One of our readers, Doug, seemed confused about our statement that the Voice of America (VOA) satirical TV show to Iran, “OnTen,” which was lost due to incompetence of VOA senior and mid-level management, was indeed the most popular single VOA TV program on social media. It was.
SEE: Another Voice of America hit show to Iran lost, management blamed, BBG Watch, Feb. 4, 2015
We also received two other comments in response to our report on the sudden ending of Voice of America Persian Service or Persian News Network (PNN) hit show “OnTen” due to the departure of its host and co-writer Arash Sobhani, which sources blame on incompetent management at the U.S. taxpayer-funded international media outlet.
PNN [Voice of America (VOA) Persian Service] managers are so clueless that [one of them] said in early January that he didn’t realize that “OnTen” was off the air. Imagine a commercial network that operated that way — its top executives first doing all they could to kill their only hit [TV show], and then acting all puzzled and innocent when they succeeded. And not even informing the audience [the last “OnTen” show had a “Good-Bye” title, but the audience in Iran was apparently not given any advance notice that the show would end, which was also true when “Parazit” went off the air in 2012] .
The host told his audience that he was leaving and said goodbye, but there was no announcement that the show itself would end. So fans are still supposedly asking when it will return from its hiatus.
Here are two previous BBG Watch posts which put VOA social media numbers into perspective.
Some senior Voice of America correspondents have less than 100 Twitter Followers, one VOA reporter has 10
BBG Watch Commentary
Most reporters who regularly tweet news on the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) main English-language homepage have a few hundred Twitter Followers each, and one has only 10, an analysis by BBG Watch has revealed. Some of the most senior and most highly paid VOA English news correspondents with annual salaries of well over $100,000 have less than a hundred Twitter Followers. Most VOA foreign language reporters also have a minuscule following on Twitter. VOA Director David Ensor has 13 Twitter Followers; his deputy less than 800.
Among VOA reporters whose news tweets appeared January 16, 2015 on the VOA English homepage Twitter stream, only one — VOA Asia correspondent Steve Herman — has a significant number of Twitter Followers (over 35,800). Out of 10 VOA English News correspondents who tweeted Friday, January 16 on the VOA English news homepage, five have fewer than 500 Twitter Followers, and only three have more than a thousand each.
Several individual senior BBC journalists (English) have well over 200,000 Twitter Followers each, more than the entire VOA English News Twitter page. Economics Editor for the BBC, Robert Peston, alone has 455,000 Twitter Followers.
Paula Slier, Middle East bureau chief for RT (Russia Today) who reports with a strong anti-U.S., anti-Israel and anti-Ukraine bias from the Middle East and Ukraine, has over 17,000 Twitter Followers. Liz Wahl, who in March 2014 resigned her job while denouncing RT for its distorted coverage of Russia’s intervention in the Crimea, has over 10,000 Twitter Followers.
One senior VOA correspondent based in Europe who sometimes reports about Ukraine has only 35 Twitter Followers while a senior VOA correspondent based in Washington, DC has only 75 Twitter Followers. His Twitter page has not been updated since November 2014. Another Washington-based senior VOA English correspondent does not seem to have a Twitter page. These senior VOA correspondents, with base annual salaries between $130,000 and $150,000 each, can be compared in terms of employment stature within VOA to some of the most popular BBC or RT reporters. Their reports are often highlighted and promoted on the VOA English news homepage but show very little audience engagement through social media.
Even much less senior VOA journalists, some of whom specialize almost exclusively in reporting on new media technology issues, have astoundingly small numbers of followers on social media and practically no audience engagement in terms of readers’ comments for their online reports.
One of VOA’s new media and technology reporters has 500 Twitter Followers worldwide. Another VOA new media and technology reporter, who often writes on Internet censorship circumvention and web privacy issues, has slightly over 600 Twitter Followers worldwide. Their recent reports have shown between zero and six comments from online readers and few retweets and Facebook “Likes.”
