BBG Watch Commentary
Russia’s state-funded multimedia news and opinion outlet Russia Today reported on President Obama’s statement on the Zimmerman trial verdict before a short news item about the presidential statement appeared on the Voice of America (VOA) English news website. VOA is funded by American taxpayers to provide news for international audiences, including news about America. It can now also distribute news to Americans. Even when posted, the VOA news item was short and included only a partial sentence from President Obama’s statement: “we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”
Russia Today included in its story three full sentences from President Obama’s statement: “I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,” the president said in a statement.
BBC English news website provided even more information on the president’s statement:
BBC – Obama urges ‘calm reflection’ after Zimmerman verdict: “In his statement, Mr Obama said the death of Trayvon Martin ‘was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America’.
He acknowledged the case had elicited ‘strong passions’, but said: ‘We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken’.
He said all Americans should respect the call for calm reflection from the Martin family and should reflect on how to prevent future tragedies.
‘We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis… As citizens, that’s a job for all of us’.
‘That’s the way to honour Trayvon Martin’.”
The VOA news item with a partial sentence from President Obama’s statement had 377 words. The BBC story had 897 words. The Russia Today story had 737 words. BBC had a link to the full White House statement. VOA did not.
As of about 6PM Washington, DC time, the VOA news item with a partial quote from President Obama’s statement showed 0 (zero) Facebook “Likes.” By 7:45PM, the VOA story still showed 0 (zero) “Likes.” Nobody wanted to “Recommend” or “Like” a VOA news story with a one sentence quote from President Obama’s statement.
Since many of the Voice of America language services rely for many news reports on VOA English Central News output, especially on weekends, the social media engagement failure was multiplied many times over. The VOA Russian Service got only 1 (one) Facebook “Like” for its short news item on the verdict which was a translation of the short VOA English news item.
The VOA Iranian Service got zero (0) Facebook “Likes” for the same translated Zimmerman verdict story.
The VOA Chinese Service got zero (0) Facebook “Likes” for the Zimmerman verdict story.
This dismal performance in social media engagement was repeated service after service at the Voice of America Sunday.
The international competition, on the other hand, did exceedingly well, both in their English-language coverage and in some cases in coverage of the story in other languages. BBG-funded Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) managed to pull 37 Facebook “Likes” for its own story on the Zimmerman trial verdict by Sunday evening DC time.
But Alhurra TV, also funded by the BBG, showed 0 (zero) Facebook “Likes” for its own, also very short, news item on the Zimmerman trial verdict.
Radio Sawa, also funded by the BBG, likewise showed 0 (zero) Facebook “Likes” for its news item on the Zimmerman trial verdict story.
The best social media engagement statistics were for news stories on the Zimmerman trial verdict posted by BBC, Russia Today and Al Jazeera.
Russia Today Arabic news report on the Zimmerman trial verdict had 39 Facebook “Likes” as of Sunday evening, DC time, compared to 0 (zero) for Alhurra TV
A BBC English report quoting President Obama showed 469 Facebook “Likes” at about 6PM. The BBC report was online for only a few hours. By 8PM, it had 829 “Likes.” An earlier BBC English report on the non guilty verdict had accumulated over 15,480 Facebook “Likes” by 6PM Sunday.
BBC languages services do not show social media statistics on their websites. Their social media engagement performance on this story could not be evaluated.
The Russia Today English report, which included a quote from President Obama’s statement, had been posted earlier and the quote was added later. It had over 8,300 Facebook “Likes” by 6PM Sunday.
The Voice of America English website’s initial report on the announcement of the verdict was not updated for approximately 18 hours, while Al Jazeera, BBC, and Russia Today were constantly updating their initial reports and adding new ones.
The initial VOA English report accumulated only 636 Facebook “Likes” by 6PM Sunday compared to 15,489 for BBC’s initial report and 3,900 for Russia Today’s initial report. Even 639 was a large number for VOA, which showed that there was a large interest in the story itself rather than satisfaction with VOA reporting. Usually, VOA top English news stories do not get more than a dozen Facebook “Likes” to hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands for Al Jazeera, BBC and Russia Today.
While the Voice of America English website had only one short, outdated and un-updated report for most of the day on Sunday, Al Jazeera English had two news reports and one editorial, all of which accumulated 5,778 Facebook “Likes.”
Sunday afternoon, at approximately 3PM, the VOA English website finally posted a very short, stand-alone report on protests and other reactions to the Zimmerman verdict. The report had only 309 words and no videos. By this time, Al Jazeera, BBC and Russia Today had multiple reports with numerous videos and photos. The international competition offered thousands of words. Their reports accumulated tens of thousands of Facebook “Likes.”
