BBG Watch Commentary

Pope Francis Photo by Radio, Russia’s RT and Voice of Russia, Canada’s CBC, Australia’s ABC, Christian Science Monitor, Boston Herald, New York Daily News, Fox News and numerous other international and U.S. media outlets all reported that at the Vatican on Sunday Pope Francis appealed for constructive dialogue between the authorities and civil society in Ukraine. U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) did not report on the papal appeal despite Ukraine being a major international news story for many weeks.

“Addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus Prayer, the Pope said he is praying for the people of Ukraine, in particular for those who have lost their lives during the violence of the past days, and for their families. He said he is praying the parties involved will avoid resorting to violent actions, and that the spirit of peace and the quest for common good may prevail, Vatican Radio reported. Pope: appeal for dialogue in Ukraine,” Vatican Radio, Jan. 26, 2014.

Like Russia’s RT, most media also focused on the two white doves released after the papal prayer by children standing next to the Pope which were immediately attacked by a crow and a seagull. “Ill omen? Pope’s doves of peace for Ukraine attacked by angry birds (PHOTOS),” RT, Jan. 26, 2014.

The Voice of America (VOA) English news website had nothing today on the papal appeal for dialogue in Ukraine or the bird incident. It appears that most, if not all, VOA language websites, including VOA Ukrainian and VOA Russian websites, also have not reported on Pope Francis’s call for dialogue and peace in Ukraine.

VOA English news website also failed to report Friday on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments on the situation in Ukraine and on statements by key U.S. Senators, including a statement by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

BBC offered today excellent coverage of news developments in Ukraine, posting on its English website several reports and updates from its correspondent in Kyiv. But for some reason, BBC slipped on the papal story in a rare news lapse for this otherwise excellent news organization.

A short news item on the BBC English news website only mentioned the doves, crow and seagull incident and did not report on the Pope’s prayer for Ukraine. “Pope’s peace doves attacked by crow and seagull,” BBC, Jan. 26, 2014. Still, this short BBC story got over 11,000 Facebook “Likes” as of 11:00 PM EST Sunday.

BBC Ukrainian Service, however, did report on Pope Francis’s prayer for Ukraine today. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) also reported on the papal prayer in Ukraine today in English, Ukrainian, Russian and in other of its broadcast languages.

Like VOA, RFE/RL works under the authority of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which has initiated management reforms at RFE/RL, but not yet at VOA. Under its new CEO Kevin Klose, RFE/RL has recovered its previous excellent reputation for news reporting

A major ongoing management crisis at the Voice of America, however, has resulted in many of its language services, particularly its English language service, to miss numerous news stories or report on them late and superficially. VOA Ukrainian Service has been doing a better job than VOA English News in reporting on events Ukraine and on U.S. reactions, especially for its television program.

But the service has been left by senior management with limited resources, and it is sometimes unable to update its website. VOA Russian Service is also not always able to update its website, but it still offers a somewhat better news coverage of Ukraine than VOA English News and other VOA language services. For such news stories, these other services have to rely more on the mismanaged and failing VOA central newsroom which is not providing adequate coverage of many U.S. and international news events, and fails on news analysis as well.

Many VOA journalists, however, are doing what they can to maintain high standards of reporting despite a management crisis at the organization. They do not always succeed due to general mismanagement and shortage of resources which are being diverted to sustain the expanding bureaucracy at VOA and the agency’s management arm, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

Until very recently senior VOA executives failed to send a VOA correspondent to Kyiv. Resident VOA correspondent in Moscow, James Brooke, who has just arrived in Kyiv, has begun to send solid news reports, including this one today on Ukrainian protesters occupying the Justice Ministry. “Ukraine Protesters Seize Justice Ministry,” James Brooke, VOA, Jan. 26, 2014. He or somebody else should have been allowed to travel to Ukraine many weeks ago.

But the fact that despite a major crisis in Ukraine escalating for many weeks, it took VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch this long to send a correspondent to Kyiv for the VOA worldwide English service and the VOA central newsroom, and that they have not taken action to improve news coverage from Washington, as shown by the failure to report on Secretary Kerry’s and most recent Congressional statements on Ukraine, is simply astounding.