BBG Watch Guest Commentary

BBG Watch occasionally publishes guest commentaries. This one is from Josh, not his real name. We detect irony and sarcasm in his commentary.

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Voice of America poster for a bingo night social sponsored by VOA's upper management.
Voice of America poster for a bingo night social sponsored by VOA’s upper management to improve employee morale, which I’m told is lower than at any other U.S. federal agency of similar size.

Shakespeare in Gdansk instead of anti-Putin rally in Moscow – What the heck?, Voice of America

By Josh

As a hip young (my mental age) news reporter, I usually start my day looking at Slate. What caught my attention today was a large headline at the very top of my favorite web magazine: “Why I Was Depressed by Moscow’s Big Anti-War March: Protesters and at Moscow’s Big Anti-War March,” by Joshua Keating. The article was much longer than the usual Slate fare and truly fascinating. A quote from the eighty-seven years old Russian peace protest marcher, Maria Egorovna, in response to the question whether she was hopeful for change — “I’m a Russian. I’m used to being patient.” — was priceless.

Having been recently forced to watch a Washington event at which a U.S. government – Voice of America senior official talked at length how the VOA was countering propaganda from the Kremlin, I became curious how much more attention this U.S. media outlet for foreigners would give to a large anti-Putin, pro-peace rally in the middle of Putin’s war with Ukraine. VOA should have jumped at the story, I speculated. This U.S. government established broadcaster dates back to WWII and the Cold War. As I found out, you and I pay for it to the tune of about $200 million per year. I was convinced VOA would cover the Moscow demo at a much greater length, and certainly more depth than Slate. I was looking forward to reading about it.

But later Monday morning when I checked the VOA English-language homepage (, to my amazement, I could find no news about the Sunday anti-Kremlin rally in the Russian capital and another one in St. Petersburg. There was no headline about it among VOA’s top news stories. The Europe News section in the lower right corner of the VOA homepage had as its lead news: Poland’s New Theater Celebrates Ties to Shakespeare.

What the heck?, I thought to myself, and decided to investigate.


VOA Homepage Screen Shot Monday 2014-09-22 at 2.26 PM  EDT
VOA Homepage Screen Shot Monday 2014-09-22 at 2.26 PM EDT


Could there be be a Russian, a British or a Polish mole working at the Voice of America whose job is to remove anti-Putin headlines and other important news from the VOA homepage and replace them with British and Polish cultural stuff? Perhaps VOA is no longer funded by U.S. taxpayers through the U.S. Congress but by the EU, the British Council, the Polish Ministry of Culture or the Polish government’s tourism promotion bureau? The EU paid for the Shakespeare theatre in Gdansk, Poland, as I have learned.

I also discovered that the Shakespeare theatre in Gdansk was not even Voice of America’s own report, but a report from Reuters, which VOA put on its website and highlighted on its homepage as if it were a cultural event of major international significance.

Reuters is an international news agency, but it is headquartered in London, England, United Kingdom. A British mole connection became even more plausible when I confirmed by looking through the BBG Watch watchdog blog that U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America had posted literally dozens of news reports on the British royal family between 2011 and now, most of them on the British royal wedding and the British royal baby christening — multiple ones on the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Isn’t it strange that U.S. taxpayers have been paying for this, I thought. Is VOA run by a British agent or trying to compete with BBC?

Nearly three dozen VOA news reports on the British royal marriage — before, during, and after the wedding — and only one late report on a major pro-democracy demonstration in Moscow.

What the heck?, I thought.

I also learned from BBG Watch blog that on Sunday, VOA did not have a English news homepage headline on the Moscow protest until about 5 PM EDT, or 2:00 AM Monday, Moscow time — many hours after BBC, Deutsche Welle and other international media outlets — but significantly, not Russia’s RT — posted homepage headlines on the anti-Putin rally with photos among their tops news stories.

Even then the initial report from Moscow was not a VOA story, but a report from Reuters. A British mole connection was looking more and more plausible. Later a VOA text and video report from Moscow was substituted for a Reuters story. I also learned from BBG Watch that one must not assume the VOA correspondent was late in filing his report, but it was posted on the VOA website late in the day — already the next day in Moscow.

The opening sentence in the online text of the VOA report: “Opposition activists and anti-war demonstrators marched in the Russian capital Sunday, urging peace in Ukraine and an end to Russia’s military support for separatists, even though the Kremlin denies backing the rebels,” was not the same as the opening sentence in the video report from the VOA correspondent in Moscow. Was this opening sentence written in Washington and that’s why it took so long to post it? How long does it take to write one sentence intro or to post a report on the VOA website?



The VOA report from Moscow was shorter than the one in Slate and perhaps not as fun to read, but I thought it was excellent otherwise from a perspective of international audiences seeking serious news and news analysis. It was well written and very informative. It included a great interview with courageous Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov who said that Putin has arranged “the Goebbels-like, imperial hysteria … in the mass media.”

Was VOA afraid of this comment and downgraded the correspondent’s report?

Since VOA finally had its own report on Monday Moscow time about something that happened on Sunday, why would a Reuters report about the opening of a Shakespeare theatre in Poland — not the day before, but last week — be given the lead item status among Europe news on the VOA homepage, and the headline of the VOA report from Moscow could not even be seen on the VOA homepage on Monday?

Bad news judgement? Incompetence? Mismanagement? Downplaying of anti-Putin news, perhaps?

You give a Reuters report that reads as if it could have been written by the Polish Ministry of Culture, by a Polish tourism promotion agency, by the British Council or by the EU about a minor cultural event that happened last week a higher billing on your homepage and your Europe News page than you give to an excellent report from your own VOA correspondent about a major anti-Putin, pro-peace demonstration in Moscow attended by thousands of people that happened the day before and is closely related to other critical and current news events, particularly in Ukraine.

You promptly remove the VOA correspondent report about the anti-Putin demonstration Sunday from your homepage altogether and put the Reuters report about the opening of a Shakespeare theatre in Poland last week in the first place among Europe news items for Monday on your homepage?

Is anybody in charge of your website and homepage news management?

What the heck?, Voice of America officials, executives and managers, or whoever is in charge or not in charge of this outfit.

Give me my tax money back.


PS from BBG Watch: VOA’s heavily promoted Reuters report on the Shakespeare theatre in Gdansk shows six Facebook “Shares” and zero comments as of 1:30 AM Tuesday. Promptly downgraded VOA’s own correspondent’s report on the anti-Putin rally in Moscow shows 40 Facebook “Shares” and seven comments. Slate report shows 83 Facebook “Shares” and 136 comments.

A Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) report on the anti-war protests in Russia shows over 1,400 Facebook “Shares.” Comments were not open. The report was written by RFE/RL Russian Service and translated into English. A similar report by VOA Russian Service in Russian only shows 16 Facebook “Shares.” Both VOA and RFE/RL report to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Both are funded by U.S. taxpayers.