BBG Watch Commentary

As incredible as it may sound, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) 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).

RT  (Russia Today)Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 3.29.14 PM shows over 800 Facebook Likes for its comprehensive and balanced report.
RT (Russia Today)Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 3.29.14 PM shows over 800 Facebook Likes for its comprehensive and balanced report.

Russia’s stated-funded international media outlet RT (Russia Today) had posted in English its own 450-word news report on January 2 on the California Supreme Court ruling that Sergio Garcia, entered the US illegally, should be authorized to practice law in California.

RT reported that California lawmakers passed a state law in October granting immigrants who were brought to America by their parents to become lawyers. RT also reported that at the federal level the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, DC has opposed Garcia’s licensing.

RT described the California court ruling in favor of undocumented immigrants as “a decision already hailed as a major victory for immigrants trying to win more rights in the US.”

RT also quotes California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye:

“We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant’s presence in this country violates federal statuses is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the State Bar.”

“State Bar” refers to a U.S. state governmental organization that licenses and regulates lawyers practicing in an individual U.S. state, such as California.

Unlike some of its other reporting that tries to portray the United States, and especially U.S. government, in negative light, Russia’s RT report was in this case was accurate, balanced, and comprehensive, unless RT editors motive was to imply that the rule of law in the United States is breaking down.

Russia’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.

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.

[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?”


VOA never reported on the Worldwide Independent Network and Gallup International poll 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.

Since BBC, RT (Russia Today) and many other international media outlets reported on the WIN / Gallup International survey results, particularly as they related to the United States and threats to world peace, as a U.S. news organization, VOA should have reported on it as well on its websites. It did not.

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

None of this was reported by the Voice of America. We have no evidence that VOA avoided this particular news story on purpose because it portrayed the United States as a major threat to peace. VOA news reporting has been in a state of such disarray and even complete meltdown, that often VOA does not even report on what the Obama Administration is doing and saying about foreign and domestic U.S. policy.

VOA Director Ensor said in a recent 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.” He also said that “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.”

VOA is failing on the journalistic front, it is failing in reporting about the White House and it is failing in reporting news, both good and bad, about the United States.

VOA Director David Ensor, who manages the Voice of America through his deputy Steve Redisch and a group of senior managers who have been in their posts for many years, insists that any news reporting problems can be attributed to insufficient resources. But in 2011, VOA posted 27 separate reports on the British royal wedding and in October 2013 five reports on the British royal christening. Critics argue that the Voice of America is in a state of leadership and management meltdown.

One of BBC’s reports on the U.S. immigration story, “Despite hurdles, undocumented immigrant becomes a lawyer,” by Tasbeeh Herwees, BBC News, California, January 3, 2014, is showing 427 Facebook “Likes” as of Saturday afternoon ET, January 4. This BBC report has over 700 words, two images, and quotes from Sergio Garcia.

An earlier BBC report, “Illegal immigrant “Sergio Garcia gets California law licence,” BBC News, January 3, 2014, is showing 1,463 Facebook “Likes” as of Saturday afternoon ET, January 4.

An extensive search of the VOA English news website did not produce any reports by VOA on the California court ruling even though the ruling could affect countless young immigrants and could set a precedent for other U.S. states. However, the future is not clear for such undocumented immigrants in the United States. VOA had a chance to explain the U.S. law, the federal system and the status of undocumented immigrants, but did not. The topic of the story strongly suggests that it would be of great interest to international audiences and would have an impact on the image of the United States abroad. Both RT and BBC took advantage of international interest in this news story.

The only Voice of America language service that had some minimal reporting on the California court ruling appears to be the VOA Spanish Service. Unlike RT’s comprehensive news report, the VOA Spanish Service report on this tremendously important story, especially for audiences in Latin America, had only 115 words. RT’s report on the same news story was nearly four times longer.

As of 2PM ET January 4, RT report on Sergio Garcia shows 843 Facebook “Likes,” far more than the vast majority of reports on the often un-updated VOA English news website ever get.

As of 2PM ET January 4, VOA Spanish report, “Indocumentado será abogado en EE.UU., VOA Spanish Service, Jan. 02, 2014, shows only 2 (two) Facebook “Likes.” The VOA Spanish Service report also shows 0 (zero) comments from readers as of 2PM ET January 4, about two days after it was posted online.

We could not find any reporting on VOA’s Russian, Chinese and Persian websites on this U.S. news story about undocumented immigrants living and trying to find professional work in America. While we did not check all VOA language websites, it is safe to assume that the vast majority of VOA’s 45 languages had no reporting on this news story.

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.

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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.


VOA Spanish Service Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 3.25.47 PM shows 2 Facebook Likes for this short report.
VOA Spanish Service Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 3.25.47 PM shows 2 Facebook Likes for this short report.

Indocumentado será abogado en EE.UU.

as posted on Voice of America (VOA) Spanish Service website, Jan. 02, 2014.

Voz de América – Redacción

El estado de California autorizó una insólita orden para que un joven indocumentado pueda ejercer como abogado legalmente en el país.

[AP Photo]

La Corte Suprema de California autorizó un joven mexicano que vive sin documentos en Estados Unidos para que ejerza su profesión de abogado.

El mexicano Sergio García, de 36 años, fue traído a Estados Unidos ilegalmente por sus padres cuando tenía apenas 17 meses de edad.

La autorización sienta un precedente que podría repercutir en otros estados con inmigrantes indocumentados que se gradúan y aprueban el examen estatal para ejercer pero no pueden trabajar debido a su estatus migratorio.

La Corte Suprema de California anunció la decisión en su portal de internet.

García se graduó en una universidad californiana y en 2009 aprobó el examen que permite a los abogados graduados ejercer en ese estado.

Unofficial English Translation

Voice of America – Spanish Service

The State of California issued an unusual order for a young undocumented immigrant to practice law in the country legally.

[AP Photo]

The California Supreme Court authorized a young Mexican living illegally in the United States to work.

Mexican Sergio García, 36, was brought to the U.S. illegally by parents at just 17 ​​months old.

The orders sets a precedent that could affect other states with undocumented immigrants who graduate and pass the state exam to practice law but can not work because of their immigration status.

The California Supreme Court announced the decision on its website.

Garcia graduated from a California university and in 2009 passed the exam that allows the graduates lawyers to practice in that state.


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