BBG Watch Commentary
A Voice of America (VOA) foreign and domestic correspondent of many years told BBG Watch that “nobody believes anything the front office says these days.” This comment is especially true about the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) claims of recent audience gains, which as VOA employees point out, include increased placement of pre-censored programs from which controversial political news have been eliminated in violation of the VOA Charter to appease local censors, placement of programs in countries which have free media, paid placement of broadcasts because commercial stations refuse to take them for free, Facebook ads paid for by U.S. taxpayers to increase meaningless clicks for VOA, plus an increasing number of poor quality fluff animal videos.
VOA journalists are telling BBG Watch that compared to other international broadcasters like BBC or Russia’s RT, VOA is leagues behind them on the web. One VOA source wrote: “we get daily audience metrics…; our UV (unique views, which are the most precious and sought after) are beyond pathetic.”
“You know the old saying, “we’re like mushrooms. they keep us in the dark and feed us bulls**t,” another experienced VOA reporter told BBG Watch.
“Amanda Bennett and John Lansing keep telling us ‘oh, we’re staying on and everything is going to be the same as it is now,’ and everybody wonders how they can say it with a straight face,” the VOA reporter told BBG Watch on condition that we do not reveal this journalist’s identity.
Broadcasting Board of Governors employees were told by John Lansing on Thursday that Matthew Ciepielowski and Matthew Schuck will join the BBG as President-Elect Trump’s transition representatives on Monday, January 23.
“Worst of all, the kind of partisanship described in The Washington Times article [about VOA’s Persian Service] is prevalent throughout the Cohen building [VOA Washington, DC headquarters]. Persuaded by some mainstream media, the group thinkers have discarded all pretense of objectivity and are openly derisive of anything Trump,” was another comment from an experienced Voice of America journalist.
A few of their VOA colleagues (a very small minority), mostly in the VOA English newsroom and in only one or two VOA foreign language services, felt emboldened enough during the last several months of the Lansing-Bennett-Sandy Sugawara (VOA deputy director) leadership to use an F-word to describe Donald Trump in a public social media post, to post a meme of his face with a Nazi swastika and a meme showing him as a sexual organ, to call Trump repeatedly a “joke” in an employee-organized VOA newsroom satirical event held on government time, and to tell a sex joke about Trump’s wife.
Many other VOA journalists strongly object in private to such antics by a few of their colleagues. Such egregious behavior by some VOA journalists has never been seen before at the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors under any previous VOA or agency leadership team.
Most BBG employees are still afraid and reluctant to speak up publicly about political bias and mismanagement at the agency. BBG federal employees’ confidence in their senior leadership has declined under John Lansing, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) most recent (2016) Federal Employment Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).
The BBG remains at the bottom of mid-sized federal government agencies in employee engagement, which is one of the key indicators of job satisfaction. Neither Lansing nor Bennett has any prior U.S. government service experience or substantive prior experience in international inter-cultural communications, U.S. foreign policy or U.S. public diplomacy.
A social media post by a VOA reporter on Thursday was still making fun of Trump supporters coming to Washington D.C. for the inauguration. These U.S. voters along with all other U.S. taxpayers pay the VOA reporter’s substantial federal government salary and other generous employment benefits.
After ignoring the problem for months and praising a one-sided VOA Spanish Service report in which Trump’s immigration policy was called full of “hate and prejudice,” the VOA director has issued warnings to journalists about the use of social media, which some VOA reporters continue to ignore.
VOA journalists who attack on social media Donald Trump, his family and his supporters may have been more impressed with the VOA director’s earlier email about Trump’s immigration policy, or the fact that their management had two pre-written and ready to broadcast “Clinton Wins” programs on the election night, and none about the actual winner of the U.S. presidency.
Experienced current and former VOA reporters also objected to a recent Bennett’s email in which she praised a VOA report, which they thought romanticized an ISIS terrorist.
President Obama Ignores VOA
“Not only did President Obama not grant VOA, or any BBG entity, an exit interview, but Josh Earnest did not call on VOA at the final White House briefing,” a former VOA correspondent observed.
