BBG Watch Commentary

Voice of America English news website fails to report on President Obama’s meeting Friday in St. Petersburg with Russian rights activists. Many VOA language services also failed to report on this meeting. The VOA Russian Service did post an original report by its correspondents in Russia. VOA journalists blame top managers for undermining VOA’s ability to report news.

The beleaguered Voice of America (VOA) English news website not only failed for days to report on Pope Francis’s opposition to a military attack on Syria, it also failed to report on President Obama’s meeting with Russian rights activists.

The White House website had a posting on the meeting since Friday, but there was nothing on as of late Saturday evening Washington, DC time on VOA’s main English news website.  The VOA Russian Service did its own report on the meeting. But  websites for VOA English and dozens of other VOA language services had nothing on this important meeting.

Many of VOA language services target audiences in countries without free media. They rely for this kind of reporting on the VOA English website and VOA Central Newsroom.  If these reports are not provided by VOA in English, most VOA language services are not able to quickly generate their own reports.

The Washington Post had a report, Russian rights activists say Obama promised to keep pressing Putin on human rights from AP dated September 6. The meeting was held several hours after two dozen of gay activists rallied in St. Petersburg to protest Russia’s new law banning gay propaganda, which prompted some activists to call for the boycott of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

VOA English News report, Obama Returns to US After International Syria Discussions, did not mention the meeting with rights activists in Russia.

VOA Russian Service had an original and lengthy report from St. Petersburg, Президент США встретился с российскими правозащитниками. The Russian Service report received 95 Facebook “Likes” as of late Saturday afternoon.

Radio Liberty’s Russian Service (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – RFE/RL) also reported on President Obama’s meeting with civil society leaders.

Top news reports on the VOA English website, many of which are posted late–more and more frequently they are short news items reposted from Reuters–rarely get more than a dozen or two Facebook “Likes” while similar reports on Al Jazeera, BBC, and Russia Today English websites get hundreds and thousands of “Likes.” While VOA English website had nothing on Pope Francis’s appeals against a military intervention in Syria, Russia Today’s report had more than 13,000 Facebook “Likes.”

Also Read: Voice of America executives and correspondents at odds over news reporting and management issues, BBG Watch, September 7, 2013.


The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
September 06, 2013

Remarks by the President to Civil Society Leaders

Crowne Plaza Hotel
St. Petersburg, Russia

7:31 P.M. MSK

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I just want to say thank you to all the participants in this roundtable.  This is an incredible and very diverse group of civil society leaders.  And this is something that I really enjoy doing at every country that I visit because it is my firm belief that a country’s strength ultimately comes from its people and that as important as government is — and laws — what makes a country democratic and effective in delivering prosperity and security and hope to people is when they’ve got an active, thriving civil society.

And all of these leaders, ranging from business leaders to youth leaders to environmental leaders, those who are advocating on behalf of a free press, the rule of law, all of them contribute in one way or another to continuing to strengthen Russian society and helping to make progress on behalf of all people.

And the same is true in the United States.  I’m now in government, but I got my start as a community organizer, somebody who was working in what would be called an NGO in the international community.  And the work I was doing was helping poor communities have a voice in what was happening in their lives.  And I got elected as President by engaging people at a grassroots level.

So the kinds of activities that are represented here are critically important to Russia’s development, and I’m very proud of their work.  And I think it is important for us to remember that in every country — here in Russia, in the United States, around the globe — that part of good government is making sure that we’re creating a space for civil society to function effectively:  freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, making sure that people can join together and make common cause around the issues that they care deeply about.

So I appreciate you taking the time.  I’m not going to do all the talking here.  I want to spend most of my time listening. But I want to thank you again and I hope all of you continue the good work.

7:35 P.M. MSK

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