BBG Watch Commentary

It is not that such a mistake could not have happened at a news organization, but what is especially embarrassing about the Voice of America (VOA) under its current holdover management of globe-trotting VOA Director Amanda Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara and their boss Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing–all of them appointed in 2015 and 2016–is that such mistakes are common, are being multiplied through social media, and are often not corrected for many hours.

In this case, it was Inner City Press correspondent at the UN Matthew Russell Lee who first reported on VOA referring in its tweet to “Sonalia” instead of Somalia.

As it turns out, the headline in the VOA news report on the VOA main news website also had “Sonalia.”

Even more embarrassing is that the mistake has not been noticed by the author of the VOA report, VOA editors if there were any, the VOA social media specialist who initiated the VOA tweet with the same mistake, or by Amanda Bennett, Sandy Sugawara, John Lansing or any other among multiple senior VOA and BBG executives.

Do these highly-paid U.S. government executives ever look at the VOA news website and VOA social media pages at work or at home?

Again, it is not that such a mistake could not have happened at another news organization, but perhaps not in a headline also repeated on social media.

What is particularly appalling in this case is that the mistake, as many other such mistakes before, has remained uncorrected for over two hours.

The mistake was noticed by outsiders, but not by any VOA reporters and editors, and not by any VOA or BBG executives.

One Twitter user (among the only two who left comments during the two hours since the posting of the tweet) wrote:

“Replying to @VOANews
#somalia I think you mean, except i have missed out on the birth of a new sovereign African state.”


It might be time for Ms. Bennett to cut down on her international U.S. government travels and start looking more regularly at the VOA News website. Nobody else at VOA and BBG seems to be doing it.


As of 9:44 PM EDT July 28, 2018, the “Sonalia” VOA headline has been on the VOA news website for over two hours without being corrected. The report is shown with a 7:41 PM posting timestamp.

At 10:02 PM EDT, the VOA Tweet with “Sonalia” has also been allowed to remain uncorrected.

The VOA tweet also shows the complete failure of the current Bennett-Sugawara-Lansing management in achieving audience engagement for VOA English news content. After an hour the VOA tweet had only two retweets and two comments.

One of the few retweets of the VOA tweet with the embarrassing “Sonalia” headline was by VOA reporter Harun Maruf who apparently did not notice the mistake and allowed it to be spread on social media. He retweeted on Investigative Dossier @i_dossier. The Investigative Dossier Twitter page has the following description:


“Investigative Dossier is Somalia’s first-of-its-kind investigative program on radio created by @HarunMaruf. Tune in at 4PM & 7PM every other Tue on @VOASomali”


In his introduction, Harun Maruf did not misspell Somalia, but he retweeted the “Sonalia” headline.

Reporters outside of VOA noted the mistake.

Inner City Press reporter Matthew Russell Lee, whom the previous VOA management tried to ban from covering the UN several years ago, tweeted:


@VOAnews strikes again with publicly-funded reference to “Sonalia,” same VOA wrote to @AntonioGuterres spox Dujarric to get Inner City Press thrown out of UN … VOA has not reported a word on Guterres’ 25 day ban of ICP …”



We noted that Greta Van Susteren’s promo appears under the VOA report with the unfortunate headline. Greta Van Susteren @greta does pro bono work for VOA. She has nothing to do with these embarrassing mistakes, but they don’t make her look good.




1 comment
  1. It’s one of the dirty little secrets at VOA that these kind of mistakes have grown in number and frequency in recent years. As someone who works at VOA and is part of the news production and delivery process, I see these mistakes every single day. They’re an embarrassment to VOA and the United States because they show a lack of attention to detail and accuracy. And they indicate that, as BBG Watch frequently notes, there often seems to be no one at the rudder when it comes to detecting these errors and ordering that they be corrected. But it’s OK — Congress will continue to appropriate millions in additional funds to BBG, which will continue to sell to lawmakers things like the new 24/7 programming for Iran, while in so many areas the agency remains broken and a joke.

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