BBG Watch Commentary

A staggering number of Voice of America (VOA) reports and programs on the 2016 U.S. election campaign violated the VOA Charter, largely because failed executives and managers have hired inexperienced journalists and failed to provide resources and leadership, wasting tax dollars instead on the enormous bureaucracy of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), VOA's parent federal agency.

The Voice of America has never seen such election coverage bias in its entire history. Even critics of the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump were appalled when some Voice of America reporters started to post obscene anti-Trump memes on their private but publicly accessible Facebook pages (some showing Trump with Nazi swastika) and when one VOA reporter posted: “if F*ckface Von Clownstick gets elected on Nov 8, I will not be able to say anything on Facebook against him anymore, as dictatorship will have descended on this land.” Many current and former VOA journalists, both Republicans and Democrats, were also appalled when a VOA language service produced a video in which Donald Trump was called a "pig" and other such names without any counter-response.

After criticism from BBG Watch, VOA removed the one-sided insulting video.

Bernie Sanders supporters were appalled when their candidate was attacked in VOA programs without any response or defense from his side. Hillary Clinton's supporters were appalled when a VOA language service posted a puff video about Donald Trump, although the service may have also posted at another time a similar puff video about Clinton. Balance and objectivity are no longer always observed in VOA news reports.

Serious problems at VOA going back many years have actually gotten worse under new BBG CEO and director John F. Lansing, VOA director Amanda Bennett and VOA deputy director Sandy Sugawara. Bennett had promised to carry out anti-bias training for VOA journalists in the wake of criticism from Bernie Sanders' and Donald Trump's supporters that some of the VOA reporting and commentary during the primaries amounted to "state media" bias against their favored candidates.

Despite director Bennett's promise, the number of one-sided, biased and sloppy Voice of America reports on the U.S. presidential elections has not diminished. It has increased in recent months and weeks.

VOA is funded entirely by U.S. taxpayers ($224 million in FY 2017) and its reports and programs can now be widely received in the United States thanks to the internet and social media. VOA reporting can now affect how U.S. citizens vote and no Republican or Democratic politician wants to see a taxpayer-funded VOA to undermine his or her electoral chances with biased, one-sided reporting. Americans also do not want their tax money to be used to promote only one-side of a controversial policy issue, especially if they disagree with the position being promoted.

Despite these problems, however, some of the veteran VOA reporters, and a few new ones as well, continue to provide excellent and balanced reporting in English and in many other languages. Unfortunately, their reporting is undermined by bias and partisanship of the rest of VOA output, lack of any significant digital outreach and continued mismanagement by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

BBG Watch has highlighted some of the biased VOA reports on the U.S. presidential election campaign. We have also pointed to a one-sided Voice of America Spanish Service video report on illegal immigrants in the United States, which violated the VOA Charter but which VOA director Amanda Bennett unfortunately praised in one of her notes to staff.

Take a look at some of the BBG Watch reports on the Voice of America's 2016 election campaign coverage and judge for yourself. Almost all of them are from this year, but one covers the period before the Lansing/Bennett/Sugawara management team took over.

  1. Plum assignments like the elections, World Cup, the Olympics, postings outside the Washington headquarters and other big ticket opportunities that lead to awards, promotions and kudos are decided on the basis of favoritism rather than experience. There are people working for the agency who have plenty of experience covering politics in the private sector, and the bosses know it, but won’t utilize them if they’re not on the teacher’s pet list. Constructive criticism of the newsroom’s output, including pointing out glaring errors, is either passive-aggressively ignored or results in a defensively worded response.

  2. As a so called VOA old-timer, I can bear out what VOAWatcher said 200%. Content and experience and seniority takes a back seat to bells and whistles and who’s able to back-slap the most and laugh the loudest in the newsroom

    1. Another big problem: dumping people who’ve washed out in other services into jobs they’re not qualified to do. We can see the results of those bad staffing decisions in the output.

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