BBG Watch Commentary

Voice of America (VOA) Director David Ensor said in a recent media interview that the first words from the first VOA radio broadcast in 1942 were: “The news may be good, the news may be bad, we shall tell you the truth.”

These days, VOA’s audiences abroad are lucky if on any given day VOA actually reports most major international and U.S. news and reports them promptly and fully.

WIN Gallup International 2013 SurveyWhile BBC, RT (Russia Today), the Voice of Russia (VOR) and many other international media reported on WIN (Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research) / Gallup International global End of Year survey result showing that the U.S. is considered to be the greatest threat to peace in the world, followed by Pakistan and China, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America ignored this news on its English website and on VOA websites in more than 40 other languages.

Voice of Russia Holiday LogoSee: “US greatest threat to world peace – poll,” Voice of Russia (VOR), January 2, 2013.

It is not possible to determine whether there was an order or suggestion from one of VOA’s top executives or second-level managers not to report on this story because it made the United States look bad. Probably not. We also don’t know whether a decision not to report on this story was taken by a VOA Central English Newsroom editor for whatever reason, or whether no one at the Voice of America saw this news, which was reported as number one in the news lineup on the RT English website, one of the top news on the BBC, and on websites and in newspapers, both in English and in other languages, in many foreign countries, particularly in the Muslim world.

VOA Director David Ensor
VOA Director David Ensor

It appears far more likely that this news story, like many others — whether they show the United States in bad or good light — fell victim to the general confusion and mismanagement which the Voice of America has been experiencing for the last several years. Many major news stories, even those involving the White House, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Congress fall between the cracks and are not covered by VOA, or reported on late and only superficially. But even if no higher-level censorship or self-censorship by lower level managers or editors was involved, some foreign audiences may very likely suspect that the Voice of America deliberately ignored this news story.

In the same media interview, VOA Director David Ensor said:

“Some of the best impact and audience growth at Voice of America has occurred when we were telling it like it is, about stories that aren’t necessarily complimentary to the United States. The Abu Ghraib scandal was a stain on America’s honor and it was so reported by Voice of America. Our many audiences around the world, I think, find us a highly credible voice because we are honest about America’s failings as well as its strengths, and that gives us credibility, and credibility, as you know as a journalist, that’s the coin of the realm.” — VOA Director David Ensor

Former Senator Christopher Dodd, President Lech Walesa, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf. Credit: Polish Embassy.
Former Senator Christopher Dodd, President Lech Walesa, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf. Credit: Polish Embassy.

And yet under David Ensor’s leadership or lack thereof, the Voice of America failed on this news story and many others. Another news story, widely reported in U.S. media but ignored by VOA, was former Solidarity leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Poland’s former president Lech Walesa’s end-of-the year CNN television interview, in which he said that President Obama “failed to reclaim America’s role as world leader.”

VOA did not report about Walesa’s criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy, even though many major U.S. newspapers did. In early December, VOA also failed to report on Walesa’s meetings in Washington with key members of Congress during his visit to the United States. He made similar comments about the Obama administration at that time. U.S. media reported them, but not VOA.

Ironically, at the December meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Director Ensor spoke proudly of his work as an American television network correspondent in Poland during Solidarity’s struggle for freedom. Ensor said in a media interview that “Voice of America is not a propaganda organization and it is not a mouthpiece of the White House or of anybody else.” “It is a proud journalistic organization more than seventy years old,” Ensor added.

A good way to prove that VOA is a proud journalistic organization is to report hard news, such as the shocking WIN / Gallup International survey results, which show the failure of U.S. public diplomacy around the world. Reporting breaking news is what VOA has often failed to do under Director Ensor.

A good way to prove that VOA is not a mouthpiece for the U.S. administration would have been to report criticism by former Polish President Lech Walesa of President Obama’s leadership in world affairs. Walesa, who is not exactly nobody, was commenting on U.S. foreign policy in an interview for a U.S. and international television network.

What other reason does VOA need to report on such an interview? What other reason does VOA need to report on the WIN / Gallup survey results on U.S. foreign policy perceptions around the world? What other reasons does VOA need to address misperceptions abroad of U.S. foreign policy, when such misperceptions exist, by talking to officials and outside experts and reporting what they say?

Good talk — no action — no leadership — no management — and no results.

It does not matter whether the news is good or bad for the United States. VOA even fails to report on comments by high U.S. administration officials, including Vice President Biden, about human rights issues in other countries. The VOA news operation is in disarray, VOA journalists feel that they have no say how news should be reported. They complain that a group of entrenched executives imposes its ideas and heavy-handed management tactics on the demoralized workforce.

