BBG Watch Commentary
Like most of international media, Russia Today reported already two days ago that a newly released U.S. government document revealed that the U.S. Air Force had inadvertently dropped an atomic bomb over North Carolina in 1961. “If a simple safety switch had not prevented the explosive from detonating,” Russia Today news report said, “millions of lives across the northeast would have been at risk, a new document has revealed.”
“US Air Force once dropped live hydrogen bomb on North Carolina – report,” Russia Today, September 20, 2013.
The Voice of America (VOA) English news website had no news item or any other report on this recent news revelation, which came from an official U.S. document disclosed to The Guardian newspaper by journalist Eric Schlosser.
“Before Schlosser brought the document to light through a Freedom of Information Act request, the U.S. government long denied that any such event ever took place,” Russia Today reported.
Russia Today Social Media Performance
The Russia Today news story on the near nuclear disaster in the U.S. in 1961 was first posted on September 20, 2013. At the end of the day on September 22, the Russia Today report on the U.S. nuclear incident had over 6,900 Facebook “Likes,” 441 Tweets, 139 Google+, and 51 comments. Voice of America news reports on its English website rarely get more than a few dozen Facebook “Likes.”
In this case, the Voice of America did not have an English language report on a major news story, which critics say happens more and more frequently due to high-level mismanagement at VOA and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). IBB is responsible for day-to-day management of U.S. international broadcasting. When VOA posts news reports, they are frequently short, posted late, and generate almost no audience engagement through social media, critics point out.
Voice of America Social Media Performance
For example, one of the top VOA news stories Sunday was, “Lavrov: US Trying to Blackmail Russia on UN Syria Resolution,” which was short and appeared to be a summary of news wire reports. As of Sunday evening, the VOA story had 5 (five) Facebook “Likes,” 12 Tweets, 0 (zero) Google+, and 0 (zero) comments.
Russia Today Social Media Performance
Russia Today story, “Lavrov: US pressuring Russia into passing UN resolution on Syria allowing military force,” was more than three times as long as the VOA story and included video and multiple photos. The Russia Today story had over 2,500 Facebook “Likes,” 505 Tweets, 91 Google+ and 199 comments.
One of the many international media outlets that have reported on the near U.S. nuclear disaster story was BBC: “US plane in 1961 ‘nuclear bomb near-miss’.” It included video.
BBC Social Media Performance
As of Sunday evening, the BBC news story on the U.S. nuclear incident, which was first posted on September 21, had 16,390 Facebook “Likes” and 2,060 Tweets.
Responses from IBB and VOA Directors[aside]
We thought that this BBC report aptly explains management culture at VOA and IBB
“In short, we know the recipe for harmful behaviour – stress, poor or absent guidelines, a strict hierarchy with dissociation from others and from the consequences of our actions, established group culture and lack of oversight. These factors create sick workplaces, rogue military units, feral banks, abusive care homes, abusive marriages, countries apparently consumed by madness.”
There was still no news story on the Voice of America English news website as of 7:30 PM Washington, DC time, Sunday, September 22, 2013, on the reported 1961 U.S. nuclear incident. But a claim of successful online audience outreach and digital strength is being made by International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo who said at a recent Digital Innovation Expo hosted by IBB on Capitol Hill that “today we are reaching and engaging audiences like never before.”
Voice of America Director David Ensor said on August 6, 2013 during an all-staff meeting that “the state of VOA is strong and is getting stronger all the time.” Critics say, however, that he and his deputy, VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch, are responsible for record low employee morale and a highly dysfunctional news and web operation with dismal audience engagement through social media.
The Voice of America Charter (Public Law 94-350) says that “VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”
The law governing VOA operations also says that “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.”
These days, VOA — with its failing management and news operation — is often in violation of these Congressional and legal requirements. VOA also often fails these days to fulfill its third mandate to present U.S. government responses to major news events.
“VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350)”
If VOA does not report on major news events, or posts late and short news times, it can hardly “present responsible discussions and opinion” on the policies of the United States.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members who have oversight over VOA and IBB need to take action to address management problems at the center of U.S. international broadcasting.