BBG Watch Commentary
Voice of America (VOA)
Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO and Director (since September 2015) John F. Lansing said recently that he has been watching the “exceptional team” during his one year tenure at the federal agency “achieve strong audience growth, give life to exciting new content opportunities, particularly in digital and mobile media, push for industry-leading ways to achieve impact in our programming, as we collectively work to inform, engage and connect with people in support of freedom and democracy.”
The VOA “India Python Swallows Antelope” video has had so far over 220K views.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Azerbaijan Service
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Azerbaijan Service: “Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are separated”
Voice of America Facebook
VOA Extremism Watch Desk, shows absolutely zero audience engagement for nearly all of its Facebook posts, even when terrorist attacks are taking place on American soil, as they did recently in Minnesota and NYC. VOA Extremism Watch website was not being updated during and following the terrorists attacks despite earlier claims from Voice of America Amanda Bennett that “VOA’s Extremism Watch is on the frontlines of investigative reporting.”
Voice of America Twitter
Individual Voice of America correspondents get less than 10 retweets and likes during the Clinton-Trump debate while BBC tweets get thousands and RT tweets get hundreds. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Twitter said that “Monday night’s showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was the most-tweeted debate ever.” “First Presidential Debate Breaks Twitter Record,” by Natalie Jarvey, The Hollywood Reporter, September 26, 2016. The Voice of America broke no records on Twitter during the first presidential debate.
BBG Watch Commentary Cont.
These photo gems, originally produced and paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money by media entities of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) — $777 million FY 2017 Budget Request — were sent to us by various individuals. One of them had a caption:
“Glad our tax dollars are being put to good use… Hope you can use this. It is an insane waste of taxpayers money, and this under a ‘CEO’ of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and a new head of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. Astonished what is happening, or not happening, at the agency. Why can’t they get the place shaped up? Congress needs to act on the reform legislation soon.”
Unpredictable, inconsistent to the point of being chaotic and bizarre are the words that best describe the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the Voice of America — all of these once effective U.S. taxpayer-funded institutions now in the hands of largely inexperienced new top managers and failed bureaucrats kept as their trusted advisors.
Take Azerbaijan, Russia, and Uzbekistan as just one example.
Why would BBG and RFE/RL give an impression for several years in a row that this is a country with absolutely the worst human rights and political liberties record in the region and at the same time post frivolous photos and content to its audience in Azerbaijan? Why is VOA posting stories repeating Russian disinformation and Chinese propaganda while BBG CEO John Lansing says that Russia engages in “blatant aggression“?
Why are VOA and RFE/RL ignoring an important foreign policy speech by Vice President Joe Biden while VOA reports that the NYC terrorist was ‘friendly’ and Minnesota terrorist was ‘smart and reliable’ and RFE/RL presents the late Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov as an almost heroic figure.
Azerbaijan’s record is far from good and any newsworthy examples of corruption and human rights abuses should be duly reported, as in any other country. But there is no consistency to what the Broadcasting Board of Governors is doing. Russia, Uzbekistan, Iran, China each have a far worse record on human rights and government corruption than Azerbaijan. Why then human rights violations corruption and other abuses of power in those countries have not been identified in BBG press releases and VOA programs with nearly the same frequency and eagerness as those in Azerbaijan? What makes Azerbaijan so special that it deserves both condemnations from the BBG and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt photos and reports from RFE/RL?
Inexperienced BBG and RFE/RL management seems completely incapable of seeing the big picture and providing effective leadership. You cannot be an effective leader of a federal agency like the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its media entities with no experience in foreign affairs, intercultural communications, U.S. government, U.S. foreign policy, public diplomacy and management of large international news organizations. John Lansing can’t do it. He was recommended by BBG Chair Jeff Shell after his previous choice, Andy Lack, departed after only a few weeks on the job. The agency has ben in a state of chaos already for several years, but it was never as bad as it is now.
