AFGE Local 1812This commentary was published by the American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812, the union representing the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal workforce.


by American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812

A 1976 law signed by President Gerald Ford defines the mission of the Voice of America in the VOA Charter. The VOA Charter states:

“VOA news will be accurate, objective and comprehensive…VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news…” Further, the Charter states: “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.”

But in the past 10 years, the Agency’s management has disregarded that mission, publicly insisting that “it did not matter”. What is the result?

Let’s take a look.

The VOA English-language web site is padded with verbatim Reuters stories, rather than original reporting, because the Newsroom has been eviscerated as management pursues too many missions on a strictly Radio budget.

Language services are abandoned to their own devices. If you look more closely, and have frank conversations with the staff, you will find stories that are aired or posted on the web unedited, single-source stories, major omitted stories, and stories with mistakes that are hushed up. The Language Services have been tasked with so many new mandates in addition to Radio (YouTube, Twitter, Web, TV, original news writing) that they can’t keep up.

Instead, the GREAT PRETEND is in full bloom all over the Agency. Management pretends all is going wonderfully well and that audiences are forever increasing for the increasingly scarce and mediocre material being put out. Lower-ranked managers remain silent, because if they’ve learned anything from the mess at the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, it’s that it can always be worse. And Language Services staff has learned the meaning of the phrase – to put up or shut up – because, as one Language Service manager put it succinctly to one staffer, they are nothing but “little pieces of ___” to be attacked and destroyed when they can’t be made to comply and stay silent.”

Witness the latest offensive by management against Gary Thomas, a respected former journalist with the Voice of America who, during his tenure, risked his life for the Agency, in many hotspots of the world including Afghanistan. Last week, an article by Mr. Thomas was published in the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review, an interesting analysis of the many issues and challenges that confront VOA. The Agency has done what it usually does when confronted with anything but the most rosy opinions: it has attacked and defamed Mr. Thomas, calling him “biased” and said his report was rife with errors, characteristically, giving no examples.

Interestingly, when a State Department Inspector General’s report was released, that was highly critical of BBG Governor Victor Ashe, a respected former U.S. Ambassador to Poland and a BBG member who has been willing to openly discuss the Agency’s missteps, no one in the management spoke of the obvious bias that permeated that document.

So here we are: an Agency dominated by managers who have been rated the worst in government, who attempt to silence their critics, inside and outside the Agency, and when those critics still won’t be silenced, attempt to discredit them.

When long-term employees look back to the days when they fought for the ideals the American people asked them to promote around the world – truth, human rights, the rule of law, and other American ideals – they can only lower their heads in shame at what has become of the Agency: sloppy work, no clear mission, dissimulation, fear, humiliation, obfuscation, etc.

As we have said many times before, the Voice of America has pretty much lost its voice, and it’s way past time for the United States Congress to intervene.