BBG Watch Commentary

We would like to offer this commentary from BBG Watch as an introduction to highlighting a new opinion article by former Voice of America director David S. Jackson who correctly, in our opinion, observed that VOA’s journalists need to understand that while the [VOA] Charter gave them the editorial freedom they need to do their job, it did not give them the freedom to ignore their Charter.” (USC Center on Public Diplomacy, CPD Blog)

The fact of VOA Charter being ignored not only by some Voice of America journalists, but these days especially by some Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) – International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives who are in charge of VOA, has been well documented by BBG Watch in recent years. Since a few weeks ago, the BBG has new CEO and director, John Lansing. He was hired by the latest bipartisan BBG board under its current Democratic chairman Jeff Shell to reform the federal agency in charge of U.S. media outreach abroad. VOA’s and agency’s problems, however, are longstanding and rooted in the management culture, which in addition to its failed programming strategy, has also produced one of the most journalist-unfriendly and hostile work environments in the federal government. Many of the entrenched BBG – IBB executives responsible for the agency’s decline over the last decade are still in senior positions and cannot be easily replaced.

In addition to examples of late, substandard, biased and outright silly Voice of America journalism these days, some BBG – IBB executives and so-called marketing specialists seem eager to eliminate news or any other substantive information and opinion content which might be deemed unacceptable by a foreign government, or to encourage VOA programmers to engage in poor-quality silly journalism to beef up their meager online ratings.

Government entities which some of these BBG – IBB – VOA want to please are usually semi-authoritarian regimes or government-controlled local networks and stations in countries restricting access to news. Some BBG – IBB marketing specialists with the encouragement of some VOA program managers will agree to almost any kind of deal — including news censorship that violates the VOA Charter — just to get BBG programs placed and rebroadcast on local stations. It is a measure of desperation on their part to show any kind of audience to no matter what kind of programming because the decline of VOA news and program quality in recent years means that they cannot demonstrate, with a few exceptions, any significant audience or audience engagement through social media, where statistics are generated independently and cannot be easily manipulated.

The decline of journalistic standards was seen most recently in VOA’s late and superficial coverage of the debate of Democratic presidential hopefuls or in one VOA language service keeping a completely insignificant crime news — a “sex-before-jail” story — as the service’s top U.S. news item for several days followed by also posting as top news a similarly insignificant Reuters report that was — several months old.



BBG Watch Media


Former Voice of America director David S. Jackson (2002-2006), just like many former VOA managers and journalists, has noticed the appalling decline of VOA program quality. He summarized his impressions in an article published by the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy’s CPD Blog.


The VOA Charter is a Good Mission Statement. So Why Has It So Often Been Ignored?


FORMER VOICE OF AMERICA DIRECTOR DAVID S. JACKSON: “Like most government-funded broadcasters, VOA is facing an uncertain future because of factors that are outside its control, such as budget constraints and censorship by anti-democratic leaders in countries like Russia and China. But VOA’s future is also uncertain because of its own shortcomings.”

“Both secretaries of State in the Obama administration have been critical of the BBG, and members of Congress from both parties have made it clear they expect the BBG and its multimedia broadcasters to play a constructive role in the nation’s public diplomacy efforts,” former Voice of America David Jackson wrote. “VOA can still do that, but only if it fulfills all elements of its Charter, a document that clearly lays out the broad range of coverage that Congress expects,” he added. “Just as importantly, VOA’s journalists need to understand that while the Charter gave them the editorial freedom they need to do their job, it did not give them the freedom to ignore their Charter,” Jackson observed.

READ MORE: “The VOA Charter is a Good Mission Statement. So Why Has It So Often Been Ignored?”, David S. Jackson, CPD Blog, November 2, 2015


About the author: David S. Jackson

David Jackson is a veteran journalist and former U.S. government official. During his early career as a journalist, he worked at The Chicago Daily News, then spent 23 years as a correspondent and bureau chief for Time Magazine covering a wide range of stories in the U.S. and abroad. In 2002, Jackson was appointed as the 26th Director of the Voice of America. In 2008, Jackson went to the State Department as a Senior Advisor for Communications/Public Affairs Specialist in the Bureau of European & Eurasian Affairs. In 2012-2013 he was Executive Editor of The Washington Times.