BBG Watch Commentary
Even though the VOA Charter requires the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively,” a VOA video report from the inauguration Saturday of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko failed to mention that the event was attended by Vice President Joe Biden and a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation, which included Sens. John McCain, Chris Murphy and Ron Johnson and Rep. Marcy Kaptur.
In recent years and months, the Voice of America has often failed to report on key U.S. news, was late in reporting them or offered only superficial coverage. Critics blame it not on individual journalists but on mismanagement by senior VOA officials.
In a staff meeting last Tuesday that became “a vote of no confidence” in Voice of America Director David Ensor and his senior deputies, some VOA journalists challenged Ensor on his knowledge of how the organization works. One VOA journalist accused Ensor of not listening to what another VOA staffer said about their inability to produce news programs. No former VOA director has ever been addressed in such a sharp and challenging way about their leadership.
VOA English News reporting from Ukraine on Saturday showed that the senior staff is still unable to coordinate news coverage.
VOA English News later added a brief note about Biden and members of Congress in Kyiv as a text add-on on its website, but except for its Russian and Ukrainian services, VOA did not offer a separate news report on Biden’s and congressional visit to Kyiv and did not post on its English news website and the vast majority of its more than 40 language service websites any multimedia content about the official U.S. participation in the inauguration ceremony.
VOA English News also never reported on the details of various meetings Biden had in Kyiv and on details of additional U.S. assistance to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova which were announced during his visit.
Video and audio reports from a VOA English News correspondent in Kyiv, who appears not to be a Eurasia expert and was apparently sent to Ukraine from Africa, did not mention Biden or the congressional delegation at all. VOA apparently did not have a staff reporter traveling on the Vice President’s plane and following closely his visit to Kyiv.
Other international media outlets gave Biden more attention than VOA. Voice of Russia had a separate report on U.S. assistance to Ukraine which mentioned Biden visiting Ukraine. Biden was also mentioned and shown in Russia’s RT video report from Kyiv. Both Voice of Russia and RT reports on U.S.-Ukraine relations and Biden’s visit to Kyiv had a strong anti-American tone. Biden was also shown in Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) comprehensive and balanced video report.
Ironically, while VOA did not send a reporter with Vice President Biden to Kyiv, Voice of America director David Ensor was on a European trip and may have been going to Kyiv himself. Ensor was earlier in the week attending an international conference in Poland. Even though the conference was sponsored by the Atlantic Council and included members of the U.S. Congress and other prominent Americans, VOA did not cover the gathering and discussions on the situation in Ukraine, the West’s relations with Russia, and the future of the Atlantic Alliance.
Critics blame these news reporting failures on Director Ensor and other senior VOA executives. They say that senior VOA managers spent money on the bureaucracy and their international travels rather than on VOA correspondents and focusing on managing the organization and its news coverage.
Voice of America Director Director David Ensor said in a recent interview that VOA is not be a mouthpiece of the White House or anybody else.
“Voice of America is not a propaganda organization and it is not a mouthpiece of the White House or of anybody else. It is a proud journalistic organization more than seventy years old.” — VOA Director David Ensor
But the Voice of America faces strong bipartisan criticism in the U.S. Congress.
In response to a multitude of news omissions, violations of the VOA Charter, and news reporting mistakes in recent years and months, Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has announced his intention to introduce a bill that would eliminate federal funding for the Voice of America, which was established by the U.S. government in 1942.
It is believed to be the first such defunding proposal advanced in Congress in VOA’s history under its many directors.
Rep. Salmon described his initiative to defund VOA as the fifth “Shrink Our Spending” (SOS) bill in a series of bills to be introduced over the next few months to cut wasteful and duplicative spending. He charges that the VOA management is ignoring the VOA Charter.
Another bill dealing with the Voice of America, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490), has already been unanimously approved in a fully bipartisan action by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of which Rep. Salmon is a member, and sent to the whole House for consideration.
H.R. 4490 introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce, with Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel and seven other co-sponsors, would not abolish the Voice of America but would subject it to much stricter management controls. Some fear that some of these controls may also limit VOA’s journalistic independence, although elements of the VOA Charter, which calls for accurate and objective news, have been incorporated into H.R. 4490.
Supporters of the bill, including the the Executive Board of AFGE Local 1812, a union representing Voice of America journalists and other employees, does share some concerns but believes that the bill, with a few changes, should be enacted.
An editorial in Saturday’s Washington Post calls for the Voice of America to maintain its journalistic independence, but at the same time supports management reforms proposed in the Royce-Engel bill. Some of these reforms are also sought by most members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and its new chairman Jeff Shell who, according to well placed BBG Watch sources, are particularly displeased with the management of the Voice of America.