BBG Watch Commentary

Washington Post TwitterA news article in today’s Washington Post by Bill Englund, a Pulitzer Prize winner Washington Post correspondent in Moscow: “Harsh anti-protest laws in Ukraine spur anger,” includes reporting on various U.S. reactions to recent events in Ukraine that went unreported on the Voice of America (VOA) English news website, which is funded by U.S. taxpayers to provide uncensored news and to inform the world about U.S. policies.

At least, that is VOA’s mission as outlined in the VOA Charter, a public U.S. law. (The outstanding VOA Ukrainian Service is reporting on these news developments on its own — the problem is with VOA central management, its main English news website, and central news reporting in English for worldwide English speaking audiences and for more than 40 VOA language services.)

In his article in The Washington Post, Bill Englund reported these U.S. reactions to news developments in Ukraine — most of them official U.S. government statements and actions, which are not being reported on the Voice of America (VOA) English news website:

1. “In Washington on Thursday, after the Ukraine parliament’s vote, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that the United States is concerned about the new legislation.” (Will Englund, Washington Post)

2. “In the U.S. Senate, Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the Global Human Rights Accountability Act, which would punish human rights violators in all countries. just as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act does with Russia.” (Will Englund, Washington Post)

3. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who met twice with Yanukovych in December, said in Senate testimony Wednesday that he assured her he wanted to move forward on an agreement with the E.U. and the International Monetary Fund. (Will Englund, Washington Post)

4. David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House, said, “It is disheartening to watch the democratically elected government of Ukraine moving further away from the democratic aspirations of the people of Ukraine. “Not only was the law passed in violation of normal procedures, the Rada offered a glimpse of the dark times awaiting Ukraine,” said Kramer, who spoke Thursday in Washington. (Will Englund, Washington Post)

Read: “Harsh anti-protest laws in Ukraine spur anger” by Will Englund, Washington Post, Friday, January 17, 2014.

Unlike Voice of America’s premier English news website, we at BBG Watch have also reported on U.S. government reactions to recent news developments in Ukraine.


Voice of America’s main news website ignores strong U.S. condemnation of attacks on Ukrainian journalists,” BBG Watch, January 16, 2014.

Voice of America main news website not reporting on State Dept. reaction to undemocratic law in Ukraine,” BBG Watch, January 17, 2014.

U.S. considers VOA and RFE/RL programs to Ukraine ‘ very valuable’ and ‘very important’,” BBG Watch, January 17, 2014.

The ultimate irony is that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), whose job it is to oversee Voice of America executives in charge of VOA English news, pays more attention to Ukraine than senior VOA senior staff and their VOA English.

Today’s “BBG Media Highlights” compiled by BBG staff and sent out Monday through Friday by BBG public relations specialist Anastasia Kolobrodova, as well as posted on the BBG website, includes a link to the Washington Post article by Will Englund.

One could interpret this as an example of a tremendous disconnect between BBG Board and VOA’s top management. This disconnect and BBG’s displeasure was demonstrated  at a BBG Board meeting in December when BBG member Matt Armstrong questioned sharply VOA Director David Ensor about VOA’s failures in reporting breaking news.

This is from BBG Public Relations, not VOA:

“– Ukraine passes sweeping anti-protest legislation, including law that forbids protesters wearing helmets. Here’s one response.”

BBG Public Relations staff provided this “Here’s one response” link:

BBG Public Relations also reported in its PR outreach on U.S. reactions to attacks on journalists in Russia and Ukraine — official reactions which were also ignored on the VOA English news website.

Members of the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) might do better if, instead of giving their contract for VOA English news and website to VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch, they gave it to their own BBG public relations staff or, more appropriately, to The Washington Post, or any other professional media organization or media management team that would respect the VOA Charter.

BBG could also give the contract to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a grantee of the BBG, which is doing an outstanding job of reporting on news developments in Ukraine. Instead of doing its own report on some of the most undemocratic legislation passed yesterday by the Ukrainian Parliament, VOA English website posted a report from Reuters which did not include any U.S. reactions and only one European reaction.

The BBG Board could even ask the VOA Ukrainian Service to report in English on U.S. reactions to events in Ukraine by giving it money and additional resources. Those resources could come by taking them away from the VOA executive staff. As it is, under-staffed and under-resourced VOA Ukrainian Service is doing an outstanding job, but it is barely surviving without sufficient management support.

Anything would be better than late, incomplete, un-updated and never posted news that worldwide audiences  now get or don’t get on the VOA English website under the current VOA leadership. VOA English website does not even report on important statements on Ukraine from U.S. Congress which gives VOA money to operate. Something needs to change.

To understand what a major assault on human rights and media freedom in Ukraine occurred yesterday, one must read an op-ed in Kyiv Post by Katya Gorchinkskaya,  “Katya Gorchinskaya: Welcome to Little RussiaKyiv Post, January 16, 2014.

As of Jan. 16, even traffic jams are banned in Ukraine. If a new law rubber-stamped by parliament on this day is signed by President Viktor Yanukovych, any unsanctioned movement of five or more vehicles will be enough to revoke a driver’s license for up to two years and confiscate the vehicle.

The law, of course, was not designed to counter traffic jams, but to crack down on AutoMaidan, an initiative that takes protests to politicians’ homes. It was ironically touted as a bill to improve public safety and fix holes in the law on the status of judges. But it instead tramples on many human rights while emulating Russian know-how. (Katya Gorchinskaya, Kyiv Post)