BBG Watch Commentary

VOA Union Supports Royce - Engel BillU.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed recent support from the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, the Union representing Voice of America (VOA) workers, for H.R. 4490. “The bipartisan legislation reforms U.S. international broadcasting and recently passed the Committee unanimously,” a Committee press release says.

The bipartisan bill, however, is being criticized by Voice of America Director David Ensor who reportedly thanked a VOA foreign correspondent who had denounced the bill in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed as turning VOA into a propaganda arm of the U.S. government. Ensor himself was reported strongly criticizing the bill to U.S. officials and others on his recent trip abroad.

Many VOA employees disagree that the bill undermines VOA’s independence in any significant way. Their union believes that the bill may in fact strengthen independent journalism at the Voice of America by forcing management reforms and requiring any new management to observe all provisions of the VOA Charter.

Critics say that because of mismanagement and waste of resources many important U.S. foreign policy and other news stories are no longer covered by the Voice of America. A recent VOA video report on the inauguration of Ukraine’s President Poroshenko failed to mention or show Vice President Biden and members of a U.S. congressional delegation who attended the ceremony in Kyiv.

VOA also failed to post a timely report on the opening in London on Tuesday of the global summit against rape in war at which American Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke about rape in war zones. VOA, which eventually posted a Reuters report on the conference more than 24 hours late, also failed to mention that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will address the summit on Friday. The Reuters report on rape in war was posted by VOA in the Arts and Entertainment section of its English news website and also briefly in the Arts and Entertainment section on its homepage, probably because Angelina Jolie is also an actress, but hardly appropriate for such a serious topic.

The rape in war report stayed on the VOA website next to a VOA report that talked about heterosexual men who enjoyed dressing as women. Nearly two days after the conference opened, VOA finally posted its own report on the anti-rape conference, but it still did not say anything about Secretary Kerry planning to speak at the summit on Friday or mentioned his op-ed on gender violence published two days earlier by London’s Evening Standard. The VOA report was filed from London.

VOA Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 6.25PM EDTSenior managers assign VOA reporters instead to cover feature stories, such as a long multimedia report on wigs: “Elaborate Wigs Top Off Broadway’s Winning Looks – VOA, June 9, 2014, reporting that wigs play a central role in a play based on a real American resort that “in the 1960s catered to heterosexual men who enjoyed dressing as women.”

VOA did not have a correspondent at the opening of the anti-rape summit at which Angelina Jolie spoke, did not report that Secretary Kerry will speak at the summit and did not send a correspondent to cover the visit to Ukraine by Vice President Biden and the congressional delegation but paid for an extended trip to Poland and Ukraine by Director Ensor.

Rep. Ed Royce has published also a Letter to the Editor in response to a recent Washington Post editorial about the bipartisan Royce – Engel U.S. International Broadcasting Reform Legislation. Congressman Royce said that the danger to Voice of America is maintaining the status quo. “Freedom of information around the world is essential for our national security objectives. The real ‘dangerous step’ would be to do nothing,” Chairman Royce wrote.

Judging by what the Voice of America reports on these days under the current leadership and what it fails to report, Congressman Royce is absolutely right.


VOA Union Supports Chairman Royce Efforts to Reform U.S. International Broadcasting

JUN 12, 2014

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed recent support from the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, the Union representing Voice of America (VOA) workers, for H.R. 4490. The bipartisan legislation reforms U.S. international broadcasting and recently passed the Committee unanimously.

Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490), which improves the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters, such as the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN).

In a June 7 letter of support, AFGE Local 1812 wrote: “In the end, some of the currently entrenched senior management represent a far greater threat to VOA’s journalistic independence, indeed to the very existence of the VOA, by abandoning the Charter and trying to turn VOA into something they envisioned as a global variant of CNN. The U.S. taxpayers and Congress are not providing funding for just another news service. That is why there are three parts to the VOA Charter.  We support the passage of this Bill.” Read the full letter HERE.

In a June 2 letter under the heading “Congressional Reform Bells are Ringing,” the union wrote: “Why the need for this legislation? Most of us, who have experienced it close-up and personal, know that under the leadership of the past dozen years or so, the Agency has lost its way. It no longer functions as the Voice of America (VOA) but rather as a wanna-be, very pale imitation of CNN and a content supplier to other broadcasters — something it was never meant to be and which is neither contained nor foreseen in the VOA Charter.”  Read the full letter HERE.

More information on bipartisan legislation to reform U.S. international broadcasting is available HERE, including a fact sheet and letters of support.