Perhaps President Obama, who for very good reasons has been highly protective of his wife and his daughters, did not want to be associated with an organization where a few individuals calling themselves “objective” or “independent” reporters feel free to tell obscene jokes about the new President-elect’s wife, and even demean the President-elect’s daughter.
Perhaps President Obama also knew how irrelevant the BBG has become in terms of audience engagement. While he clearly did not expect Donald Trump to win the 2016 election, he, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, knew that the BBG has become “practically defunct” (Hillary Clinton’s words) in addressing propaganda from Russia and ISIS.
President Obama did sign last month the bipartisan reform legislation which downgraded the BBG board to an advisory status and made any future BBG CEO subject to presidential nomination and confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
“In simple terms, all the air has gone out of the place. They are barely able to do the basics,” one former BBG communications specialist observed.
For more information on VOA’s dismal online audience engagement, we repost our commentary from November 7, 2016.
Voice of America English News has dismal online traffic, fails to reach most nations without free media
November 16, 2016
BBG Watch Commentary
According to U.S. taxpayer-funded ($224 M, FY 2017) Voice of America (VOA) internal email, the three cities with the largest, but still dismally small number of weekly visitors to VOA’s premier English news website, voanews.com, are:
These are capital cities of countries with democratic governments and vibrant free media. According to VOA’s internal email, “the biggest consumers of our videos [English] are in Japan,” a country not exactly deprived of free media.
Where are: Beijing, Moscow, Teheran, Baghdad, Islamabad, Kabul, Pyongyang, Caracas, Havana?
Some of the countries block Voice of America and other Western websites, but Russia, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other countries still without free, objective or fully functioning media do not block access to Voice of America websites.
These countries are not on the VOA’s ten top cities list for voanews.com web visits.
Weekly visits to most of VOA’s foreign language websites, with a few exceptions, are also reported to be dismally small.
So much for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) mission “to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy” with digital outreach.
According to the Voice of America internal email, Ho Chi Minh, Lagos, and Hanoi are in the fourth, sixth, and seventh place for weekly visits to VOA English news website, but also with dismally small numbers: Ho Chi Minh (1000), Lagos (814), Hanoi (779).
Even these numbers may be skewed because the Voice of America is known to use paid (by U.S. taxpayers) advertising to drive online traffic to its websites and social media pages. South East Asia, including Vietnam, is also known for hosting many so-called “click farms,” which produce web traffic for money.
Washington is sixth on the list with only 627 weekly visitors to the VOA English News website in a city full of political news junkies. This shows how irrelevant VOA has become in Washington under [mis]management of the Broadcasting Board of Governors — the federal agency which then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described in 2013 as “practically defunct.”
If BBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times or any other major private or public news organization had only 627 weekly visits to its news website in Washington, DC, their management would be long gone.
BBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and even Russia’s RT have multiple times more daily, weekly, and monthly visitors to their websites than the Voice of America.
Let’s put these VOA paltry numbers in context:
A global population of over 7-BILLION.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors has several thousand employees in the Washington area. What the dismal number of 627 weekly visits from Washington to the voanews.com website also suggests is that employee morale under the current BBG and VOA leadership is dismally low.
VOA managers and journalists don’t even bother to check from home on their own news in any great numbers.
Indeed, a Washington Post commentator described the Broadcasting Board of Governors as “regular bottom-feeder“ on employee morale, employee engagement, and leadership, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys (FEVS).
We commented repeatedly on the fact that VOA and BBG executives are not looking at VOA websites, and if they do, they can’t spot glaring problems.
SEE THE LATEST: Is Voice of America ashamed of Huma Abedin’s heritage or simply sloppy?, BBG Watch, November 7, 2016.
ALSO SEE: 45% of visits to Voice of America English website are from the U.S. – EXCLUSIVE, BBG Watch, October 4, 2016.
Internal Voice of America E-Mail, Friday, November 4, 2016
Most weekly visits to VOA English News website by city (all stories):
1. Tokyo 1,776
2. Paris 1,474
3. Seoul 1,272
4. Ho Chi Minh 1,000
5. Lagos 814
6. Hanoi 779
7. Washington 627
8. Taipei 612
9. Osaka 454
10. Nairobi 419