Most Voice of America foreign language reporters also have small numbers of Twitter Followers. One notable exception is the Twitter page of Myroslava Gongadze, a journalist and popular TV news anchor at the Voice of America Ukrainian Service. She has 46,000 Twitter Followers. The best known Voice of America Russian Service reporter has less than 1,800 Twitter Followers. Another well known VOA Russian reporter has less than 225 Twitter Followers.
VOA Ukrainian Service has 53,000 Twitter Followers. Ukrainian Service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has 248,000 Twitter Followers.
The entire VOA Russian Service Twitter page has 188,000 Twitter Followers, BBC Russian Service has 359,000 Twitter Followers, Russian Service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, which is also overseen by the BBG, has 101,000 Twitter Followers.
VOA Russian Service Facebook has 39,219 “Likes.” BBC Russian Service Facebook has 313,875 Facebook “Likes.” RFE/RL Radio Liberty Russian Service Facebook has 285,123 Facebook “Likes.” Despite internal media censorship, especially TV and radio, the Russian government does not block VOA, RFE/RL, and BBC news websites and social media pages, at least not yet.
Alhurra TV Twitter page has over 764,000 Twitter Followers. Alhurra TV is also funded by U.S. taxpayers through the BBG. BBC Arabic has 1.22 million Twitter Followers. RT Arabic has only 6,900 Twitter Followers. VOA no longer has its own Arabic news service.
VOA Cantonese Service has only 796 Twitter Followers despite recent major unrest in Hong Kong. Radio Free Asia (RFA) Cantonese Service has 3,400 Twitter Followers. RFA and VOA Mandarin services have about the same number of Twitter Followers (33,000 – 35,000). The Chinese government blocks VOA and RFA news and social media sites, but some users manage to overcome Internet censorship and access these sites.
The entire Voice of America’s main English news website Twitter page has 129,000 Twitter Followers, which is less than the UN Peacekeeping Force Twitter page with 174,000 Twitter Followers.
Bloomberg Business News Twitter page has 1.95 million Followers. We found six Bloomberg – Businessweek reporters with more than 10,000 Twitter Followers each. Bloomberg Businessweek senior writer Brad Stone has over 65,000 Twitter followers.
Distinguished journalist and until recently Bloomberg executive Andy Lack is expected to be sworn in next week as the new director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Several sources told BBG Watch that one of his first tasks will be to try to reform and reorganize Voice of America.
David Ensor, director of U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America multi-media outlet for foreign audiences, which is overseen by the BBG, has only 13 Followers on his Twitter page with no tweets and no recent activity. David Ensor, former CNN’s National Security Correspondent, has been VOA director since June 2011.
Rick Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, who represents Secretary of State John Kerry at BBG meetings, has over 16,000 Twitter Followers. Compared to VOA English website’s 129,000 Twitter Followers, the U.S. State Department’s English-language Twitter page has 1.18 million Twitter Followers.
BBC Director General Tony Hall has 2,495 Twitter Followers. He has a small number of tweets and does not post regularly. Recently retired Peter Horrocks, former Director of the BBC World Service, who was posting more regularly, has over 10,000 Twitter Followers. David Ensor’s Facebook page shows 82 “Likes” and has not been updated since February 2013. An executive in charge of VOA worldwide programs who posts more regularly has less than 800 Twitter Followers.
BBG member Matt Armstrong, who has been highly critical of news handling at the Voice of America, has over 3,400 Twitter Followers.
Russia’s RT (English) Twitter page has 851,000 Twitter Followers, BBC News World (English) has 8.54 million, Radio France Internationale ( RFI French) 386,000 Twitter Followers. VOA French Service has slightly over 2,000 Twitter Followers. BBC French Service has over 81,000 Twitter Followers.
Voice of America Persian Service, including TV has 175,000 Twitter Followers. BBC Persian Service, including TV has 281,000 Twitter Followers. RFE/RL Radio Farda to Iran has 113,000 Twitter Followers. Deutsche Welle (DW) Persian Service has 123,000 Twitter Followers.
