BBG Watch Commentary
This comment by an anonymous writer who self-identifies as a Voice of America journalist was sent to BBG Watch. While we could not confirm the identity of the author, we can confirm many of the facts and observations the writer makes. The comment received a response from a former VOA journalist whom we know but who wants to remain anonymous.
Ashamed of My Voice of America Job After 15 Years
After 15 years as a journalist at VOA, I have reached rock bottom. I am ashamed of my job.
VOA CAN IT GET ANY WORSE? YES, IT CAN!
Deewa Radio, Voice of America’s Pashto language service to the volatile border region of Northwest Pakistan, commenced in 2009. Its target audience resides in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan, home to some of the most poor and isolated populations in Central Asia.
US drone strikes target the FATA area and it has been a wild west area for the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Surveys have shown that the drone strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, where they have contributed to a negative perception of the United States. There is, perhaps, no more important area for the mission of both US public diplomacy and the mission of the Voice of America.
Now senior managers have a plan to expand Deewa radio to Deewa TV.
Television watchers in the area have few choices. Pakistan state television is the only broadcaster on terrestrial television. Headquartered in Islamabad, it is visually sophisticated, using cutting edge video technology and state of the art studios for its news broadcasts. Those few residents with the money to purchase a satellite dish are able to downlink other broadcasters, such as: Al Jazeera and the BBC world Service, both well-regarded and sophisticated players on the global media market with vibrant, fast-paced and polished news broadcasts
VOA plans to step into this market soon, however, not with visually sophisticated, state-of-the-art production, not with cutting edge technology and not with “vibrant, fast-paced and polished news broadcasts.”
VOA’s plan is to put two guys in an old TV studio and have them talk on the telephone to Pakistan. That’s right. Remember 1980s cable access channels? Well, they are still alive and thriving at the Voice of America. Our so-called leadership truly believes that producing seven hours a week of untrained TV ANCHORS TALKING ON THE TELEPHONE to (unseen) people in Pakistan passes for a news program that can both inform and influence the people of the region. Now, how can they possibly believe that televising a radio call-in show is competitive and effective news broadcasting? There are only two ways:
Reason #1 With colonialist condescension, they actually believe the inhabitants of this region are so backward and unsophisticated that they will find this type of so-called TV program interesting. (Maybe residents of the region will also wonder “how those little tiny people got into that box”!) As if those who live in Waziristan are too stupid to see the obvious quality difference between BBC and Al Jazeera programming and the embarrassingly amateurish drivel produced by VOA.
Reason #2 They don’t believe it. They know that VOA is producing junk. But they also know NO ONE WILL LOOK AT IT AND DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY! Not their bosses. Not Congress. No one. VOA senior management will be able to write in official documents and to say in Capitol Hill testimony that “VOA broadcasts 7 hours a day of TV news to NW Pakistan” and no one will ever ask “What EXACTLY do you broadcast? Show it to us. “ No one will compare their content to the BBC’s or Al Jazeera’s because NO ONE in the US GOVERNMENT WATCHES THE VOA PROGRAMS! No one at VOA management, no one at the IBB, no one on the BBG board, no one at the White House, no one at the State Department, and no one at Capitol Hill – those who allocate our funding.
And if Lansing is watching them – which I truly doubt – any questions he has about the poor quality will be batted away by the IBB bureaucrats who will assure him everyone is working to improve quality.
VOA IS NOT TRYING TO IMPROVE QUALITY.
Just the opposite. Our current leadership is working only to increase output – output that is guaranteed to be of the lowest, most amateurish production — because six or ten people in a service can’t possibly produce a good daily television show in addition to several hours of radio and a 24 hour website. VOA management only cares about the number of hours it can claim to broadcast, not the content of those broadcasts, so employees are left to “shovel shi*t on the air” in order to fill airtime. The demand for additional programs that is coming from the 3rd floor has left professional journalists laughing in the hallways – because it is no longer sad, it is now absurd.
STOP INTRODUCING NEW PROGRAMS. FIX THE ONES WE ALREADY HAVE!
So here is my idea for BBG Watch. Please bring in a television professional, perhaps a retired network producer from ABC or CBS and show him our content.
Show him the so-called high-priority Russian Show (a joint program with RFE that is so bad the acting head of RFE actually flew to Washington to beg Acting VOA Director Kelu Chau to improve its quality.)
Show him the programming output of the English Division. Hours of badly produced junk that goes up on a satellite to NO WHERE!
Show him the absurd Radio-on-Television programs that do little more than insult the intelligence and sophistication of viewers around the world.
Have him look at the programming on the “satellites to nowhere” and issue a report on their professionalism.
Ask him to rate the production values of our content: the quality of the video and audio, the lack of video sequences, the amateurish framing, the lack of white balance, the hands and arms that appear in soundbites, the video elements that are splattered into a package instead of stacked, the constant use of old b-roll, and, overall, the structure-less video we glue on top of a radio track and call a TV package and news report.
Then post these programs on your website along with the critiques of professionals and send the links to Congress and The White House.
That will get their attention!”
This comment received a response from a former Voice of America foreign language service journalist.
“The plan by IBB senior managers to expand Deewa radio to Deewa TV is reminiscent of what they did in the French to Africa service of the Voice of America where the multiplication of programming – including a new TV program, “Vous et Nous” , and many additional news broadcasts, has been done at the expense of fresh and accurate material.
The Agency wants to expand Deewa radio to Deewa TV on a radio budget. The same was done in French to Africa where suddenly, news writing became an exercise in copying and pasting from Agence France Presse (AFP).
Almost ALL of the French to Africa web site is filled with AFP news items and we are told by insiders that radio broadcasts are also largely rehashed from AFP. Editing in the past several years has often consisted of opening and printing a news item, with mistakes left in, note these insiders. And Facebook postings are also based on AFP.
However, French branch management can brag that it has increased its TV presence in francophone Africa, improved its web site and that its Facebook page is getting more hits. The reality is that any francophone African browsing the web would be better off consulting free sites such as Google actualites, romandie.com/news/ or Lesechos.fr for much more thorough and timely coverage of African and international news.
READ: Florida couple having sex while facing arrest number one U.S. news story on Voice of America French site for five days, BBG Watch, October 19, 2015
READ: Voice of America French to Africa service removes sex story after BBG Watch post, BBG Watch, October 22, 2015
READ: Barbarians in the Headquarters of Voice of America? – Cal State Professor condemns ‘secret visit’ to VOA of Ethiopian regime officials, BBG Watch, November 14, 2015
What IBB managers are peddling is a Potemkin village, a pretty flimsy one at best, and certainly not one that fulfills the VOA’s mission.
But to get back to Radio Deewa, let’s not forget that by the time newswriters show up in the VOA’s newsroom in Washington, and produce anything for Radio Deewa, it’s evening in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Audiences have already watched Pakistani news broadcasts, the BBC, CNN and/or German TV.
In an area where electricity is scarce at best, and most often rare, will Pakistanis bother to plug in to watch mediocre TV by the Deewa service? Very doubtful at best. And in the meantime, Radio Deewa broadcasts will suffer as staffers struggle to do five things at the same time.”
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