VOA executives prefer to post 27 separate news reports on the British royal wedding than one report about legendary U.S. musician Quincy Jones expressing his support for pro-freedom demonstrators in Ukraine or a major State of California court ruling promising more professional opportunities for undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

Indeed, it does not matter whether the news is good or bad. Chances are good that the Voice of America may not report it.

No one is even suggesting anymore that VOA could offer views of American experts and opinion makers in reaction to what appear to be negative news for America’s image abroad. Not all of the WIN / Gallup International survey results were bad for the United States. The poll also found that the U.S., Canada and Australia are the countries where most people would like to live if they could.

[aside] caption = VOA Journalist’s Warning to Senior Managers Ignored
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“I made that point to Redisch and Ensor (VOA Executive Editor and VOA Director). The point was, look we are not getting enough hard news out of Central (VOA Central News), that is what we need. And our web site is hurting because of it; and when we do get it, it is slow. It’s not the correspondent’s fault, it is just you have so few people in the (VOA Central) Newsroom, and they are diverting to other stuff. So we are not getting the basics that we need to keep that site together from Central (News). The argument I think was you have got to build up what is going on over there (in Central News) not tear it down.

But Ensor himself said, at the end of the day, your audience doesn’t know the difference between a AP story, and a VOA story. And I told him I take huge exception to that. This is where you throw your hands up and say what the hell are we doing here? I mean we all like to do big think pieces, I like to run them, but the bread and butter stuff is the hard news. If we’re not covering breaking news, what the hell are we doing?”


Had VOA executives thought about a potential impact of the VOA website and other VOA programs, if not actual war of ideas, they could have easily found American historians or even American journalists who could counter the WIN / Gallup International survey result about America being the greatest threat to peace with some historical analysis of their own. It could include information about the U.S.-led military intervention to help Muslims in Kosovo, the U.S.-led multi-decade peaceful effort to bring freedom to millions of people at the end of the Cold War, not to mention U.S. military contribution to end World War II and World War II. America’s role as the world’s “policeman” that actually contributes to maintaining peace could have been explained or put into some historical and geopolitical context for foreign audiences.

But first VOA would have to report the news on the survey, which it did not do.

None of this was done by VOA. Instead, the news itself and the narrative around it came from BBC, from China, and from Russia.

RT LogoRussia’s RT has a mix of news reports portraying the U.S. as a dangerous nation in decline, such as its top news story posted days ago, “US the biggest threat to world peace in 2013 – poll” – RT, and fairly objective U.S. news reports, such as “California court permits undocumented immigrant to practice law in unprecedented ruling” that in many cases are posted hours or even days earlier than they would appear on the Voice of America website and have far more information than a similar VOA report, assuming that VOA even manages to post a report on a particular U.S. news story.

U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America charged by Congress with informing the world about the United States, had no report in English or in the vast majority of its more than 40 other languages on the precedence-setting court ruling in California granting a state law license to an undocumented Mexican immigrant. Russia’s RT had a report on its English website about the California court ruling. BBC posted two reports in English on the story.

Whether a news story has a potential to improve U.S. image abroad, harm that image, or requires explanation of U.S. policies and U.S. society, audiences abroad can no longer in many cases count on the Voice of America to report on it and often get more information and get it faster from Al Jazeera, BBC, or RT (Russia Today).

A combination of straight news and anti-American commentary apparently helps RT reach a vast international audience, especially through social media. Its January 2 report, “US the biggest threat to world peace in 2013 – poll” – RT, shows over 32,000 Facebook “Likes” as of 3PM ET January 04 and 211 comments from readers. Even if some question whether all of RT’s Facebook “Likes” are from actual individuals, no one questions that both RT and BBC get thousands where VOA gets at best a few dozen.

VOA never reported on the Worldwide Independent Network and Gallup International survey conducted worldwide at the end of 2013 and made no attempt to explain its findings or put them in any kind of context, even though VOA’s parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has a $50 million five-year contract with Gallup Inc. through its managerial arm, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), to conduct audience research. Critics charge that such excessive contracts and widespread mismanagement by constantly growing ranks of VOA and IBB executives crate a poor working environment and deprive the organization of resources to cover news.

We should point out, however, that Gallup International Association or its members are not related to Gallup Inc., headquartered in Washington D.C which is no longer a member of Gallup International Association. BBG’s contract is with Gallup Inc.

BBC had not just one but three reports on the WIN / Gallup International poll.

A very comprehensive analysis of the results, “Happy new year? The world’s getting slowly more cheerful,” BBC, Dec. 30, 2013. The report shows 414 comments as of early evening Saturday, ET, January 4, 2013 and 1,804 Facebook “Likes.”

Who is the biggest threat to world peace?,” BBC, Dec. 31, 2013.

View from China on the threats to world peace,” By China blog staff, BBC News, Dec. 31, 2013.