Numbers of Twitter Followers for Voice of America Correspondents
(Correspondents with tweets on VOA English News Homepage Twitter stream, Jan. 16, 2015)
VOA English Correspondent 1 – 10 Twitter Followers
VOA English Correspondent 2 – 455 Twitter Followers
VOA English Correspondent 3 – 185 Twitter Followers
VOA English Correspondent 4 – 2,148 Twitter Followers
VOA English Correspondent 5 – 893 Twitter Followers
VOA English Correspondent 6 – 819 Twitter Followers
VOA English Correspondent 7 – 1,982 Twitter Followers
VOA English Correspondent 8 – 105 Twitter Followers
VOA English Correspondent 9 – 302 Twitter Followers
VOA Correspondent 10 – Asia Correspondent Steve Herman – 35,800 Twitter Followers
BBG Watch Commentary
Alexa voanews.com VOA Global Ranking Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.12AM ET
We could not find anyone with even minimal knowledge of international broadcasting and new media who takes seriously the latest audience claims for the Voice of America (VOA), a public media outlet which costs U.S. taxpayers $196.4 million annually (FY13).
Keep in mind that these estimates for VOA were made by the same International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) / Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials who had conducted a public opinion poll in Russia-occupied Crimea and announced to the world that nearly everyone there loves Russia’s occupation (they failed to mention Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians or the fact that polling while the population is traumatized by the invasion, intimidated and afraid to talk to strangers is unlikely to produce valid results).
As our regular commentator, The Federalist, points out, IBB and VOA officials claim as Voice of America audience everybody who stumbles upon any kind of VOA program rebroadcast on a local station, whether that program has any political news or not, or whether it is even identified as a VOA program. These stations are almost always found in countries that have free media or relatively free media. But even in those countries, VOA placement can often be just music or an English lesson.
In many cases, VOA news is specifically excluded from local affiliate placement, especially in countries ruled by less democratic regimes. Those countries get business reports or other program pre-censored by VOA in violation of the VOA Charter.
But VOA management still brags about this kind of placement in its press release, “TV and Digital Fuel Robust Growth for Voice of America,” (Nov. 18, 2014). VOA Director David Ensor said that “VOA’s strategic emphasis on TV and digital platforms drove the overall growth in 2014.” But when it comes to real news, VOA’s digital and social media outreach is an absolute disaster, as clearly seen in reliable third-party statistics which cannot be easily manipulated by Agency officials. For that reason, IBB and VOA officials never cite Alexa, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube numbers — never, ever.
But IBB and VOA officials now appear to claim visitors to VOA websites, not just from other countries, but also from the United States. (IBB and VOA were afraid to do this before the Smith-Mundt Act had been modified by Congress not too long ago, but even now U.S. law does not allow VOA to seek an audience in the United States.) According to Alexa, 21% of visitors to the Voice of America English news website, voanews.com, are in fact from the United States.
Alexa rt.com Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 7.48PM ET
Unfortunately for IBB and VOA officials and their audience claims, real web and social media statistics tell a quite different story.
VOA English News website, voanews.com, is ranked 3,218 globally despite the fact that U.S. taxpayers have been spending nearly $200 million on VOA each year.
Russia’s RT is ranked 288.
Even U.S. State Department website is ranked 1,001, and it is not even a news website.
BBC World News is ranked 66.
Bloomberg is ranked 388.
Even Deutsche Welle (DW) English news website, an international media outlet with less resources than VOA, is ranked 1,236.
Looking at foreign language websites, VOA’s Russian Service website, golos-ameriki.ru, is ranked 27,925
(VOA Russian Service rank declined 1,725 positions versus the last three months).
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian Service website is ranked 7,083. (RFE/RL is also overseen by BBG.)
It looks just as bad for Voice of America on Twitter and Facebook.
Voanews.com (English News) has only 123,000 Twitter Followers.
The U.S. State Department has 1.13 million Twitter Followers.
RT has 807,000 Twitter Followers.
