BBG Watch Commentary

Sloppiness, lack of leadership and lack of editorial control have reached new levels at the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), overseen, in theory, by the dysfunctional, “broken” (Chairman Ed Royce’s words) and “practically defunct” (Hillary Clinton’s words) Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Contrary to statements from some BBG board members, we have not seen any “whirlwind of positive change” in VOA English news program content. There have been some minor improvements overall and a few positive changes at the agency since the departure of the previous VOA leadership and the arrival of new BBG CEO John Lansing. BBG’s FY 2015 budget is $742 million.

A picture is worth a thousand words. It was sent to us by a VOA reporter, one of many who are increasingly embarrassed by what the Voice of America has become under the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Some of the better VOA reporters tell us there are so many mistakes on the website that they no longer bother to fight with the editors and the management to get them corrected because their repeated complaints have been ignored for many years. Some of the best VOA reporters have left the ailing agency.

VOA and President Obama on First Name Basis Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8:25 PM ET
VOA and President Obama on First Name Basis Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8:25 PM ET

The screenshot image shows a VOA website with a report, not originated by VOA, but taken from the Associated Press (AP). This is happening more and more at the Voice of America. Some wire service reports are OK, but many do not meet the additional requirements of the VOA Charter. Many wire service reports VOA uses do not present and explain U.S. policies to the extent the VOA Charter requires VOA to do, or provide sufficient and balanced discussion of these polices, which is also required by the VOA Charter.

But even when lazy VOA takes and uses wire service reports, for which U.S. taxpayers pay AP, Reuters, and other news providers, VOA manages to introduce errors.

In this case VOA took both an AP report and an AP photo, but instead of using the AP caption for the photo, which was perfectly fine, although in our view the file photo was very dated, VOA wrote its own caption and made its own embarrassing mistakes.

The AP photo caption said:


“FILE – In this May 1, 2008, file photo, Judge Merrick B. Garland is seen at the federal courthouse in Washington. President Obama is expected to nominate Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)”

There was no mistake in the AP caption.

But the VOA photo caption said:

VOA as of 8:25 PM ET, March 30, 2016

FILE – In this May 1, 2008 file photo, Judge Merrick Garland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is pictured before the start of a ceremony at the federal courthouse in Washington. President Barack [sic – Emphasis added] could announce his pick for the Supreme Court as early as Monday, May 10, 2010. [sic – Emphasis added]

We did not know that the Voice of America and the President of the United States are on the first name basis, but according to VOA apparently they are. VOA also got the date wrong for the announcement of President Obama’s (or is it President Barack?) nominee to the Supreme Court.

This report with VOA inserted photo caption has been online since March 4, 2016. As of 7:45 PM ET, March 30, 2016. That’s 26 days. No one at the Voice of America bothered to correct these VOA mistakes.

Note that this AP report on the Voice of America website with a VOA photo caption full of embarrassing mistakes is showing only 4 (four) Facebook “Recommends/Shares” after 26 days online. It is not a “whirlwind of positive change” on audience engagement, as the Broadcasting Board of Governors would want everybody to believe.

These mistakes are still minor compared to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), also overseen, in theory, by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, posting a Facebook message accusing Israel of “wholesale racism” — a message likely to give encouragement to terrorists.

RFERL Wholesale Racism in Israel Facebook Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 9.50 PM ET

Meanwhile, both the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty managed to engage in promoting Putin personality cult in reporting for their joint “Current Time” TV program on President Obama’s visit to Cuba. Instead of comparing the Castro brothers to ex-KGB spy President Putin, VOA gave Putin a plug and showed the streets of Havana where reporters and foreigners congregated that looked better than the streets of Miami. VOA talked with a Putin admirer in Cuba, but could not find any critics of the Castro regime and what the alliance with the Soviet Union, which Putin faithfully served in his KGB role, has done to Cuba, its people, and the Cuban economy. While the human rights topic was included in the “Current Time” report, it was almost an afterthought. A “pro-Putin bias” now continues not only at the Voice of America, but also in the joint “Current Time” program with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.