BBC reported that this year, WIN / Gallup International included three questions submitted by listeners to BBC’s Radio 4’s Today programme. One of the questions was: “If there were no barriers, which country would you like to live in?” The United States took the first place with 9 percent of those wanting to move opting for the U.S.

In addition to the question: “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to world peace today?,” which gave the U.S. the first place with 24% of worldwide responses (Pakistan 8%, China 6%, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel each 5%), the WIN / Gallup poll also produced interesting data on perceptions of women leaders worldwide. Link to: “Optimism is back in the world- WIN/Gallup International’s annual global End of Year survey shows a brighter outlook for 2014” – WIN / Gallup International.

BBG Watch has documented extensively how daily news reporting failures of the VOA Central English Newsroom and its website are multiplied throughout VOA’s 45 languages. Such failures even extend to reporting on President Obama, Vice President Biden, and senior members of the U.S. Congress from both parties when they make statements or take actions related to U.S. foreign policy.

See a list BBG Watch reports/commentaries for the last six months at the end of this post.

The Voice of America Charter, which is public law in the United States, guarantees VOA’s journalistic independence but at the same time requires VOA to report on U.S. news and U.S. policies.

1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.

2. 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.

3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350)

Members of the bipartisan oversight board, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, have become aware of news reporting and management problems at the Voice of America. At the last BBG meeting last month, BBG Governor Matt Armstrong questioned sharply VOA Director Ensor about them.

[aside] caption = BBG Governor Matt Armstrong Questions VOA Director Ensor
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“Every time there is a breaking news event — I’m not talking about a car chase or a white Bronco on a freeway — I go to VOA websites, not just English, but the other websites, those that I can sort of ascertain, realize … I’ve actually studied three other languages … not that I can speak any of them, and I also use Google translate to try to help me, and then I get the pictures and look at the general layout, and what I find surprising is what appears to be the lack on the website of any event and that we lag significantly behind other media outlets whether they would be our direct tier-one competitors, whether it it is CCTV, Russia Today, CNNI, BBC, whatever it’s going to be. And then when we do file a story, it seems it’s thin at the least, especially when I compare it to these other offerings. And so when I want to pick on the VOA English website — and you make a comment that English is number one audience with 35 million — it seems to me that with English being a major audience for you and lingua franca around the world and if we want to build VOA as a premier news and information provider around the world that there should be a greater integration and timeliness and completeness of news and information on the web, not just in English.”

BBG Governor Matt Armstrong, Dec. 18, 2013


New reformed-minded BBG Chairman Jeff Shell expressed his strong displeasure with low employee morale. But with the holidays coming up, nothing has been done so far to change the situation at VOA, although Shell already announced some personnel changes at the International broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the BBG’s management and support structure.

Director Ensor and other VOA top executives are not admitting that there are any serious problems with their strategic vision for the Voice of America and their management style. Many VOA employees are dispirited and appalled by how a team of IBB and VOA executives has damaged this once great and proud news organization, sources told BBG Watch. VOA journalists still try to do a good job, but it is becoming more and more difficult. The management does not listen but likes to take credit for the work and accomplishments of VOA employees.

[aside] caption = VOA Director David Ensor
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New Year Message from VOA Director David Ensor
Sent: Jan 3, 2014 10:25 AM

To everyone in the VOA and IBB family,

As we head into the New Year, I wanted to take this time to thank each and every
one of you for your hard work and dedication to the Voice of America and its
important mission around the world.

In the past year we have accomplished a lot. Our audience is up, and we have
added new radio, television, mobile and Internet programs. We have won awards
and we have covered some very difficult stories. We have much to be proud of
and our programs are having a real impact.

I hope you will enjoy this Pinterest page display of the many accomplishments
that you helped to make possible in 2013. Best wishes for the new year, and
thank you for everything you do. (click here)

David Ensor

Voice of America
330 Independence Ave, SW
Washington DC 20237
(202) 203.4500



BBG Watch Reports/Commentaries Analyzing Voice America News Between June 2013 and January 2014

[aside] caption = Voice of America’s British Royal Feast in 2011 and 2013
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U.S. taxpayers paid for these programs by the Voice of America (VOA) while many human rights-related news stories and important U.S. foreign policy pronouncements by the White House, the State Department, and members of Congress went unreported on VOA websites in recent months and years.

Years and months later, these reports on the British royalty posted on the VOA English website show zero or very few Facebook “Likes” or any other indication of any notable audience engagement through social media.


