BBG Watch Commentary

Take a look at these two screenshots showing BBC’s and Voice of America’s (VOA) home pages on December 10, 2013.

The BBC homepage has 16 different links at the top of the page to various Nelson Mandela-related BBC reports.

The VOA homepage shows just two Mandela-related posts at the top of the screen.

BBC Homepage Screenshot 12-10-13

VOA Homepage Screenshot 12-10-13

The inferiority of the VOA main news site when compared to the BBC site is quite striking.

VOA has only a main bar story on Mandela and a “Featured Video,” which does not even show the memorial service or President Obama’s speech.

Among BBC’s multiple links (16) are live text and a live video link, in addition to multiple videos.

VOA did put up a video report, with a stand up, by one of its reporters outside the stadium where the memorial service was held. The VOA video had, however, defective audio. Sources told BBG Watch that it was not the fault of the reporter but a technical glitch in Washington. The defective video was ultimately replaced.

The same lack of planning and coordination and lack of good website design and management can be seen in VOA English News coverage of the mass demonstrations in Ukraine. Again, VOA executives failed to arrange for any kind of special reporting and VOA English website presentation. (By contrast, the VOA Ukrainian Service has done an outstanding job covering the protests, but most of the other 43 VOA language services had just as poor online coverage from Ukraine as the VOA English Service. VOA executives claim that they have “45 Newsrooms” — the number of VOA services — when in fact they do not have a single well-functioning newsroom.)

VOA executives even failed to ensure that VOA English News would report on Vice President Biden’s phone call Monday with Ukrainian President Yanukovych. Last week, VOA English News failed to report on Vice President Biden’s speech in Beijing about press censorship in China.

Unlike BBC, Russia Today and many other major news organizations, VOA English News does not have a correspondent permanently on the scene in Kiev, although one VOA reporter may have been there briefly. VOA often relies now on using Reuters news reports from Ukraine, which rarely get more than a dozen or two Facebook “Likes” compared to thousands of Facebook “Likes” for original news reports from Ukraine on BBC and Russia Today websites.

The main BBC news report on the Mandela memorial ceremony, “Nelson Mandela memorial: Obama lauds ‘giant of history’, BBC,” shows 4,263 Facebook “Likes” and 441 comments from readers.

The main VOA report, “Over 60,000 Pay Tribute to Mandela in Johannesburg, VOA,” shows only 28 Facebook “Likes” and zero comments from readers even though the report has been on the site for several hours. This is typical social media audience engagement performance for the VOA English website in recent years.

This should not be a surprise to anyone. VOA executives have no idea how to cover regular news, much less how to respond to major news events.

BBC is reporting that President Obama shook hands with Cuban President Castro during the memorial service.

BBC is also reporting that the U.S. President Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and Denmark’s PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt took an impromptu “selfie,” a photograph of themselves at the memorial service for the late South African President — a behavior which some people may find offensive. VOA English news website has nothing so far on these additional news stories from the memorial service in South Africa.

Senior VOA correspondents have been complaining for several years to top VOA and agency (IBB and BBG) executives about news management, personnel practices and website management, but their complaints and concerns have been largely ignored. VOA English News reporting has become even more chaotic and unreliable in recent months. VOA Director David Ensor maintains, however, that progress is being made and that the state of the Voice of America has never been stronger than it is now.