BBG Watch Commentary

Joe BidenIn yet another of a long string of news reporting failures, the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) has failed again to report on a phone call Tuesday between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovych.

VOA had failed to report before on a previous phone call between Biden and Yanukovych and on some of the statements on Ukraine by Secretary of State John Kerry, State Department spokesperson, the White House press secretary, and key members of the U.S. Senate, including Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator John McCain.

The overworked and under-resourced VOA Ukrainian Service, and sometimes the VOA Russian Service, have reported on some of these previous news developments, even though the news did not appear on the VOA English website and websites of more than 40 other VOA language services. They include many services with programs to countries without free media, such as Iran and China.

But on other occasions, even VOA Ukrainian and Russian services failed to post reports on important U.S. reactions to events in Ukraine, or were hours late in posting them due to insufficient staffing, neglect, and mismanagement by VOA’s top executives, particularly VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch, inside sources told BBG Watch.

It does not appear this time that either VOA Russian website or VOA Ukrainian website have any reports yet on the Tuesday’s phone call between Biden and Yanukovych. As of 2:00 AM EST Wednesday, the VOA Ukrainian Facebook page has not been updated for the last seven hours.

The management has not provided the service with resources to update its website and social media pages on a regular basis. The same is true for VOA’s Russian Service. These resources are controlled by top VOA and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives rather than lower-level managers who are also frustrated with the agency’s leadership, sources told BBG Watch. Under the programming policy set by VOA and IBB executives, VOA has recently posted five news reports in English on Justin Bieber. Between 2011 and 2014, it also posted dozens of reports in English on the British royal family while failing to cover many significant U.S. news stories.

The failure of the VOA central newsroom to report on the latest Biden-Yanukovych phone call, and the failure to report on similar news stories in the past, are squarely blamed by critics on VOA’s senior executives. Critics say that they have allowed the news reporting capacity of VOA to collapse among mismanagement and poor employee morale.

On the bright side for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which has oversight authority, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) did report in English, Ukrainian and Russian that in a phone call Tuesday “Vice President Joe Biden has urged Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych to accept international support to resolve the nation’s political crisis.”

“The White House said Biden urged Yanukovych to remove riot police, release detainees, and prosecute those responsible for attacking journalists and protesters,” RFE/RL and other U.S. and international media reported.

Biden also said that “only dialogue and compromise could lead to a government the Ukrainian people can trust.”

Biden Urges Yanukovych To Compromise, RFE/RL.

Unlike VOA, however, RFE/RL does not have a worldwide audience in English and in many other languages, which VOA has. VOA is also required by the VOA Charter (U.S. Public Law 94-350) to report “clearly and effectively” on U.S. news and U.S. policies.

Critics say that VOA and IBB executives have been ignoring this and other provisions of the VOA Charter for many years embolden by the lack of effective oversight and reaction until very recently from the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

There may be some hope, however, for VOA’s audiences and for VOA journalists who can’t do their job right under the current VOA and IBB leadership. New BBG chairman Jeff Shell has initiated management reforms at IBB. With the support of other BBG members, he may be also getting ready to reform VOA, agency sources told BBG Watch.