BBG Watch Commentary

VOA New Report Screenshot July 8 2016Instead of anticipating President Obama’s eventual call for racial solidarity in the wake of the Dallas shootings of police officers, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) continued to post inaccurate information that the policeman in the Minnesota killing of an African-American man was white, thus creating a worse image for the United States abroad than it already was — but, more dangerously, possibly contributing to racial tensions in America since VOA content is available domestically on the web and may be reused by some U.S. media.

The policeman involved in the Minnesota shooting of Philando Castile is most likely not white contrary to what VOA was reporting on several occasions as possibly the only mainstream media outlet to make an erroneous and superfluous racial claim, and even after readers left comments on its website pointing out VOA’s mistake. The victim’s girlfriend may have misidentified the police officer as being Asian, but according to Reuters, officer Jeronimo Yanez is of Mexican descent.

VOA Report Comment Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 4:12 PM ET
VOA Report Comment Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 4:12 PM ET

“This incident had nothing to do with the race of the driver,” said attorney Thomas Kelly, who represents Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who fired the fatal shots. “It had everything to do with the presence of a gun,” Reuters reported. Reuters also noted that Rashad Turner, a Black Lives Matter St. Paul leader, said he believed police racially profiled Castile, which led to his shooting.

Continued mismanagement is the ultimate cause of the latest and other editorial mishaps at the Voice of America, which is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Several nights ago, when VOA did poorly in reporting on another news story, one inside source said: “Blame an understaffed Saturday night newsroom with only one writer and one editor on duty working with a piece of junk Dalet system [VOA’s digital storage and processing platform] that never fails to fail. Those who were there did the best they could with almost no resources with which to work.”

VOA News Report July 8 2016 ScreenshotWhile we could not confirm that there was only one writer and one editor on duty and that the digital system failed on that night, it is well known that the VOA newsroom continues to be practically empty at night, particularly on weekends, even though new VOA director Amanda Bennett has been there since February 2016 and BBC CEO John Lansing since September 2015. Even if there were more than two people on duty in the VOA Central English Newsroom, they could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Continued mismanagement is the obvious answer. The BBG’s budget is $777.8 million (FY 2017 Budget Request). The BBG is the independent federal government agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international media. BBG is also the name of the bipartisan board that governs the agency. BBG has 3,590 employees. VOA’s portion of the BBG budget is $224.4 million (FY 2017 Budget Request). VOA lists 1,115 employees, not counting hundreds of contract employees.

John Lansing and Amanda Bennett need to answer this question: how come months into their tenure only a handful of reporters work in the VOA newsroom at night when major news developments are occurring in the United States and abroad while several high-paying BBG administrative positions have been posted since they came on board?

BBG Watch had reported earlier that VOA director Amanda Bennett intervened to get the VOA newsroom to focus more on the police shootings story, but it was not enough to get VOA to correct its mistake even after numerous sources pointed it out. The quality of VOA reporting on the story continues to be uneven.

One VOA journalist made this observation: “I know there are limits to our resources, and the newsroom has been decimated, but we have consistently exhibited poor news judgment and poor deployment of our resources and that is not a resource issue.”

The VOA reporter made this suggestion: “I would like to see her [VOA director Amanda Bennett] do a broad and deep debrief of the newsroom’s performance on this story sometime next week, telling us all where the newsroom succeeded and failed. But I need to see her in action a lot more before I am willing to agree with your assessment [Voice of America improves police shootings coverage after director intervenes].

After BBG Watch reported that VOA director Amanda Bennett’s intervention led to some improvements, it was discovered that the Voice of America was not updating Facebook news page during key hours of Dallas crisis. VOA started to post on the story to its VOA English news Facebook page early Friday morning, but as late as Friday evening it still continued to put out erroneous information.

VOA News Facebook Page Post Screenshot Friday July 8 2018 8 PM ET
VOA News Facebook Page Post Screenshot Friday July 8 2018 8 PM ET