BBG Watch Commentary
U.S. taxpayer-funded international media outlet Voice of America (VOA) failed to report on President Obama’s rare interview on German television Saturday, in which he sought to mend ties with Germany over NSA spying and assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that as long as he is President of the United States her phone will not be bugged.
As of 3:00 PM EST Sunday, VOA’s main English news website has nothing on President Obama’s yesterday’s interview. It appears that none of VOA’s more than forty language services has reported on it yesterday or today.
In contrast to VOA, Obama’s interview with Germany’s public television network ZDF, broadcast a day after his speech on curbing NSA surveillance programs, became a top news story on BBC, Deutsche Welle (DW), and on numerous other major news outlets abroad.
Most mainstream U.S. organizations and smaller news outlets also reported on the interview.
A headline on Obama’s interview was featured prominently on the BBC website and was a lead story yesterday on the DW website.
Newspapers in Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, U.S. and Canada reported on the interview.
Practically every major media outlet in the world had a report on it except for the Voice of America.
In the U.S., media outlets reporting on the interview included The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, NBCNews, Fox News and many others.
BBC report, “Barack Obama: Spying must not hurt US-German ties, BBC,” is still shown on the BBC homepage.
DW still has its report on Obama’s interview, “Obama placates Germany over NSA, DW,” as one of its top news stories today.
RT (Russia Today) and Voice of Russia offer their spin on Obama’s interview with German TV.
“Germany skeptical of Obama’s pledge that NSA will not spy on foreign leaders, RT”
“Germany skeptical of Obama’s vow not to spy on Merkel, Voice of Russia”
Voice of America is a remarkable exception, even though its VOA Charter (U.S. public law) requires it “to present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.”
It was a major news story abroad and in the United States and Voice of America again ignored it, as it ignored this week a major statement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the clampdown on democracy in Ukraine.
President Obama and the White House staff obviously thought this was a very important interview to be broadcast after the NSA speech and to reach out to foreign audiences. Such interviews by the U.S. president for foreign media are rare.
Also, quite obviously, foreign and U.S. media also thought this was a significant interview.
In previous years, it would have been unthinkable for the Voice of America to simply ignore such a foreign policy related major media interview by the president of the United States.
BBG Watch suspects that snubbing the president of the United States has a lot to do with the current disarray and mismanagement at VOA. It may also have something to do with peculiar views of VOA Director David Ensor and some fuzzy thinking on his part.
David Ensor said in his own recent media interview that “Voice of America is not a propaganda organization and it is not a mouthpiece of the White House or of anybody else.”
We might agree completely with Director Ensor if he decided not to report on a presidential statement or any other White House announcement that the vast majority of U.S. and foreign media also thought not important enough to report on.
But when nearly all major media outlets in the U.S. and abroad report on President Obama’s German TV interview dealing with a very hot news topic such as NSA spying on foreign leaders — and VOA under Director Ensor ignores this news — this is simply bad journalism, bad management and pure stupidity.
It is a sign of the breakdown of management and news reporting at the Voice of America. It causes harm to America’s image abroad. It harms U.S. public diplomacy. It represents a waste of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars. It is a violation of the VOA Charter.
It is inexcusable both journalistically and politically. VOA is after all an institution funded by U.S. taxpayers. VOA should not be a mouthpiece for anybody, but it must report news, especially U.S. news that have a major impact abroad. U.S. law — the VOA Charter — requires Voice of America to do this.
Voice of America also did a poor job in reporting on President Obama’s NSA speech Friday. It took VOA many hours to present U.S. reactions to the speech (they were not posted until late evening), while BBC had them right away. Both BBC and DW had numerous Obama speech-related reports on their homepages while VOA showed only two.