BBG Watch Commentary
On one of the most important news days in Washington, U.S. taxpayer-funded international broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) was once again late and perfunctory in posting major U.S.-oriented news stories on its English website. Once again, BBC, Russia Today, and Al Jazeera offered faster and more extensive coverage than Voice of America and received thousands of Facebook “Likes” for their news stories from the United States, while VOA’s social media engagement numbers were close to zero.
VOA was late in posting a news item on President Obama’s comments on Syria made Wednesday in a PBS interview. Then it took several hours for the news item to be avanced to the top stories on the VOA website.
The same happened with the VOA news report on President Barack Obama’s keynote address Wednesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Both initial VOA news items were also embarrassingly short.
The initial VOA news report on Obama’s comments on Syria had only 408 words, while BBC report had 1,345 words. Russia Today’s report had 1,183 words. VOA’s initial news item on the Martin Luther King ceremony had only 416 words while BBC’s report had 896 words.
The BBC English news website had an extensive report on President Obama’s comments on Syria almost immediately after the airing of his PBS interview and posted it as its top news story. It took VOA several hours to put both Obama stories among its top news items on its English website.
BBG Watch has learned that the Voice of America often does not have a single person working in its Central Newsroom during the evening hours to post and update stories for the English website. Any updating and posting of news stories during that time must be done remotely by a VOA employee working from home. News reports already filed by VOA correspondents often languish for many hours before they are posted. Even then, they are often edited down to a few paragraphs.
According to sources, this happens regularly. It happened again Wednesday with both Obama-related news reports. Sources told us that VOA correspondents apparently spent hours chasing top managers to get their reports posted and advanced to the top stories section of the VOA website.
By the time a VOA correspondent report on President Obama’s comments on Syria was finally posted and and still showed 0 (zero) Facebook “Likes” and 0 (zero) Tweets, the BBC report already had 1,713 Facebook “Likes” and 634 Tweets. Such dismal social media engagement performance by VOA is seen news story after news story, day after day. Even when VOA correspondents provide good reports on major news stories, they often are shortened, posted late, and not advanced to the top stories section.
Exposed to this kind of late and perfunctory news coverage, international audiences have stopped going to the VOA English website and to VOA language websites which often have to use the same late and short reports.
Russia Today‘s report on President Obama’s comments on Syria had 2,100 Facebook “Likes and 705 Tweets.
Al Jazerra‘s report on President Obama’s comments on Syria had 354 Facebook “Likes” and 143 Tweets.
BBC‘s report on President Obama’s speech honoring Martin Luther King Jr. had 4,654 Facebook “Likes” and 1,101 Tweets.
VOA‘s report on President Obama’s speech honoring Martin Luther King Jr. had only 35 Facebook “Likes” and 14 Tweets.
Sources told BBG Watch, that VOA correspondents have made numerous complaints about the English website to VOA Director David Ensor and Executive Editor Steve Redisch only to have their concerns ignored. These concerns were also expressed to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the State Department and were also ignored.
Meanwhile, top VOA executives have been engaged in trying to intimidate and discredit their critics both inside and outside the agency, including independent journalist Matthew Russell Lee, who reports from the UN for Inner City Press, and Gary Thomas, a former VOA senior correspondent who wrote a critical article about VOA for Columbia Journalism Review.
Most Voice of America employees are too intimidated by the top VOA and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) management to voice their concerns in public. But in anonymous Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), employees rate VOA and IBB executives as being some of the worst managers in the entire federal government. The same survey has also shown year after year that VOA and IBB have the lowest employee morale among federal agencies.
As seen from the latest Voice of America news fiasco and numerous other problems at IBB, neither VOA Director David Ensor nor IBB Director Richard Lobo have done anything to improve performance. They have not replaced or reassigned any of the discredited managers and have not resolved any of the longstanding management and programming issues.
BBG Watch hopes that the recently changed Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Board will hold both of these executives and their deputies accountable for their substandard performance.
Voice of America journalists who do great work and are capable of excellent reporting deserve better leadership and better treatment. Their news stories deserve to be posted on time and in full. Audiences abroad deserve better and faster news reporting from VOA.
The management of the Voice of America English news website needs urgent reforms.
Al Jazeera, BBC, Russia Today immediately made Obama’s Egypt statement their lead story, Voice of America did not