BBG Watch Commentary

Justin Bieber in Court

Obama on Ukraine 1-31-14

Intimidated by the upper management into public silence, Voice of America (VOA) journalists protest anonymously against editorial policies that favor posting numerous news reports with videos on the British royal family, Justin Bieber and Amanda Knox, while such news as President Obama’s extensive comments on the situation in Ukraine do not get a separate VOA report or posting of video.

These VOA reporters are not using their names fearing retaliation by VOA executives and managers.

Some VOA senior executives are known to have anger management problems. They have threatened employees, issued warnings against public complaints, and even tried to retaliate against critics among independent journalists outside of their government organization.

Even former VOA staffers are afraid to use their names, not wanting to provoke attacks on their still employed colleagues and making their lives at work even worse. Former and current VOA reporters shared their frustrations and concerns with BBG Watch and asked us to protect their identities.

The most recent VOA news reporting scandal that has launched new complaints from VOA journalists was the management’s decision to produce and post numerous VOA news reports on Justin Bieber while ignoring important statements on Ukraine by President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and key members of the U.S. Senate.

Not even President Obama’s more than three minute long public comments Friday on Ukraine received a separate full report from the Voice of America in English and more than 40 other languages, while VOA posted yesterday original reports exclusively on Justin Bieber and Amanda Knox.

VOA no longer reports reliably and comprehensively on U.S. foreign policy issues. One can find out much more these days about U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv website, and especially from the Twitter account of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, than from VOA English news, which is often late, un-updated or simply missing news stories when it comes to reporting on events in Ukraine and U.S. reactions to them.

This video of President Obama’s comments on the situation in Ukraine was posted on the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv website. The video was available to VOA from the White House website. It has not been posted on the VOA English news website or more than 40 VOA foreign language news websites. It appears that the only VOA service using this video was the VOA Ukrainian service.

While videos like this one don’t get posted, in January alone, VOA posted on its English website six news reports on Justin Bieber. One of them was an original VOA report with video. Another original VOA report on Bieber was posted yesterday, while President Obama’s extensive comments on Ukraine were reported only very briefly in another VOA report without any video, photo, or a headline suggesting in any way that U.S. President was commenting at all or specifically about Ukraine. There was still one more original VOA report with references to Justin Bieber in January, and three additional reports about him from Reuters were also posted on the VOA website.

In October 2013, VOA posted five separate reports in English (some with video) on the British royal baby christening and had 27 separate reports in English on the British royal wedding in 2011. When translated by some VOA language services, the number of these reports on the British royalty could well be into hundreds.

Meanwhile, almost no VOA language service, with the exception of the overworked VOA Ukrainian service and in some cases the VOA Russian service, reported on many significant U.S. pronouncements on Ukraine, including recent statements by Vice President Biden, White House Press Secretary, Secretary of State Kerry, Senator John McCain, Senator Chris Murphy, Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and other American officials and politicians.

President Obama’s earlier, briefer reference to Ukraine in his State of the Union address was not reported on the VOA English news website or by the vast majority of VOA language services. His extensive comments on Ukraine on Friday received only perfunctory coverage in English and were missed by most VOA language services.

VOA reporters protest that none of this is their fault. They say that they are completely helpless and fear retaliation from the management for speaking up in public against management’s editorial policies.

We have stressed repeatedly that the entire blame for this news reporting crisis rests with the senior executive management of the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

Today we repost some of the reactions we received from former and current VOA staff reporters.

One former VOA senior news staffer said:

“The VOA regime has all the major beat reporters doing semi-news TV pieces, and [management’s] production methods are so primitive that such a piece can take up 2 or 3 days for a correspondent [to complete]. Covering daily news including statements like Obama’s, VOA’s former staple, is actually frowned upon and belittled by those people [VOA executives]. As a former senior news staffer, I’d be rolling over in my grave about this. But happily I’m not dead.

A Senior VOA Correspondent said:

BBG Watch has posted numerous items about stories falling through the cracks on VOA’s English and language service sites. Unfortunately, BBG Watch often casts a wide net, implying that VOA correspondents are somehow to blame. Please take these considerations into account.

