did, including the BBC? Reporting on the midterm Elections was an issue in which VOA should have excelled worldwide but didn’t. Even with a limited budget, there were a great number of stories on which VOA could have reported on but chose not to. That is not the fault of the writers and broadcasters. That is the fault of management which assigns the coverage.
Coverage of last Tuesday’s Elections could have focused on not just local races in the United States but on the process — a democratic process that takes place peacefully in our nation every two years, no matter who is in power. In contrast to so many other countries, especially totalitarian ones, Americans go voluntarily to the polls, campaign peacefully, vote in an orderly manner, and accept change gracefully, as President Barack Obama did on the day after the Elections when he congratulated his political rivals, the winning Republican candidates, on their victory at the polls. A process that may seem obvious to many in the United States is still a rarity in many nations to which the VOA broadcasts around the world. Are elections free in China, in Russia, in some Latin American or African countries? To speak of recent events, the president of Burkina Faso just fled his country after trying, like a number of his peers, to push through a change to the Constitution in order to run for a third time.
It is important to explain to the world how elections in the United States work. Basically, the U.S. midterm Elections were a teaching moment for VOA broadcasters to bring these facts about America to a global audience. Yet, it missed an opportunity to give comprehensive coverage to these Elections and explain what the results mean. How, for example, one party now has control of the legislative process but that power can be checked by the President; and conversely, how the legislature can check the power of the President. Checks and balances: an inherent part of the U.S. political system.
There was one comment on the VOA News website which sadly stands out:
“Sorry VOA — but I and others are watching TV, and the BBC. Where is your live coverage? What a shame that this country can’t get more than a few stories on the VOICE OF AMERICA’s front page.”
Agency management may take democracy for granted. As long-term broadcasters of the Voice of America, we are keenly aware of its fragility and the threats it faces around the world. That is why the VOA has a Charter. That is why the VOA is charged with telling America’s story to the world. That is why the VOA failed miserably on Election Day 2014, when it chose to ignore its mission, as mandated by the people of the United States through the Congress.
1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
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).
END OF AFGE LOCAL 1812 COMMENTARY
November 5, 2014
BBG Watch Commentary
As of 3:20 AM ET, Wednesday morning, November 5, 2014, VOA’s online “NOW PLAYING: Live audio” of VOA radio was playing non-stop music instead of providing news reports or analysis of U.S. elections results. The same was true during Tuesday evening. VOA radio newscasts available online Tuesday evening did not even mention U.S. elections and did not have any U.S. domestic news.
Continuous music on the main VOA English online radio channel on the morning after the U.S. elections.
Voice of America midnight (12:00AM ET 11-5-2014) radio newscast – not a word about U.S. elections
Voice of America Radio On Demand-Online World News 12 Midnight 11-5-14 Downloaded 12:40 AM
This Voice of America (VOA) radio “Latest Newscast” available online from the VOA website after 12 Midnight, November 5, 2014, not only does not have any U.S. elections news, it has no U.S. news other than a White House reaction to a military crisis in an African country. The VOA 12:00 AM ET newscast is almost entirely focused on African news. There is no U.S. or Asian news in this VOA newscast. No mention of key U.S. elections.
11:45 PM – BBC, CNN, FOX, CNBC and RT reported Republican Senate Majority – Voice of America has not
Update: Far behind other major U.S. and international media, VOA English News finally updated its headline around 12:00 AM ET to show that Republicans won control of the Senate.
The following comment was posted on the Voice of America website:
Ed from: Virginia
November 04, 2014 11:03 PM
“Sorry VOA — but I and others are watching TV, and the BBC. Where is your live coverage? What a shame that this country can’t get more than a few stories on the Voice of America’s front page.”
BBG Watch received these comments from former Voice of America correspondents:
“This is truly embarrassing — clearly a decision was made to simply
write the election story and carry desk stories through the evening.
No live programming, unless they come up with something in the next
two hours, which I doubt. What can one say? BBC had correspondents
in various locations (Iowa, etc) — VOA had desk write-thrus, and one piece
I saw from Jim Malone, which was obviously canned long in advance.
What a dark mark on VOA. Makes me glad I am no longer there.”
“I am simply floored. It’s like Ensor and Redisch
said ‘let’s just cover this one from the desk.’
How utterly depressing and embarrassing for VOA,
and for this country.”
“I think it would be quite instructive
for Mr. Lack and others to contrast
the live BBC show with the performance of the VOA site, and VOA in
“BBC just wiping the plate clean — look at all the talent/analysts they had.”
“Needless to observe, but BBC is wiping VOA in the dirt with wall to wall digital/web and live TV coverage.”
11:00PM ET – U.S. election night – hardly any Tweets from Voice of America English News
The last three VOA English News Tweets at 11:07 PM ET are four hours, two hours, and 40 minutes old.
In addition to slow updating of Voice of America (VOA) English news website, VOA English news Twitter, and absolutely no U.S. election coverage on VOA radio in the last few hours, VOA English Facebook page is also not being updated with U.S. election results.
VOA has just posted some U.S. election photos on VOA English Facebook page, but the last substantive VOA English Facebook U.S. election related posts are now six and ten hours old.
10:00PM ET 11-4-14 VOA LATEST, ON-DEMAND, ONLINE RADIO NEWSCAST. This Voice of America English newscast downloaded shortly after 10PM ET on U.S. election night, November 4, 2014, did not have a single U.S. news item and no U.S. election coverage whatsoever.