BBG Watch Commentary
Several sources pointed out that Voice of America Director David Ensor was missing over the weekend as a crisis developed over the Cambodian government’s decision prohibiting the broadcast of news programming about Cambodia by foreign broadcasters over Cambodian FM radio stations for a period of 31 days prior to national elections in Cambodia scheduled for July 28. Sources said that BBG governors were disappointed that Ensor was not available to issue a statement and to work on other responses to the ban.
Thanks to efforts by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Phom Penh and a BBG Governor, former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe, a crisis was averted when the Cambodian government withdrew its ban.
A press release issued by the Voice of America (VOA) on Friday in response to the ban announcement quoted VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch, not VOA Director David Ensor.
As of Sunday evening Washington time, there was no statement from either Ensor or Redisch and no press release on the Voice of America public relations website in response to the lifting of the broadcasting ban by the Cambodian government. The VOA news website, which is separate from the VOA public relations website, did have a news story on the reversal of the ban.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) worked over the weekend, issuing two press releases: one in response to the ban announcement and another one Sunday in response to the lifting of the ban. Both press releases quoted BBG Governor Victor Ashe.
From BBG Press Release: BBG Condemns Foreign Media Ban In Cambodia, June 28, 2013.
“I am extremely troubled by the Cambodian government’s actions today,” said Victor Ashe, a member of the BBG’s governing board and the vice chairman of the board overseeing RFA and who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Poland from 2004-2009. “By denying its citizens access to unbiased news and information in this critical time it is undermining its own legitimacy and blatantly repudiating the very democracy it claims to espouse. When I visited Cambodia in May, I met with leaders in the media and civil society. I know first-hand how much they rely on the reporting of RFA and VOA.”
From BBG Press Release: BBG Welcomes Lifting Of Foreign Media Ban In Cambodia, Urges Complete Media Freedom, June 30, 2013.
“We are pleased that the Cambodian government has decided to allow broadcasting by all groups on the upcoming elections, but restrictions on media freedom remain,” said Victor Ashe, a BBG board member and the vice chair of Radio Free Asia. “An important part of all democracies to allow full media coverage of all candidates and campaigns with the people making the final decision on election day, Furthermore, the people of Cambodia deserve nothing short of complete freedom of the press at all times.”
Sources told BBG Watch that BBG board members were disappointed that David Ensor was not on call to deal with such a major crisis for Voice of America broadcasting in Cambodia and that he did not issue a statement on the media ban himself. We learned later that he attended a conference in Aspen, CO.
Earlier, both Ensor and Redisch came under criticism for not sending any VOA English staff reporters to Turkey in early June to cover major anti-government protests.
Ensor defended his decision as responsible and VOA English news coverage as balanced. An analysis by BBG Watch of VOA English website coverage of Turkey showed, however, that it leaned toward reporting on statements from Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. Subsequent analysis of social media websites showed that Russia Today and Al Jazeera coverage by their reporters on the ground in Turkey received hundreds of thousands of video views to only a few hundred for VOA English news videos originating from Washington at that time. Russia Today and Al Jazeera also had thousands more Facebook “Likes” for their reports from Turkey than VOA English.
VOA employees told BBG Watch that their complaints to Ensor and Redisch that the VOA English website and social media sites were not being updated in a timely manner and had serious problems, as well as their complaints about the same issues to the Office of Inspector General, were ignored. VOA English and French to Africa websites apparently failed to report recently on Amnesty International statement on torture in Mauritania.
A few days earlier, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) signed a rebroadcasting agreement with Mauritania. (IBB), which is in charge of both agency’s management and transmissions, has come under criticism from a BBG Watch commentator for over-reliance on local FM rebroadcasting in countries ruled by authoritarian governments, for being caught by surprise by the Cambodian government’s ban announcement and for not having an emergency response plan ready to launch.
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