BBG Watch Commentary

VOA Homepage During CIA Director Brennan's News-Conference
VOA Homepage During CIA Director Brennan’s News-Conference


U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) failed to provide live audio, video or prompt live online text coverage (not counting a few Tweets) of CIA Director John Brennan’s rare news conference Friday. Brennan has defended the spy agency following the release of a U.S. Senate report that said agents used torture in war on terror. A news conference by a CIA director is a rare event, but VOA under the leadership of Director David Ensor and Executive Editor Steve Redisch has often failed to arrange for live coverage of President Obama’s news conferences and foreign policy speeches.

The CIA news conference generated widespread interest internationally. It was covered live by all major U.S. and many international media outlets, including extensive live online coverage by BBC.

Someone within senior VOA management either paid no attention at all to the announcement of CIA director’s news conference or decided not to provide live video and audio coverage. No arrangements were made for posting prompt text updates online.

A former Voice of America senior White House correspondent Dan Robinson called it a “breathtakingly shortsighted decision by VOA managers.”

Voice of America journalists were reportedly outraged by lack of leadership from VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch on Friday and on many previous occasions. They blame them for not arranging for adequate news coverage of CIA director’s news conference. Sources told us that because of longstanding confusion and management meltdown, individual VOA reporters who want better news reporting have been prevented from making news and web coverage decisions.

One highly-respected senior Voice of America broadcaster reportedly tried Friday to convince other VOA reporters to bypass Ensor and Redisch as being unable to run the organization. He urged reporters to take action against mismanagement within VOA on their own. According to one source, VOA senior reporter suggested to others that they should consider complaining directly to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

The bipartisan board, which has oversight responsibilities, meets next week. One source described the meeting of reporters as an open rebellion against Voice of America’s senior executives.

Sources also told BBG Watch that Ensor may have asked Redisch to take control of the VOA web operation, but they did not know when this decision might have been made or when Redisch might assume this duty.

Sources said that a few years ago, Redisch spent some time observing the VOA web desk but apparently could not figure out that anything was wrong, or if he saw something wrong, he did not know how to fix multiple problems in VOA news reporting and in posting news on the web. None of the problems has been resolved and many many have gotten worse.

VOA reporters have been complaining for years about problems with management of the VOA newsroom and the VOA web desk. Ensor and Redisch have ignored these complaints which were made repeatedly by individual VOA journalists and in group meetings with Ensor and Redisch. VOA executives announced recently a poorly-defined “Digital First” strategy. Such a strategy, according to VOA senior reporters, they should have better articulated by Ensor and Redisch and implemented years ago.

VOA’s failure to carry Brennan’s news conference live is not an isolated incident. Such failures happen almost daily at the Voice of America. Last month, VOA failed to provide live coverage of U.S. mid-term election results. VOA did not update Facebook and Twitter pages for many hours, and did not have an election results news item in its online and live radio newscasts for many hours after the polls closed in the United States.

Former Voice of America senior White House correspondent Dan Robinson, who was a frequent critic of VOA senior management before his retirement earlier this year, had this comment on the latest VOA news reporting failure.

Also on Friday, a Wall Street Journal editorial concluded that Voice of America is a “Voice of Anti-Americanism.”

Former VOA senior White House correspondent Dan Robinson

“It is simply astonishing that such an event was not carried live
by the Voice of America. A news conference by the head of the
CIA is a rare occurrence. Given the global significance of the
Senate report and the extent to which the torture (or to use the
euphemism repeatedly employed by Brennan — EIT) issue has
reverberated around the world, including impacts for U.S. allies,
this breathtakingly shortsighted decision by VOA managers to
ignore this live event is even more shocking.

No one should doubt that the BBC is fully aware of these ongoing
decision-making failures in which VOA has repeatedly been caught
flat-footed on story after story where live web coverage is concerned.
VOA has become a laughingstock on such issues.

The damage is profound long-lasting, and speaks to
severe disconnects, lack of imagination, and faulty implementation
not only by VOA’s top leaders, Ensor and Redisch, but by VOA Central
News managers, many of whom don’t deserve the title ‘manager’.”