BBG Watch Commentary
CUSIB normally does not comment on news content issues, but its Advisory Board members apparently could not fail to notice that while important U.S. and international news is ignored or under-reported by the Voice of America (VOA), the VOA English news website posted five reports in two days on the British royal christening and another one on finishing schools in Switzerland (some of these reports were from Reuters). The five British royal christening reports on the VOA English news website have gathered so far only the average of 7.4 Facebook “Likes” and one comment each. CUSIB also has heard about veteran VOA correspondents not being able to get their reports posted fast and in a professional manner.
At the same time and in recent past, the VOA English news website has ignored numerous U.S. and international human rights and humanitarian news stories. They included the appeal of Nobel Peace Prize laureates to the Chinese government to free dissident writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, the Lech Walesa Human Rights Award for Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the Nobel Peace Laureates’ Award for American actress Sharon Stone for her work to help AIDS victims.
CUSIB also apparently could not fail to notice that many U.S. and international media outlets, including Al Jazeera, BBC, Russia Today and Voice of Russia, did report on these stories and received hundreds and often thousands of Facebook “Likes,” comments from online readers, and other indicators of strong audience engagement through social media.
New BBG chairman Jeff Shell met with some of CUSIB members in New York shortly after he was sworn-in.
CUSIB Executive Director, Ann Noonan, speaks at BBG Open Meeting in DC, expressing alarm about the decline of the Voice of America’s ability to cover U.S. and world news for international audiences
The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) Executive Director, Ann Noonan, spoke as a member of the public at an open meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington, DC on Wednesday, October 23, 2013. All BBG Governors were present at the meeting, along with Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz, who was designated by Secretary of State John Kerry – an ex officio BBG board member – to represent him at the October meeting. CUSIB welcomes this designation and hopes that Secretary Kerry will be able attend at least some future BBG board meetings.
Noonan expressed CUSIB’s strong support for U.S. government-funded surrogate broadcasters and their specialized news reporting and surrogate media freedom missions: Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN – Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and expressed opposition to plans to limit their independence and surrogate specialization. She also mentioned the failure of the VOA English news website to cover adequately the meeting at the White House between teenage Pakistani girls’ rights activist Malala Yousafzai and President Obama — a news event comprehensively reported on by other international news media — even China’s CCTV — but not by VOA English news, whose report lacked both substance and balance. VOA also did not cover in any substantive way the rest of Malala’s visit to the United States and her U.S. media interviews, including her appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
CUSIB is concerned by reports that veteran Voice of America correspondents have to plea with the VOA Management to have their news reports and information they provide posted online in a timely and professional fashion and see their warning and complaints ignored.
In response to International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Director Richard M. Lobo’s announcement that he will retire on November 30. CUSIB Advisory Board Member Ambassador Victor Ashe, who was not in attendance but served as a BBG Governor June 30, 2010 through August 1, 2013, offered the following statement:
“The departure of Dick Lobo ends a turbulent history at BBG where morale continued its downward spiral. The good news is that the new Board can chart a new course. It remains to be seen whether Congress abolishes the IBB position and allows the Board to name a new CEO and what powers he/she will have. It remains to be seen whether the Board is hands on with an effort to tackle inherited issues.”
Noonan ended her comments by saying that:
“CUSIB is hopeful that under Chairman Shell’s leadership, the BBG will act to change the agency’s dysfunctional management culture and open a new chapter in labor-management relations for this very precious and important media freedom institution.”
The following is the text of Noonan’s prepared statement:
For the record, I’d like to thank Jeff Shell for meeting with members of CUSIB’s Advisory Board during the first 24 hours of his tenure as BBG Chair. We shared many of our concerns with him, and we’re glad that the lines of communication have remained open. We look forward to meeting with new BBG Governor – Ambassador Crocker, Governor Armstrong, and Governor Weinstein – and we hope to maintain our very good working relationships with BBG Governor Susan McCue and Governor Michael Meehan.
Also for the record, CUSIB is honored that former BBG Governor – Ambassador Victor Ashe has joined our Advisory Board.
As CUISB continues to push for greater transparency, I’d like to mention for the record, that we’ve recently filed 2 FOIA requests with the BBG. One is requesting copies of all information about specific travel costs.
The second FOIA request is for copies of all emails sent from IBB Director where the email topic and/or content mention one of the former BBG Governors.
We hope that these FOIA requests will be answered soon and all the requested information will be provided.
CUSIB remains opposed reappearing plans to limit independence of surrogate broadcasters: Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
We are amazed by apparent efforts to confuse Members of Congress by suggesting that these services, that have their own specific Congressional mandates, somehow duplicate the role of VOA, when in fact — they do not — if surrogates are allowed to do their job right without interference from the government bureaucracy in Washington.
BBG’s surrogate media outlets serve populations in closed societies and help them get the local news and opinions their governments desperately want to keep from them. The level of specialization and the local news focus of the surrogate broadcasters is far different from VOA’s. They need to keep their independence and their specialization.
Voice of America’s job is to cover some of the news that all major news organizations cover as well, but with a focus on American views, perspectives and reactions. That’s what makes VOA different from any other news organization, and especially from surrogate media.
The problem is not duplication. But we see serious flaws in the VOA news operation — due to poor management.
By increasingly using Reuters news reports and failing to report fully and with balance on such American news stories as President Obama’s meeting at the White House with Malala, a Pakistani girl targeted for death by the Taliban because she wanted education for herself and other girls, VOA is not meeting its basic legal obligations under its Congressional Charter.
Duplication in foreign news reporting is not a problem within BBG — the failure to report U.S. news by VOA in a consistent manner — is.
The management problem is in Washington and it should not be allowed to spread to the surrogate BBG media outlets, which are generally doing a fine job of reporting what they should be reporting. They do not report at length on U.S. news — nor should they. That’s VOA’s job.
As an example of the broader management problem within IBB, I’d like to highlight one lawsuit against the BBG that so far has raked up $3 million plus in US taxpayer expense and is expect to cost more than $5 million because IBB executives and their agency lawyers refuse to accept the inevitable, honor legal rulings, and give justice to the wronged employees who are experiencing extreme personal hardships — just to score a point.
Talking about what is the cause of dismal employee morale for those who are still employed, the BBG needs to look at these management practices at the highest level and put a stop to them –.
One of the plaintiffs, Salvador Blanco, illegally RIFed OCB Employee stated: “It’s really my fault for believing that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) would do right instead of allowing its qualified RIFed employees to live in a legal limbo, because of personal and political interests.”
CUSIB is hopeful that under Chairman Shell’s leadership, the BBG will act to change the agency’s dysfunctional management culture and a new chapter in labor-management relations opened for this very precious and important media freedom institution. CUSIB remains ready to help the BBG to carry out these reforms and to support the BBG’s media freedom mission. Thank You.
The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) is an independent, nongovernmental organization which supports free flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries without free media.
For further information, please contact:
Ann Noonan, co-founder and Executive Director
Ted Lipien, co-founder