BBG Watch Commentary

Fist on laptopAn experienced and respected Voice of America (VOA) broadcaster who criticized VOA management practices was reportedly screamed at by an executive described as angry and widely-feared, but instead of taking the verbal attack in silence, journalist talked back that he will not tolerate this kind of language, BBG Watch has learned.

According to sources, the journalist said something to the effect that he does not care if the president is speaking, he will not be talked to like this again. The incident happened a few days ago.

Sources also told BBG Watch that standing up for the right to express uncomfortable opinions to the management represents a change in an organization, which until recently has been and in large part still is gripped by fear among rank and file journalists, especially in dealings with one senior executive.

Sources said that this may be the same senior manager alluded to in former VOA White House correspondent Dan Robinson’s letter to members of the oversight Broadcasting Board of Governors, in which Robinson, also a hard working and highly talented and respected reporter, complained about bullying by a manager.

Robinson suggested in his letter that his decision to retire at this time was influenced by how he and other employees were treated and by his frustration with mismanagement of news reporting and resources.

The incident described in Robinson’s letter to the BBG reportedly happened in the manager’s office without any witnesses.

According to our sources, several people witnessed a later incident involving one of Robinson’s colleagues, which happened in the corridor following a larger meeting.

During the meeting, the VOA journalist, who reportedly was later screamed at, made strong suggestions about improving management practices, which the manager evidently did not like.

Sources said that VOA Director David Ensor heard the first part of the ensuing shouting match in the corridor and quickly retreated while the exchange continued for a while longer.

Sources believe that some VOA journalists may be emboldened by BBG Chairman Jeff Shell’s recent comments on the importance of improving employee morale and by personnel changes at the senior level initiated by the board at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

The interim three-person IBB management team is viewed by some employees as a marked improvement over the previous IBB management, but frustration continues over the lack of progress in reforming the senior management of VOA.

Sources note that what was remarkable about this public incident was the amount of courage of the VOA broadcaster in refusing to be intimidated, but they wonder how long employees will still be exposed to this kind of treatment by a Voice of America executive.

Poor working environment is having a strong negative impact on VOA’s ability to mobilize staff and resources for the coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, sources told BBG Watch.