Without the necessary experience, the BBG top executive can’t develop a consistent strategy and make consistent judgements from region to region and from country to country. He has no idea what various RFE/RL and VOA language services are producing and neither do many executives in charge of these entities. Even if he had the necessary background and experience, it would still be impossible for one person to oversee and manage all the different media entities with their different missions and different organizational structures. Consolidation under the “practically defunct” Broadcasting Board of Governors and its inexperienced CEO is the worst, the most expensive, the most bureaucratic, and the most unworkable solution.
RFE/RL management allows and apparently encourages the posting of the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt photo on the Azerbaijan Service website with a report, “Angelina Jolie və Brad Pitt ayrılır” (“Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are separated”) RFE/RL Azerbaijan Service, September 20, 2016, the day after the Broadcasting Board of Governors issues its press release “Ismayilova addresses repression, Russian media influence at Capitol Hill Azerbaijan hearing,” BBG Press Release, September 19, 2016.
If the political situation in Azerbaijan is as desperately bad as BBG press releases and RFE/RL programs suggest, why post such a frivolous and pointless photo and story? Would it not offend the oppressed Azerbaijanis?
Not to be outdone, the Voice of America is posting a video of a snake who had swallowed an antelope in India. The last time we checked VOA Charter called for reporting international and U.S. news, reporting on the United States, its society, institutions, and political debates, and reporting on U.S. policies.
But this is far from worse when it comes to chaotic, bizarre and incompetent leadership.
How could one explain that one of the first reports on the Minnesota terrorist stabbings prominently quoted the suspect’s acquaintances who described him as “smart and reliable” and said that they greatly feared retribution from their American neighbors. Isn’t this what ISIS propagandists are trying to tell the Muslims: that Americans hate Islam and persecute Muslims?
If the agency is making fabulous progress, as BBG Chair Shell, some BBG members, and BBG CEO John Lansing claim, why did BBG employees, who have impressed him, as Mr. Lansing admits, gave the agency and his leadership an assessment which Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson described as “scraping the bottom” and “going backward” during the first several months of Mr. Lansing’s tenure?
How else could one explain BBG Chairman Jeff Shell trying to go to Putin’s Russia to engage in private business activities, and find himself being barred by the Russians, while BBG Mr. Lansing, BBG executive Jeff Trimble, and RFE/RL President Thomas Kent, who had accompanied Shell on this trip, presumably in an official capacity, were allowed to enter the country?
How could you explain allowing Mr. Shell to go on such an inappropriate mixed private/official trip, carrying his personal passport, when his traveling companions knew or at least should be expected to know that he could be expelled by the Russians for purposes of provocation, intimidation, and anti-U.S. propaganda?
A BBG Chairman who had the right kind of experience would have never undertaken such a private business trip to Russia and a BBG CEO with the right kind of experience would have never agreed to such a trip, much less take part in it.
How could one explain RFE/RL managers reportedly inviting Putin’s officials to a reception in Moscow which Mr. Shell was to attend?
How could one explain a top-level BBG official reportedly telling incredulous RFE/RL journalists that until about three or four years ago Russia under Vladimir Putin was almost a democracy and being rebuked by an RFE/RL broadcaster?
How could one explain Mr. Lansing posting a statement expressing shock at Mr. Shell’s expulsion but failing to disclose under what circumstances Mr. Shell was traveling to Russia? Isn’t this the kind of government disinformation that BBG was created to counter in countries which censor local media? Even the U.S. State Department was more forthcoming with information and seemed visibly annoyed with the Shell-Lansing-Trimble-Kent “Mission to Moscow” that went bad. See: State and White House more honest, less deceptive on Jeff Shell than BBG bureaucracy and VOA, BBG Watch, July 15, 2016.
How could one explain that BBG and RFE/RL are not nearly as brave in exposing and criticizing with equal ferocity human rights violations and political excesses of the Putin regime? Is it perhaps easier to beat up on a relatively minor target to cover up your lack of courage where it really counts?
Is there any strategy, consistency or logic to what BBG and RFE/RL are doing?