BBG Watch Commentary

Michelle Obama Speaking About Free Speech in BeijingWe continue to point out that due to lack of effective central leadership and news management at the top level — as well as insufficient funding — U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) continues to fail as a multimedia news organization in providing accurate, balanced and comprehensive news across all media platforms and to all regions of the world.

The latest example of such frequent recent failures is the VOA English news website’s coverage of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech to American and Chinese students at the Peking University, in which she promoted free speech in China.

The VOA English news website posted a solid report from a VOA correspondent on Michelle Obama’s speech with a good headline, but failed to include video or audio of the First Lady’s remarks.

This is odd for an institution whose executives constantly promote it as a multimedia digital news organization when in fact the VOA English website frequently fails to include already available multimedia news content. In the case of the VOA English website, funding and staffing do not appear to be an issue, but rather poor management of staff and lack of leadership.

Many other VOA languages services also did not post video or audio of Michelle Obama’s remarks supporting free speech in China. For some of those services, insufficient funding and lack of staff are a major issue.

Fortunately, the VOA Chinese Service did post rich multimedia content in covering the First Lady’s trip to China, which shows that the video of Michelle Obama’s remarks about free speech was available to Voice of America.

Overall, however, lack of proper news leadership and coordination by VOA executives results in poor and uneven news coverage among VOA language services.

VOA Chinese Service had both video and audio of Michelle Obama’s important speech, which included remarks on the importance of freedom of expression. VOA English and other VOA language services did not, which is a shame.

By the way, China’s CCTV had two extensive news reports — one with video — on Michelle Obama’s speech to American and Chinese students at the Peking University.

CCTV reports were more detailed that the VOA English language report, but they failed to specifically mention the U.S. First Lady’s remarks about the importance of free speech.

This makes it even more important for VOA English website and websites of other VOA language services to have posted the video of Michelle Obama’s important remarks, especially the part about free speech.

新闻 / 中国

美国第一夫人米歇尔北京大学演讲 谈言论自由和普世价值




北京 — 美国第一夫人米歇尔•奥巴马今天在著名的五四运动发源地北京大学向学生发表讲话,谈到了言论自由和普世权利。她说,只有当一个国家倾听其国民意见和声音时,这个国家才会更强大。






她说“我觉得她在美国也是一个Fashion Icon(时尚达人)。她给人更多政治以外的东西,更多温暖。这次见到她,觉得她是一个非常慈祥、和蔼可亲的人。”


Compared to VOA Chinese Service coverage, a correspondent report posted on the VOA English news website did not include any substantive multimedia material other than two small photos. The headline and the report itself were good, so the failure appears to be again centered in Washington where multimedia content could be added.

Michelle Obama Promotes Free Speech in China

Shannon Van Sant
March 22, 2014

BEIJING — U.S. first lady Michelle Obama visited Peking University Saturday on her whirlwind tour through China.

On her second day in China, first lady Michelle Obama spoke to American and Chinese students at the country’s prestigious Peking University. She emphasized the importance of education and human rights – including the right to free speech.

“Time and again we have seen that countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices and opinions of all their citizens can be heard,” he said.

Hillary Clinton’s criticism of China was much more direct when she visited as first lady. Mrs. Obama’s trip will steer clear of sensitive political issues, and she will not grant interviews to journalists. Instead, her aides say her time in China will be an exercise in soft diplomacy and in people-to-people connections.

On Friday, Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan accompanied Mrs. Obama and her two daughters to a Chinese school where they took a calligraphy class and played a game of ping pong. The two first ladies also toured the Forbidden City.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also greeted Mrs. Obama Friday night, and said he was looking forward to seeing President Barack Obama during an upcoming trip to the Netherlands.

Mrs. Obama is using the Beijing portion of her trip to China to emphasize the importance of education and studying abroad.

“Study abroad isn’t just a fun way to spend a semester. It is quickly becoming the key to success in our global economy,” she said.

Two hundred thousand Chinese students study in the United States, and 20,000 Americans study in China every year.

Before her visit to China, Mrs. Obama wrote in a blog post, “I’ll be talking with students about their lives in China and telling them about America and the values and traditions we hold dear.”

Mrs. Obama will next travel to Xi’an to see the terra cotta warriors and to Chengdu to tour the Chengdu Panda Base, which has about 50 pandas.

Another VOA English report on Michelle Obama’s visit to China included multimedia content, but it was somewhat outdated by the First Lady’s freedom of speech remarks, for which there was no video, audio, or large photos.

Again, there seems to be lack of coordination and leadership by VOA’s executive editors.

This affects what kind of multimedia material VOA English and other VOA language services use.

However, we applaud the VOA Chinese Service for its rich multimedia coverage of Michelle Obama’s visit to China. Other VOA language services, including those broadcasting to Iran, Russia, Ukraine and North Korea should have had the same video.

In China, Michelle Obama Tours School, Forbidden City

VOA News
March 21, 2014

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, accompanied by her Chinese counterpart, Peng Liyuan, visited a school on the first day of Obama’s five-day trip to China.

The two participated in a calligraphy demonstration Friday before visiting the former Imperial Palace in Beijing’s Forbidden City.

During their travels, the first lady, along with her mother and two daughters, will also visit the Great Wall of China, the famed Terra Cotta Warriors and a panda preserve.

Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech Saturday at the Stanford Center of the prestigious Peking University. She will also meet the staff and families of the American embassy in Beijing.

Watch related video by VOA’s Carla Babb

The two first ladies had been expected to meet last June when their husbands held a summit in California, but Mrs. Obama stayed behind in Washington.

White House officials have said Mrs. Obama’s trip will focus on education and will steer clear of more contentious issues between the United States and China, such as human rights and trade.

Both of the first lady’s predecessors have addressed contentious matters while visiting China.

During a 2008 trip, Laura Bush urged China to put more pressure on the military government of Burma. And in 1995, Hillary Clinton attended the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing and gave a high-profile speech urging China to improve its human rights record.