BBG Watch Commentary

bad management message illustration designBBG Watch has learned that inquires from members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in response to criticism from the independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – and other critics, have forced Voice of America (VOA) executives to interrupt their weekend and focus on improving VOA’s appalling coverage of U.S. responses to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch apparently went home without making concrete emergency plans to have VOA correspondents covering the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the U.S. Congress over the weekend in response to a major geopolitical crisis growing in Ukraine.

There was no VOA correspondent at the White House and the VOA news booth there was abandoned and dark when President Obama delivered his statement on Ukraine late Friday afternoon. VOA’s White House correspondent Dan Robinson  left the organization on Friday, apparently in frustration over poor management and intimidation of internal critics by VOA executives.

For two days, VOA failed to post separate news reports on President Obama’s Friday statement, his Saturday phone conversation with President Putin, Secretary Kerry’s Saturday statement on Ukraine, and on responses to the crisis in Ukraine from key members of Congress.

VOA news reporting was perfunctory compared to the onslaught of rhetoric from Russia’s RT and Voice of Russia.

Voice of America did not even report on Secretary Kerry’s Saturday statement on Ukraine until Sunday morning.  No headline about Obama’s phone call with Putin ever appeared on the main VOA English news homepage, with only brief descriptions of the conversation being inserted into reports inside the website, which were not easy to find.

BBG Watch has learned that BBG members have heard about these embarrassing deficiencies in news coverage from frustrated VOA journalists and from the independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting.

CUSIB has been advocating management reforms at VOA for some time. In response to these communications, BBG members inquired from VOA top executives what was going on and why Voice of America was not prepared to cover Washington’s response to Russia’s aggression.

Having gotten the message that ignoring the crisis in Ukraine in terms of U.S. news will not be tolerated a minute longer, VOA executives reportedly made same belated efforts to beef up the coverage.

News coverage from Ukraine on the VOA English website was already somewhat better due to inclusion of news reports from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in the last few days and reporting by VOA correspondent Elizabeth Arrott who traveled to Crimea on Friday.

The problem, however, has been and continues to be almost complete lack of VOA news coverage from Washington and the rest of the U.S., where RFE/RL cannot be of much help to VOA.

According to sources, only one staffer was assigned during the early part of the weekend in the VOA Newsroom to prepare news items about Ukraine. Even VOA Ukrainian and Russian services were late in reporting on significant U.S. news relating to Ukraine and Russia, including Secretary Kerry’s Saturday statement.

In response to inquiries from angry and frustrated BBG members, additional staffers were assigned, our sources told us.

Indeed, coverage of U.S. responses to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine on the VOA English website has improved slightly as of late Sunday afternoon. Some VOA journalists have also decided to take initiative despite dismal employee morale and volunteered for extra duty.

But the larger problem of lack of vision, bad management, intimidating work atmosphere, and poor employee morale remains. Meanwhile, compared to barely a few late and perfunctory reports on the Voice of America English news website, Russia’s RT and Voice of Russia have been posting dozens of English-language reports and commentaries on Ukraine each day with strong anti-U.S. themes.

A sign of small progress — for the first time in many days, Sunday afternoon Voice of America was not behind Al Jazeera, BBC, RT and Voice of Russia in reporting that Secretary Kerry will visit Kyiv on Tuesday.

But earlier Sunday, BBG Watch still reported that Voice of America initially gave Kerry only 69 words to describe his TV interviews about Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, while Voice of Russia gave him 144 words and a separate report, and Al Jazeera had a 254-word description of his TV comments. Even VOA’s later report on Kerry was not as long as Al Jazeera’s and in fact it had less words describing Kerry’s statements than the previous VOA report.

The problem is still far from being solved as long as those who caused it in the first place and force experienced and talented journalists to leave VOA remain.


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