BBC News has 7.96 million Twitter Followers.
VOA Russian Service has only 38,742 Facebook Likes.
Facebook VOA Russian Service Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.36AM ET
RFE/RL Russian Service has 262,827 Facebook Likes.
Facebook RFERL Russian Service Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.42AM ET
BBC Russian Service has 287,655 Facebook Likes.
Facebook BBC Russian Service Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.47AM ET
Deutsche Welle (DW) Russian Service Facebook page has 58,007 Likes.
Facebook DW Russian Service Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.52AM ET
BBC Persian Service has many times more Facebook Likes than VOA Persian Service.
BBC Persian Service has 2,114,787 Facebook Likes.
Facebook BBC Persian Service Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.58AM ET
VOA Persian Service has only 321,586 Facebook Likes.
Facebook VOA Persian Service Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.57AM ET
“People Talking About This” on Facebook means “how many people directly interacted with the page in some way in the seven days prior to two days ago.” For BBC Persian Service that number was 293,150. For VOA Persian Service that number was only 2,490. No wonder BBG members and members of Congress do not trust IBB/VOA audience claims in Iran.
Even Deutsche Welle Persian Service has more Facebook Likes and more audience engagement on Facebook than Voice of America Persian Service. We doubt that DW spends as much money on its Persian Service than the BBG spends on VOA’s Persian Service.
Deutsche Welle Persian Service has 586,980 Facebook Likes.
Facebook Deutsche Welle Persian Service Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 1.15AM ET
Even Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s radio and Internet focused Radio Farda Persian Service has many more Facebook Likes that VOA’s TV and Internet focused Persian Service.
RFE/RL Radio Farda to Iran has 1,292,442 Facebook Likes compared to 321,586 Facebook Likes for VOA Persian Service.
Facebook RFERL Radio Farda Persian Service Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 1.35AM ET
Voice of America is doing just as badly on social media in foreign languages as it does in English. It’s really hard to see what VOA Director David Ensor’s claim about “VOA’s strategic emphasis on TV and digital platforms” means when one looks at solid social media engagement numbers rather than IBB/VOA questionable audience estimates. VOA’s YouTube numbers are even worse, especially when compared to YouTube numbers for Russia’s RT.
Voice of America is also incapable of attracting any significant numbers of web visitors to comment on its news reports and other programs. In many cases, it means that the vast majority of comments on certain VOA news stories, especially those dealing with Russia, are from pro-Kremlin trolls.
A VOA English News report on President Putin being snubbed at the G20 meeting got only 9 (nine) comments from readers, eight of them defending Putin (correct); none critical of Putin.
An RT report about the G20 meeting posted on the same date as the VOA report had 3,172 comments. The same RT report had over 1,700 Facebook Likes. VOA report had only 68 Facebook Likes.
These social media engagement numbers don’t lie and they cannot be manipulated by IBB and VOA officials. (Alexa, Twitter, Facebook, and readers’ comments numbers mentioned in this report were checked on November 18-19-20, 2014.)
As The Federalist also points out, the Voice of America English news website was infrequently updated on the night of U.S. mid-term elections. It showed outdated information long after BBC and other media reported on the Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate.
VOA English Twitter and Facebook pages were also not being updated for many hours during the evening of U.S. elections. VOA English radio newscasts on U.S. election night did not have a single news item on the voting or its results and most of the time did not even have any other U.S. news.
Compare and Decide
VOA English News
Alexa voanews.com Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 7.51PM ET
BBC English News
Alexa bbc.com.uk Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 7.59PM ET
Deutsche Welle (DW) English News
Alexa dw.de Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.01PM ET
VOA Russian Service Website
Alexa VOA Russian Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.15PM ET
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian Website
Alexa RFERL RUSSIAN Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.19PM ET
VOA English News Twitter
Twitter VOA Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.05PM ET
RT English News Twitter
Twitter RT Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.08PM ET
U.S. State Department Twitter
Twitter U.S. State Department Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.11PM ET
BBC English News Twitter
Twitter BBC Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.09PM ET