BBG Watch Commentary

Screen shot of VOA Facebook page on June 25, 1:40 PM Washington time, shows no recent news on Snowden. The photo of Chinese blind dissident Chen Guangcheng has nothing to do with the 'Saudi Arabia Shifts Workweek' top story but was not removed for hours.

Russia’s state supported broadcaster Russia Today (RT) leads U.S.-funded broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) by enormous margins in all audience engagement and other audience counting measures for English-language news reporting on the Snowden spy case and in reporting on practically all other international news stories. The advantage of such broadcasters as Russia Today English and Al Jazeera English over Voice of America English news service is especially evident in social media use.

While Russia Today posts numerous video news reports on YouTube and updates its Facebook page religiously, VOA is often hours late in sending news stories to Facebook and in posting videos on YouTube. VOA English also posts far fewer original news reports and videos than Russia Today.

Unlike Russia Today’s website, VOA English news website does not show the exact time in hours and minutes when a news story is posted or updated. If it did, it would be obvious to readers and members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), its oversight federal board, that the VOA English news service is habitually late in covering even major U.S. and international news stories.

A check done at about 1:40 PM Washington time showed that Snowden-related VOA English news reports have not been updated on Facebook for anywhere from 12 to 18 hours. Russia Today posted numerous Snowden-related and U.S.-related stories, many of them with a clear anti-American propaganda theme.

Some examples:

International confidence in US economy ‘crumbling’ after Snowden leaks, Russia Today, 1,109 Facebook “Likes” on RT Facebook page, 4,400 “Likes” on RT page.

The second report shows how Russia Today repeats and amplifies China’s anti-American propaganda.

‘Mad invader, eavesdropper’: China slams US after Snowden accusations, Russia Today, 1,531 Facebook “Likes on RT Facebook page, 4,300 Likes on RT page.

Meanwhile, VOA failed to post to Facebook its own interview with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Kerry: Lives May be Lost Due to Snowden’s Betrayal, which was already available on the VOA English news website for several hours but received almost no social media attention. At 2:00 PM Washington time, the VOA story had only 21 Facebook “Recommend” scores.

A transcript of the interview had only 4 Facebook “Recommend” scores. Neither VOA report was posted on Facebook as of 2:00 PM Tuesday, Washington time.

The VOA English news website also did not feature on its home page on June 25 the VOA interview with Kerry. The report on the interview was filed sometime on June 24. The home page today featured instead a video story, Nigeria Reaches for the Stars With Space Program. VOA English website also featured today at one point its own report on Putin’s statement on Snowden, Putin: Snowden in Transit Zone and Will Not Be Extradited. The VOA report on Putin’s comments on Snowden did not have any Facebook “Recommend” scores when checked earlier today by BBG Watch. It later managed to get 4 Facebook “Recommend” scores.

Russia Today Facebook page, June 25, shows several recently posted Snowden-related news stories.

Russia Today news story, Putin: Snowden still in Moscow airport, won’t be extradited, free to go anywhere, had 1,026 Facebook “Likes.” It was posted on Facebook three hours earlier. VOA posted the same story on its own website about four hours later. It got 2 Facebook “Recommend” scores but was not put on VOA’s Facebook page, even though it included statements from Kerry and the White House.

Another VOA English news report, Kerry: US Not Looking for Confrontation with Russia over Snowden, was also not posted on the VOA Facebook page as of 5:00 PM Washington time even though it was already on the VOA English website for several hours, where it received only 3 Facebook “Recommend” scores.

VOA did post to YouTube a report on the interview with Secretary Kerry, Kerry: ‘Lives will be Lost’ Due to Snowden’s Betrayal. It had 301 views after 19 hours and 6 comments.

A Russia Today video posted to YouTube yesterday, Chase Mode: US set to catch Snowden amid biggest hunt for whistleblowers, had 12,615 views and 674 comments.

The statistics by how much Russia Today beats VOA English News in social media use are staggering.

Russia Today English has 920,983 YouTube subscribers and 1,012,986,279 views (over one billion); Voice of America English has only 23,763 YouTube subscribers and 26,948,148 views. Both organizations joined YouTube within one year of one another, March 2007 for Russia Today, and March 2008 for VOA.

Facebook scores are also vastly in favor of Russia Today English over Voice of America English. Russia Today has 949,299 total “Likes” to VOA’s 355,093.

Russia Today and Al Jazeera beat VOA English many times over not just on the Snowden story coverage. The VOA English News Division and its English broadcasts have been decimated to such a degree by controversial managers of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) — the administrative arm of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the board and the agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting — that they are incapable of covering most news in a timely manner. IBB executives have been rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey as being the worst managers in the federal government.

Comparison of Most Popular Voice of America and Russia Today Turkey English News Videos on YouTube June 1-9, 2013But even when VOA should and could cover a major international news story, such as the anti-government protests in Turkey, its executives decided not to send any staff reporters or video journalists to Istanbul in early June. VOA Director David Ensor defended this decision as being responsible and VOA’s coverage as balanced. Critics said that VOA’s English-language coverage of Turkish protests was not balanced because news writers in Washington lacked direct access to the demonstrators and posted instead news wire service reports which tended to focus more on statements from Prime Minister Erdogan. A BBG Watch review of VOA English coverage of Turkey in early June showed this to be true.

Russia Today had its own reporters on the ground in Turkey and posted numerous video reports on YouTube in early June. One of them had over 150,000 views while a VOA English video report filed from Washington at about the same time had only 300 views.

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing, Wednesday, June 26, on reforming the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an agency that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to as “defunct.”

U.S. Congressman Ed Royce

Hearing: Broadcasting Board of Governors: An Agency “Defunct” 2172 House Rayburn Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Jun 26, 2013 10:00am.

In commenting on the hearing, Rep. Royce noted that “‘tinkering’ and ‘band-aid’ solutions are not an option, because the stakes are too great” in how America’s story is told to the world and how news is delivered to societies living under press censorship.

“International broadcasting is a key tool of U.S. diplomacy. Unfortunately, it’s broken. As Secretary Clinton rightly pointed out earlier this year, ‘the BBG is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world.’ It is time to take a hard look at the BBG and ask if our resources, nearly $750 million annually, are being spent wisely – are we getting what we need from these broadcasting efforts? We aren’t, and it is time for broad reforms; ‘tinkering’ and ‘band-aid’ solutions are not an option, because the stakes are too great.”