BBG Watch Commentary

LATEST UPDATE: Sometime between 4PM and 5:15PM, the Reuters story on the NSA court ruling was moved on the Voice of America English website from number 8 to number 4. It now shows 4 (four) Facebook “Likes.” VOA posted the Reuters report hours behind Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN International, and RT (Russia Today). All of these other international media outlets had their own reports on the judge’s ruling as their number one or number two news story.

UPDATE THREE: Sometime between 3PM and 4PM ET, the VOA English website finally posted a Reuters report “US Judge Says NSA Phone Surveillance Lawful,” Reuters on VOA, Dec. 27, 2013. It is number 8 story in the VOA news lineup. It now shows 1 (one) Facebook “Like.” The BBC report posted hours earlier and now listed as number two news story on the BBC website, now shows 817 Facebook “Likes.” The RT (Russia Today) report on the U.S. court ruling, posted hours earlier as number one (now number 2) news story, shows over 4,900 Facebook “Likes.” RT’s top news story is on Istanbul police cracking down today on anti-govt protests, on which VOA site still has nothing.

The U.S. judge’s ruling on NSA spying has also been for hours the number one news story on CNN International. It now shows over 1,800 Facebook “Likes” to VOA’s 1 (one) “Like.” Judging by past performance, it is unlikely that this Reuters news report posted late on the VOA website will get more than a few dozen Facebook “Likes.” As of 4:30PM ET, the VOA Russian Service website and websites of most other VOA language services still show nothing on the latest U.S. court ruling on NSA spying (VOA Chinese website has a very short news item as the lead story).

UPDATE TWO: As of 3PM ET, Dec. 27, the Voice of America (VOA) English website is still not reporting on the U.S. judge’s ruling that NSA phone spying program is legal, hours after it became a top news story for BBC, CNN, RT (Russia Today), and Al Jazeera (both Middle East and America Al Jazeera websites).

RT (Russia Today) Breaking News 12-27-13

UPDATE ONE: As of 2PM ET, Dec. 27, the Voice of America is still not updating its English homepage with the story on the U.S. judge’s ruling that NSA phone spying program is legal. There are no reports on the ruling anywhere on the VOA site hours after RT (Russia Today), BBC, CNN, and almost all other major international and U.S. news organizations reported on the U.S. court decision at the top of their news lineups.

Voice of America English homepage does not show any news on U.S. judge's NSA phone spying ruling as of 12:30PM ET, Dec. 27, 2013.
Voice of America English homepage does not show any news on U.S. judge’s NSA phone spying ruling as of 12:30PM ET, Dec. 27, 2013.

U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) is based in Washington and has a news bureau in New York. Russia’s state-funded multimedia outlet RT (formerly Russia Today) is based in Moscow. But when it comes to reporting on breaking news in the United States, RT beats VOA almost every time, often by hours, and almost always on the amount of information provided, even if often with an anti-American slant.

On Friday, RT promptly posted a long, 637-word, report on U.S. District Judge William Pauley in New York ruling that the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk phone data collection program does not violate the law. Another U.S, judge had ruled earlier that the program most likely violates the U.S. Constitutions. The two rulings are contradictory and may have to be resolved eventually by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The RT report has already been updated several times and supplemented with four new photos. As of 1PM ET, it shows 524 Tweets, something VOA cannot get for the vast majority of its English news reports even after many days online. RT even provided the full text of the judge’s ruling.

UPDATE: As of 2:05PM ET, the RT (Russia Today) report shows over 3,400 Facebook “Likes,” 614 Tweets, and 129 Google+ postings. It also shows 36 comments.

The Voice of America English website does not yet have any report on this breaking news story and probably won’t have it for quite a while. Its reports, even when they are posted online, are often not originated by VOA correspondents but are reposted Reuters reports. Many are nothing more than short news items, even on major news developments dealing with U.S. foreign policy.

All top U.S. news reports in the U.S. News section on the VOA English website as of 2:30PM ET today (Dec. 27) are from yesterday. Almost all of them are from Reuters rather than originated by VOA. Reuters is a UK-based news agency.

No other major international media outlet relies to such a great extent on a foreign news agency to report news about its own country. No other major international media outlet relies exclusively on a single news agency for news on its website.