Your readers must understand that, in contrast with the way things were done many years ago before the current implosion at VOA, correspondents are often immersed in labor-intensive assignments involving so-called TV. Whether daily assignments or larger projects, this can end up preventing them from carrying out the kind of breaking news filing VOA used to be known for, from places like the State Department or White House or Capitol Hill.

Blame for this must be placed on the approach forced on VOA’s newsroom-based reporting corps (diminished by a talent drain in recent years) by higher IBB managers. This has trickled down through Central News managers. But it is also the fault of VOA language services who make daily and often unreasonable demands for “day of” television reports.

The outcome is obvious. VOA correspondents based at main Washington bureaus are often immersed in time-consuming activities required for TV pieces. This can include such things as searching through hours of past or recent video content for B-Roll, or feed video needed for these TV reports, and locating TV “time code” to assist newsroom-based producers. Indeed, the process of initially identifying and researching all of this is itself extraordinarily intensive. Yet, in the current dysfunctional situation, correspondents themselves must do this with minimal help from a still understaffed production desk.

For reasons that must be obvious, but which IBB managers do not allow open and honest debate about, correspondents are therefore incapable of giving the attention they are used to providing to the “pulse” of daily news at their beats. Indeed, correspondents who have been assigned, perhaps without the knowledge of language services making random demands, to produce “day of” or more extensive projects requiring days of work, they may not even be at daily briefings at key locations.

A reporter on Capitol Hill, for example, thrown into a “day of” TV assignment, may be unable to attend or even monitor the important daily briefings by the House Majority Leader. VOA’s State Department correspondent or reporter at the White House might be unable to physically attend the daily briefings in those locations.

Also important to consider is the fact that Central News has only single correspondents at all key Washington bureaus. These are not multi-person operations with producers assisting, as CNN, MSNBC and others have. If VOA’s State Department or White House correspondents are unable or unavailable to focus on the kind of breaking news remarks BBGW often highlights, the fault is not theirs.

There is another aspect to all of this. In the distant past, VOA’s newsroom would be sharply focused on key daily events, including State Department or White House briefings. That is often no longer the case, among other things due to sharply increased demands on a diminished Central News staff, and the dismantling of what used to be an efficient regional desk system.

Another factor involves the still under-resourced English web operation. Justifiably, BBG Watch has focused attention on the fact that the English website (with impacts down the line in language services) is often incapable of posting breaking news in any short period of time, as the BBC and other media outlets do with consistency.

The transfer of two Central News editor/writers to the web operation may have gone some way toward improving things, but as BBG Watch continues to point out, numerous items still fall in the hole. IBB managers have known about web deficiencies for years, including what web staff themselves point to as serious problems with the Pangea content management system, and computer equipment incapable of handling the load.

This is all part of the picture and must be understood not only by BBG Watch editors and contributors, but IBB managers who have condoned the process of imposing unreasonable demands on the newsroom and its existing reporting staff.

VOA’s newsroom has highly-motivated people. Its beat correspondents are capable and often superb reporters. But there is a limit to what can be demanded in the course of a day. Whether government or private sector, any organization that ignores these realities, does so at its own peril and that of its employees who are pressed to the absolute edge of their limits.

[aside] caption = Voice of America’s Coverage of British Royals in 2011 and 2013
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Voice of America Director David Ensor. Critics say that VOA news reporting under him and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redish has declined and nearly collapsed.

Voice of America Director David Ensor. Critics say that VOA news reporting under him and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redish has declined and nearly collapsed.

U.S. taxpayers paid for these programs by the Voice of America (VOA) while many human rights-related news stories and important U.S. foreign policy pronouncements by the White House, the State Department, and members of Congress went unreported on VOA websites in recent months and years.

Years and months later, these reports on the British royalty posted on the VOA English website show zero or very few Facebook “Likes” or any other indication of any notable audience engagement through social media.