By 6:45PM Sunday, the 309-word VOA report, “Zimmerman Shooting Verdict Prompts Pointed Reactions,” which had been posted about three or four hours earlier, had only 8 (eight) Facebook “Likes.”
It is difficult to determine when news stories are posted on the VOA English website because unlike other international media outlets, VOA does not show the exact time when a story is posted and updated.
According to our sources, despite severe cutbacks to its news operation, Voice of America still has a few veteran correspondents and reporters who know their beats and are able to turn around original reports in a timely manner. Our sources say that the fault is not with VOA correspondents and reporters but with the top VOA leadership. One insider told us: “To put it simply, the VOA Newsroom staff is trying to make the best of a bad situation. The onus of failure does not rest with them. It rests with senior agency officials who have rendered the agency’s ability to engage in timely news reporting and to carry out the agency’s mission dysfunctional and defunct.”
VOA employees have been complaining for several years that original news reporting is being de-emphasized by the management and news gathering resources severely limited. They have also complained about mismanagement at the highest level and in running the central English Newsroom and the VOA English website. Their complains apparently have been ignored by the VOA management, the agency’s top managers in the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and even the U.S. Government’s Office of the Inspector General in the State Department. No action has been taken by anyone within the management structure or by the OIG to address these problems, sources told us.
But top agency executives, especially those in the International Broadcasting Bureau, have been painting a rosy picture of the use of digital technology and social media engagement by VOA and other U.S.-funded broadcasters. Officials have been bragging to members of their oversight board, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), members of Congress, Congressional staffers and media about the agency’s investments in social media outreach. They have also tried to intimidate and discredit their critics.
In attacking journalistic skills of a former Voice of America senior correspondent Gary Thomas who had published an article in Columbia Journalism Review outlining serious inadequacies in VOA news coverage, management and employee morale, Kyle King, a spokesman for Voice of America director David Ensor responded that “A simple look at the Voice of America’s website demonstrates we are a hard-hitting and effective international multimedia news organization. ”
In a manner typical for VOA management, executives dismissed and refused to answer Gary Thomas’ questions for the article and later accused him through their spokesman of unspecified errors while bragging about their non-esistent online prowess.
The claim of successful online audience outreach and digital strength was repeated by International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard Lobo who said at a recent Digital Innovation Expo hosted by IBB on Capitol Hill that “today we are reaching and engaging audiences like never before.”
Director Lobo has been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of investments in digital and social media technology, which critics charge was wasted on IBB bureaucracy and contractors as the money was being taken from news and programs. IBB and VOA executives eliminated many newsroom and reporters’ positions or left them vacant.
In a pattern that has been obvious for the last several years, original news coverage by VOA English correspondents has greatly diminished. In the last few days, VOA English website was late repeatedly, between three and 48 hours, in posting original reports on violence in Egypt, the plane crash in San Francisco and other important international and domestic developments. A few days ago, VOA was late by several hours in generating its own report on the White House press conference statements on the future of U.S. assistance to the Egyptian military.
VOA Director David Ensor is reported to be on an extended summer vacation.
This very short report was posted on the VOA English website by approximately 3PM, Washington, DC time. Four hours later it had only 8 Facebook “Likes.” Far more extensive reports on the same topic posted by Al Jazeera, BBC and Russia Today accumulated well over 10,000 Facebook “Likes.” Al Jazeera, BBC and Russia Today reports were far longer, included numerous videos and photos, and generally provided a far fuller range of reactions as well as a much more detailed reporting on the various protests.
Michael Bowman (VOA News)
July 14, 2013
WASHINGTON — Passionate, but mostly peaceful protests, have erupted in several U.S. cities after a Florida man was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the highly-publicized shooting death of a black teenager last year.
Verdicts in racially-charged cases have, on occasion, triggered violence and destruction on a massive scale. The 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers in the beating of a black motorist sparked days of ferocious riots and looting in the city. Dozens of people were killed, hundreds were wounded, and property damage topped $1 billion.
By comparison, reaction to the acquittal of Florida shooting suspect George Zimmerman has been relatively peaceful.
Late Saturday, a six-woman jury arrived at a verdict in one of America’s most closely-watched court cases of recent years.
An attorney for the family of deceased 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, appeared on the Fox News Sunday television program. Darryl Parks described the verdict as “unbelievable”, but said the Martin family wants the public to remain calm. “That is their [the jury’s] decision. We accept their decision, but we do not agree with their decision,” he said.
In 2012, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, spotted Martin walking at night through his Florida community. A confrontation and struggle ensued, ending with Zimmerman shooting Martin.