RT, BBC and other media organizations are also often much faster than the Voice of America in reporting on White House and State Department statements on U.S. foreign policy issues dealing with Russia and Ukraine, which VOA English News sometimes misses altogether or reports on them late and only with one or two sentences, while RT usually provides more quotes and more information on these U.S. government statements.

BBC U.S. Court NSA Ruling Story 1230PM ET 12-27-13BBC has also already posted a report on New York District Judge William Pauley ruling that the phone spying program was a “counter-punch” against al-Qaeda.

The new U.S. court ruling on NSA spying is the second lead news story on the BBC’s main world news homepage.

UPDATE: the BBC report is now number one news story on the BBC homepage. The report has been updated and expanded. It now includes two videos. The report itself has more than 650 words.

UPDATE: As of 2:30PM ET, the BBC report on the U.S. court ruling shows 430 Facebook “Likes” and 330 Tweets.

When it comes to official U.S. statements and court rulings, these are not news stories where there may be questions about facts requiring news organization to take a lot of time to make sure all facts are accurate. The Voice of America cannot claim that it needs more time than BBC or RT to check on State Department or White House statements.

Members of the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which supervises the work of U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), are concerned about its top executive’s definition of VOA’s mission, management issues, including some of its managers whom they see as responsible for poor employee morale, and inferior quality of VOA news reporting and website management.

Some of these concerns were reflected at the December 18, 2013 open board meeting in Washington, DC in a question from BBG Governor Matt Armstrong to VOA Director David Ensor after Ensor’s presentation about VOA.

Armstrong has been taking to various rank and file VOA media professionals and heard their complaints about the top management at the U.S. taxpayer-supported international media outlet. He has also been checking VOA websites and sharing his concerns with the VOA Director.

At the open BBG board meeting in Washington on Wednesday, Armstrong made voiced his concerns in public, which may be an indication of his frustration with the VOA management.

Not pulling any punches, Armstrong noted that in his review of VOA English and some of the foreign language websites he discovered serious deficiencies in news coverage and asked how VOA Director Ensor plans to address this problem.

Link to Video on YouTube.

“Every time there is a breaking news event — I’m not talking about a car chase or a white Bronco on a freeway — I go to VOA websites, not just English, but the other websites, those that I can sort of ascertain, realize … I’ve actually studied three other languages … not that I can speak any of them, and I also use Google translate to try to help me, and then I get the pictures and look at the general layout, and what I find surprising is what appears to be the lack on the website of any event and that we lag significantly behind other media outlets whether they would be our direct tier-one competitors, whether it it is CCTV, Russia Today, CNNI, BBC, whatever it’s going to be. And then when we do file a story, it seems it’s thin at the least, especially when I compare it to these other offerings. And so when I want to pick on the VOA English website — and you make a comment that English is number one audience with 35 million — it seems to me that with English being a major audience for you and lingua franca around the world and if we want to build VOA as a premier news and information provider around the world that there should be a greater integration and timeliness and completeness of news and information on the web, not just in English.” — BBG Governor Matt Armstrong

Ensor’s response to Governor Armstrong was that “this is a resource question.” He would not admit, as many critics point out, that this is also, if not primarily, an issue of poor management. Critics point to Ensor’s retention of controversial managers, some with anger management issues, who have alienated the workforce. In his answer to Governor Armstrong, Ensor made it clear that he relies on these managers to solve any problems that may exist.

On Wednesday and most of the day on Thursday (Dec. 25 and Dec. 26), the VOA English website failed to update a Reuters news item on the brutal beating of Ukrainian journalist Tetyana Chornovol, even though U.S. Embassy in Kyiv issued Wednesday a strong statement condemning the attack and many new details and reactions have emerged and were reported by BBC and RT and other international media, but not by VOA.

Because of the failure of the VOA Central English Newsroom and the English website team, most of more than 40 VOA language services — with the notable exception of the VOA Ukrainian Service, which has been doing outstanding reporting from Ukraine and from the U.S. — also failed to update the news of the beating of journalist Tetyana Chornovol.

The BBG under its new Chairman Jeff Shell has made already management and personnel changes at its also highly dysfunctional International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). Sources told BBG Watch that similar changes may also soon happen at the Voice of America.

But as long as these reforms are not carried out, international audiences will continue to go to RT, BBC, and other foreign media outlets for U.S. news.