BBG Watch Guest Commentary

BBG Watch occasionally publishes guest commentaries. This one is from Keith Perron, an announcer and producer at PCJ Radio International in Taiwan.

Views expressed here are only those of the author and not of BBG Watch, its volunteers, or sponsors.

We invite those with opposing views and others who want to comment on this or other issues followed by BBG Watch to submit their op-eds for consideration.

Voice of America is ‘a terminally ill patient’

By Keith Perron


Keith Perron
Keith Perron

One question often asked by Voice of America staff and audience is: Why has the VOA failed to be relevant this century? If you’re a regular reader to BBG Watch there is no need to remind you of the discussions that have been posted.

Over the last few years we have seen Voice of America asleep at the wheel on some major news stories. But the two recent ones that I want to mention are not major news stories, but rather stories that are related to U.S. media itself. To be more specific Brian Williams from NBC News and Jon Stewart from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

Now most of us have been following what led to Brian Williams being suspended from NBC News, so there is no need to go into all the details. Various international news outlets from BBC World Service, ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corp.), China Radio International, NHK World (Japan) and others all covered this story. But the VOA didn’t until a few days later. This leads me to believe that VOA editors are living with their heads in the sand thinking that NBC Nightly News is only broadcast in the U.S. and that Williams is only known to Americans.

Global Reach of American Television

NBC Nightly News along with the CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight are also seen globally. Television stations around the world relay the programs at the same time they are broadcast in the U.S. or on a time delay. There was a time perhaps some 30 years ago that you could use the argument that these are only local programs. You can’t anymore. Today, with changing technology and more cooperation between various networks worldwide, the big three probably do a far better job at reflecting U.S. foreign policy and providing a better picture of the United States than the Voice of America does now.

There once was a time when if I wanted to know what was happening in the United States I would tune to the Voice of America. These days I tune to CNN International or the nightly newscasts from ABC, CBS or NBC. If I want a totally different view, sometimes I will tune into Shepard Smith on FOX News.

Is VOA Reflecting America Globally?

Is the VOA doing the United States and the American people justice and reflecting U.S. events, opinions and values? Short answer. No. While the VOA is using new technologies, it has on the whole continued to do what it has been doing with some exceptions since its founding in 1942: Shouting and not engaging its audience. And giving a limited view of the United States, its people, way of life, and culture.

Recently Jon Stewart announced that he was leaving as host of the satirical program The Daily Show from Comedy Central. As a cultural story this also went initially un-reported by the VOA and when the story finally appeared the next day, it was superficial and failed to mention that the stars of the now defunct popular satirical VOA TV shows to Iran were guests on Stewart’s program at one time.

The February 11 short VOA report on Jon Stewart shows only nine (9) Facebook “Shares” almost three days later. Again, I suspect the same reasons for the lateness, brevity and lack of audience engagement as in the VOA treatment of the Williams story.

The Daily Show first made its appearance internationally in 2002 and is shown around the world. Even here in Taiwan we have a version of the show that is subtitled. In China, The Daily Show is very well known. It is part of America’s cultural landscape, but it was dismissed by the VOA with one late and short online report. I should mention that the two major late night chat shows The Tonight Show on NBC and The Late Show on CBS are also seen internationally.

So I wonder if the VOA is really interested in giving a window to the United States. If they were, they would have reported on these two small stories promptly and much more extensively. But I feel that VOA and certain (not all) managing editors either have no international experience and don’t know what is going on outside the U.S., or feel that these are only local stories.

Is VOA Relevant in 2015?

Well it has not been relevant for a number of years now. I spend lots of time traveling throughout Asia and the Pacific. I’m trying to remember the last time I heard anyone say to me they get news about the United States on the Voice of America television, radio, its websites, or through social media platforms linking to VOA websites. I can’t think of one instance. But I do keep hearing them mention CNN International.

Now the VOA also has a television service. Of any television service globally that should be cut for poor quality, VOA TV would be at the top of the list. I’ve seen locally produced television programs in Micronesia that are more slick and more professional.

What Are Some of the Surface Problems with VOA TV?

Poor lighting, shoddy camera work, poor make-up, wardrobe that looks like it was picked up at Wal-Mart, most presenters who have no camera personality, and finally very boring content. As you may have noticed, I put content last. In television, I learned years ago, while it does matter how good your content is, if it looks boring, no one will watch.

A Terminally Ill Patient

Many people have suggested that the VOA needs to be restructured. This would be possible if the VOA’s problems weren’t so deep. All that you could do now is plaster up the widening cracks. VOA is like a terminally ill patient in a coma.

To quote from the popular song by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The party’s over, it’s time to call it a day.

About the Author

Keith Perron has been working in international broadcasting since 1989, including work at Radio Canada International, China Radio International, Radio Deutsche Welle. He has freelanced for Radio Netherlands, Monitor Radio, ABC Radio (Australia) and others. He is currently the director of PCJ Radio International where he is also an announcer and producer.

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