The court case appeared to hinge on conflicting accounts of who had incited hostilities, and whether Zimmerman was acting in self-defense.
The verdict was appropriate, according to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Orrin Hatch, who spoke on ABC’s This Week program. “If the rule is that you have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, there were plenty of reasonable doubts there [presented at trial],” he said.
Although acquitted of criminal wrongdoing, Zimmerman could still face civil charges if the Martin family or the U.S. Justice Department pursue that avenue.
This short Voice of America news story posted on the VOA English website in mid-afternoon, after Russia Today and BBC had already reported on President Obama’s statement on the Zimmerman verdict, was still showing 0 (zero) Facebook “Likes” by 7:15PM.
July 14, 2013
U.S. President Barack Obama appealed for calm on Sunday, after a Florida jury acquitted a volunteer neighborhood patrolman of murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager.
In a written statement, Obama called the death of Trayvon Martin a tragedy for his family and for America. But in urging quiet reflection, he said “we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”
The acquittal of watchman George Zimmerman late Saturday by a six-woman jury dominated television news and the Internet on Sunday, sparking community protests and raising the national debate about race and crime fighting in America.
The 17-year-old Martin was killed last year in a struggle with armed community watchman Zimmerman, who is Hispanic. The death left many Americans saying Martin was targeted because he was black and walking at night in a gated, largely white community.
The U.S. Justice Department said Sunday it is evaluating evidence in the case to determine whether to pursue prosecution of Zimmerman under federal statutes.
State Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda says he was disappointed by the ruling, but will respect the jury’s decision.
Immediately after the verdict, Martin’s supporters – including his family members – took to social media to express their displeasure with the decision. Spontaneous protests sprang up in several cities, including thousands of kilometers away from Florida in San Francisco.
Zimmerman’s defense lawyer, Mark O’Mara, said he was ecstatic with the results. “George Zimmerman was never guilty of anything except protecting himself in self-defense. I’m glad that the jury saw it that way.”
Zimmerman was driving in his neighborhood February 26, 2012 when he saw Martin and called police. Zimmerman – a neighborhood volunteer – got out of his vehicle and followed Martin. A confrontation and struggle followed, ending with Zimmerman shooting Martin.
The case made national news after it was revealed that Zimmerman was not charged for more than six weeks after the shooting, because police did not contest his claim that he shot Martin in self-defense.
The prosecution said Zimmerman profiled the teen and followed him because he assumed Martin was intent on making trouble. Zimmerman said he acted in self-defense once he and Martin entered into a struggle, with Martin banging Zimmerman’s head against the concrete pavement.
This short Voice of America news report has not been updated for many hours. It was still not updated or expanded by 11AM Washington time, Sunday, July 14. Compared to its 450 Facebook “Likes,” a similar BBC news report received more than 10,000. Russia Today and Al Jazeera also collected thousands of Facebook “Likes” for their coverage of the story.
July 14, 2013
A jury in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida has ruled shooting suspect George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the killing of a black teenager last year.
The 6-woman jury late Saturday acquitted Zimmerman of all charges in the racially-charged proceedings. Zimmerman’s father is white and mother Hispanic. Martin’s supporters had accused Zimmerman of racially profiling 17-year-old Trayvon Martin because he was black.
Immediately after the verdict, Martin’s supporters – including his family members – took to social media to express their displeasure with the decision. A crowd outside the courthouse peacefully protested the outcome. Police presence has been increased in the town of Sanford, where the trial was held.
Spontaneous protests sprang up in several cities across the U.S., including thousands of kilometers from Florida in San Francisco. The protests were largely peaceful, although some windows were broken and small fires were set.
Civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton used their Twitter accounts to call on people to remain calm and constructive.
Zimmerman was driving in his neighborhood February 26, 2012, when he saw Martin and called police. Zimmerman – a neighborhood watch volunteer – got out of his vehicle and followed Martin. A confrontation and struggle followed, ending with Zimmerman shooting Martin.
The case made national news after it was revealed that Zimmerman walked free for more than six weeks after the shooting, because police did not contest his claim that he shot Martin in self-defense.
Prosecution and defense concluded their arguments on Friday. The jury then deliberated for 16 and a half hours before delivering the decision late Saturday.
Zimmerman smiled briefly after hearing the not guilty decision, but did not otherwise react outwardly.
The prosecution said Zimmerman profiled the teen and followed him through a gated community because he assumed Martin was intent on making trouble. Zimmerman said he acted in self-defense once he and Martin entered into a struggle, with Martin banging Zimmerman’s head against the concrete pavement.
Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law authorizes people who fear for their lives to use deadly force without having to avoid a confrontation.