Managers, employees and guests at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) open board meeting in Washington, DC, February 18, 2015.

BBG Watch Media Report and Commentary

“Executives and news staff at the troubled Broadcasting Board of Governors responded warmly this week to inaugural remarks from the agency’s first-ever chief executive officer,” Charles S. Clark reported in an online Government Executive ( article.

Andrew Lack, a veteran of NBC News, CBS News, SONY Music Entertainment and Bloomberg Global Media Group, was hailed as an “icon of the news business” at his first board appearance, by board chairman Jeffrey Shell. Lack, according to an unofficial BBG newsletter, reassured the larger Voice of America staff separately that “I didn’t come here to cut, I came here to grow.”

Government Executive article reports BBG Chairman Jeff Shell as saying “For the first time in my chairmanship, I can say I feel good about where we are.”

The article also quotes Ted Lipien, who several years ago had launched unofficial BBG newsletter BBG Watch and has been a critic of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau and Voice of America (VOA) federal bureaucracy, as saying that he found Lack “a breath of fresh air.”

BBG Watch is now published by a group of unpaid volunteers, some of them former and current VOA reporters.

It’s safe to assume that Andy Lack’s remark “I didn’t come here to cut, I came here to grow” probably should not be interpreted that all VOA and BBG elements will grow, BBG Watch had commented earlier. Andy Lack may cut some in order to grow others. “The best place to start cutting for growing the news organization journalistically would be its enormous bureaucracy,” BBG Watch opined.

“Board chairman Shell praised the interim management team that kept BBG moving in preparation for Lack’s arrival,” article reported. “I’m not spinning,” he said, “But we’re in a very good place as an agency,” Shell said.

BBG Watch observed independently of that some of the Voice of America foreign language broadcasters made ” truly impressive presentations about their work” to the BBG board during the Wednesday session. There are many excellent VOA journalists and programs.

But there were also weaknesses and some incomplete and even misleading claims in the presentation by VOA management of the overall Voice of America programming and program distribution strategy. Voice of America social media statistics were carefully chosen by VOA management to emphasize a few real successes while hiding numerous major deficiencies in audience engagement, BBG Watch observed. Thanks to BBG Chairman Jeff Shell’s question, VOA Director David Ensor had to address some of the problems, but he described them only vaguely and blamed them on insufficient resources rather than poor management.

Weaknesses of the affiliate placement strategy were also hidden in the VOA management presentation, but thanks to another question from Jeff Shell, some of them, such as self-censorship and over-reliance by VOA management on soft programming and foreign gate keepers, were at least partially revealed, BBG Watch observed.

New BBG member Michael W. Kempner, President, and CEO of MWW, a public relations firm, also asked a pointed question about measuring impact, but received no concrete answer from Mr. Ensor who referred him to the BBG’s audience research office.

BBG Watch also observed that VOA Director David Ensor’s claim that the Voice of America would rather be accurate than first with a news story does not cover numerous examples of VOA being hours behind other U.S. and major international media outlets on Washington beat stories, happening within a few blocks of the VOA headquarters. On these types of stories, there are usually no question about accuracy of various Administration or Congressional actions or statements.

But Director Ensor was much better this time than during his previous major presentation to the board last year. The overall impression was even better thanks to some of the best VOA foreign language service journalists being given more time to tell their own stories during this week’s presentation.

U.S. news, and particularly Washington beat news, is where VOA could and should be ahead of other news organizations in reporting on them to foreign audiences, BBG Watch also observed in numerous reports and commentaries. In reality VOA often misses them altogether or is late, although some recent improvements in coverage were noted a few weeks prior and a few days after the arrival of Mr. Lack.

Most recently, however, VOA slipped again while Mr. Lack was traveling abroad for a short period, BBG Watch reported earlier.

BBG Watch also observed that Director Ensor’s claim of foreign language VOA websites being faster and more comprehensive in reporting news than the VOA English news website does not match with reality. While there may be one or two examples of prompter reporting on one or two VOA foreign language websites, in most cases, especially on major U.S. and some international news stories, VOA foreign language websites and their social media pages are even slower than the main VOA English language news website, BBG Watch reported.

Some of it must be attributed to inadequate staffing in the areas of news gathering, news reporting, video production, web operations and social media reporting. But much of it can be attributed to enormous waste of resources, lack of leadership and bureaucratic bloat. Scarce resources are in the hands of scores of bureaucrats rather than programmers, BBG Watch has been reporting. reported that according to Director Ensor, the Voice of America’s mission is “to combat ignorance, propaganda and anti-Americanism with programming that is relevant to the audience, their regions and the world, according to our values enshrined in the Constitution.” Director Ensor also referred to the Voice of America as “the state broadcaster” of the United States. reported Director Ensor as saying “We’re exporting First Amendment journalism.”


READ MORE: Broadcasting Board’s New CEO: ‘I Didn’t Come Here to Cut’ By Charles S. Clark, Government Executive (, February 20, 2015