VOA British Royal Wedding Feast


Excited Crowds Fill London Streets for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Royal Wedding Ceremony Steeped in Grandeur, Tradition Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Kate Middleton Wears Wedding Dress by Sarah Burton Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Wedding Celebrations Held in Streets Across Britain Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Americans Rise Early for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Celebrities, Sports Stars Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain Hopes for Billion-Dollar Economic Boost from Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM


Crowds Gather for Britain’s Royal Wedding; Syrian Diplomat Pulled Off Guest List Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM


London Readies for Royal Wedding Day Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM


Formal Clothing, Informal Speeches Typical at British Weddings Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 26, 2011 8:00 PM


British Public Divided Over Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain Preparing Security for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain’s Royal Wedding: From Cake to Clergy Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM


Bahrain Prince Declines British Royal Wedding Invitation Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM


David Beckham, Elton John Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain Notes Big Change in Royal Wedding Souvenirs Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 21, 2011 8:00 PM


Prince William, Bride-to-Be Middleton Visit Princess Diana’s Grave Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain’s Queen Formally Approves Prince William’s Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain’s Queen Celebrates 85th Birthday Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM


Royal Wedding: William & Kate Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:50 AM


A Royal Obsession, Do Americans Care? Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 19, 2011 8:00 PM


Muslim Group Applies to Protest Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM


YouTube to Air Britain’s Royal Wedding Live Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM


Princesses in Training Get Tips at Royal Tea Party Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 17, 2011 8:00 PM


10 Ways You Can Get Into the Spirit of the Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 14, 2011 8:00 PM


British Royal Engagement Sparks Interest in Modern Monarchies Voice of America (VOA) English website, November 29, 2010 7:00 PM


Britain Announces Royal Wedding Date Voice of America (VOA) English website, November 22, 2010 7:00 PM

VOA on British Royal Christening, October 2013

Among five reports on the VOA website on the royal christening in Britain posted on October 23 and 24, 2013, none has more than 20 Facebook “Likes” as of October 28, 2013, one had zero Facebook “Likes” and another one had three.

Zones: Breaking News , Europe

Prince William, Kate Hold Private Christening for New Prince

October 23, 2013 12:08 PM

……..was born on July 22. In the arms of his mother as she left the the palace’s Chapel Royal, George was dressed in a long cream satin robe that was a replica of an 1841 gown made for the christening of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. Kate, a style icon whose outfits often increase sales of similar garments, wore an off-white, ruffled skirt-suit, made by British fashion house Alexander McQueen, and pillbox hat by British milliner Jane Taylor ….

Tags: Britain , duchess catherine , Kate Middleton , prince george , Prince William , royal christening

Zones: Europe

Reporters: Reuters

Prince George’s Godparents Named Ahead of Christening

October 23, 2013 8:20 AM

……..William and Kate’s decision is a break with the tradition of choosing royal dignitaries to take on the ceremonial role, and a continuation of their effort to portray a more informal, modern image to austerity-hit Britons. After the christening, guests will attend a private tea at Clarence House, hosted by Prince Charles and Camilla. Hollywood photographer Jason Bell has been tapped to take official photos of the event, that will include a “historic multi-generational photograph” of the queen

Tags: Britain , monarch , prince george , royal christening

Zones: Europe

Reporters: VOA News

Royal Baby Christening Breaks with Tradition

October 23, 2013 12:14 AM

Carla Babb Prince George, the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is being christened in Britain on Wednesday. In a break from tradition, the christening of the world’s most famous baby will be as low key as possible. Three months ago, Prince William and his wife Catherine shared their bundle of joy with the world. And just as the royal couple broke with tradition ….

Tags: British royal family , christening , Prince William , Princess Kate , royal baby , royal christening , royalty

Zones: Europe

Reporters: Carla Babb

Hollywood Photographer to Record British Prince’s Christening

October 22, 2013 9:59 AM

Reuters A British photographer known for his portraits of rock stars and Hollywood actors was named on Tuesday as the official photographer of the world’s newest celebrity – Prince George. Prince William and his wife Kate have chosen Jason Bell to photograph the christening on Wednesday, October 23, of their son, the third-in-line to the British throne, a palace statement said. Bell, 44, is an award-winning photographer best known for portraits of celebrities such as musician Paul McCartney, footballer David Beckham ….

Tags: Britain , christening , prince george , royals

Zones: Europe , Arts & Entertainment

Reporters: Reuters

Britain’s Future Monarch Christened in Low-Key London Ceremony

October 23, 2013 12:19 PM

a central London chapel, where he made his first public appearance since his birth in July. Prince George was seen in the arms of his father, Prince William, as the elder prince and his wife Kate arrived at the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace for Wednesday’s traditional Anglican Christian ceremony. The infant was wearing a white satin gown, a replica of one made for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter in 1841. In a private ceremony inside the chapel ….

Zones: World News , Europe