VOA British Royal Wedding Feast


Excited Crowds Fill London Streets for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Royal Wedding Ceremony Steeped in Grandeur, Tradition Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Kate Middleton Wears Wedding Dress by Sarah Burton Voice of America (VOA) English Website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Wedding Celebrations Held in Streets Across Britain Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Americans Rise Early for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Celebrities, Sports Stars Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 28, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain Hopes for Billion-Dollar Economic Boost from Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM


Crowds Gather for Britain’s Royal Wedding; Syrian Diplomat Pulled Off Guest List Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM


London Readies for Royal Wedding Day Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 27, 2011 8:00 PM


Formal Clothing, Informal Speeches Typical at British Weddings Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 26, 2011 8:00 PM


British Public Divided Over Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain Preparing Security for Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain’s Royal Wedding: From Cake to Clergy Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 25, 2011 8:00 PM


Bahrain Prince Declines British Royal Wedding Invitation Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM


David Beckham, Elton John Among Royal Wedding Guests Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 24, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain Notes Big Change in Royal Wedding Souvenirs Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 21, 2011 8:00 PM


Prince William, Bride-to-Be Middleton Visit Princess Diana’s Grave Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain’s Queen Formally Approves Prince William’s Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM


Britain’s Queen Celebrates 85th Birthday Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:00 PM


Royal Wedding: William & Kate Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 20, 2011 8:50 AM


A Royal Obsession, Do Americans Care? Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 19, 2011 8:00 PM


Muslim Group Applies to Protest Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM


YouTube to Air Britain’s Royal Wedding Live Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 18, 2011 8:00 PM


Princesses in Training Get Tips at Royal Tea Party Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 17, 2011 8:00 PM


10 Ways You Can Get Into the Spirit of the Royal Wedding Voice of America (VOA) English website, April 14, 2011 8:00 PM


British Royal Engagement Sparks Interest in Modern Monarchies Voice of America (VOA) English website, November 29, 2010 7:00 PM


Britain Announces Royal Wedding Date Voice of America (VOA) English website, November 22, 2010 7:00 PM

VOA on British Royal Christening, October 2013

Among five reports on the VOA website on the royal christening in Britain posted on October 23 and 24, 2013, none has more than 20 Facebook “Likes” as of October 28, 2013, one had zero Facebook “Likes” and another one had three.

Zones: Breaking News , Europe

Prince William, Kate Hold Private Christening for New Prince

October 23, 2013 12:08 PM

……..was born on July 22. In the arms of his mother as she left the the palace’s Chapel Royal, George was dressed in a long cream satin robe that was a replica of an 1841 gown made for the christening of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. Kate, a style icon whose outfits often increase sales of similar garments, wore an off-white, ruffled skirt-suit, made by British fashion house Alexander McQueen, and pillbox hat by British milliner Jane Taylor ….

Tags: Britain , duchess catherine , Kate Middleton , prince george , Prince William , royal christening

Zones: Europe

Reporters: Reuters

Prince George’s Godparents Named Ahead of Christening

October 23, 2013 8:20 AM

……..William and Kate’s decision is a break with the tradition of choosing royal dignitaries to take on the ceremonial role, and a continuation of their effort to portray a more informal, modern image to austerity-hit Britons. After the christening, guests will attend a private tea at Clarence House, hosted by Prince Charles and Camilla. Hollywood photographer Jason Bell has been tapped to take official photos of the event, that will include a “historic multi-generational photograph” of the queen

Tags: Britain , monarch , prince george , royal christening

Zones: Europe

Reporters: VOA News

Royal Baby Christening Breaks with Tradition

October 23, 2013 12:14 AM

Carla Babb Prince George, the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is being christened in Britain on Wednesday. In a break from tradition, the christening of the world’s most famous baby will be as low key as possible. Three months ago, Prince William and his wife Catherine shared their bundle of joy with the world. And just as the royal couple broke with tradition ….

Tags: British royal family , christening , Prince William , Princess Kate , royal baby , royal christening , royalty

Zones: Europe

Reporters: Carla Babb

Hollywood Photographer to Record British Prince’s Christening

October 22, 2013 9:59 AM

Reuters A British photographer known for his portraits of rock stars and Hollywood actors was named on Tuesday as the official photographer of the world’s newest celebrity – Prince George. Prince William and his wife Kate have chosen Jason Bell to photograph the christening on Wednesday, October 23, of their son, the third-in-line to the British throne, a palace statement said. Bell, 44, is an award-winning photographer best known for portraits of celebrities such as musician Paul McCartney, footballer David Beckham ….

Tags: Britain , christening , prince george , royals

Zones: Europe , Arts & Entertainment

Reporters: Reuters

Britain’s Future Monarch Christened in Low-Key London Ceremony

October 23, 2013 12:19 PM

a central London chapel, where he made his first public appearance since his birth in July. Prince George was seen in the arms of his father, Prince William, as the elder prince and his wife Kate arrived at the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace for Wednesday’s traditional Anglican Christian ceremony. The infant was wearing a white satin gown, a replica of one made for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter in 1841. In a private ceremony inside the chapel ….

Zones: World News , Europe