BBG Watch Commentary

It was not a big surprise to us that as of 1:30 AM EST, Wednesday, January 5, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America did not have on its main English-language news website any information about protesters in Germany taking to the streets after about 90 women were sexually assaulted, robbed or threatened during New Year’s eve celebrations in the city of Cologne. A check of several of VOA’s foreign language news websites, including Iranian and Russian, also did not produce any VOA reports on the sexual assaults in Cologne several days ago and more recent protests over the incident in Germany. UPDATE: We were only able to find a well-written report on the story on the VOA’s Learning English website.

The story is big internationally, but not for the Voice of America Central Newsroom, which is often practically deserted, especially during holidays, but also on weekends and at nights. The organization has been mismanaged for many years by its parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).


VOA News Cologne Search 01-01 to 01-06-2016 Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 2.43 PM EST
VOA News Cologne Search 01-01 to 01-06-2016 Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 2.43 PM EST


While the main Voice of America English News website still does not have any news reports on the Cologne sexual assaults story as of 2:00 AM EST, Wednesday, after a long search we did find a report on the story written in what used to be called “Special English” and posted on the VOA Learning English website.
We have noticed in the past that VOA Learning English section sometimes posts excellent reports on news stories which VOA Central Newsroom either ignores or is late in reporting. These VOA Learning English news reports written and voiced in simple English (sometimes also in video) are much better written and better produced than what the VOA Central Newsroom and its web team put on the main VOA English News website.
Bravo VOA Learning English! Perhaps you should take over the job of writing all VOA news.

VOA Learning English also had a Facebook post, while VOA Central English News and the vast majority if not all of the other VOA foreign language websites and social media pages had nothing on the story.

While it is good that VOA Learning English had a report, the fact that VOA Central English Newsroom has ignored the story is inexcusable for a news organization. The VOA Learning English report did not have information about protests over the incident which took place Tuesday in Germany and were reported on by BBC and other media.

U.S. Opinion & Commentary section on the VOA main website also did not have anything on the Cologne sexual assaults story even though U.S. media reported on and commented on the incident.


VOA Learning English | We are American English


As It Is


Young, Male Migrants Suspected in New Year’s Assaults



German authorities said Tuesday that young women were sexually harassed and robbed by hundreds of young men on New Year’s Eve.
Attacks took place in the western city of Cologne, in Hamburg in the north, and Stuttgart in the south, reported the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Most of the attacks took place in the main square in Cologne during celebrations.
Victims and witnesses described the attackers as young men “who appeared to have a North African or Arabic” background, the newspapers reported.
More than 90 people in Cologne have filed legal complaints, according to police.
In Hamburg, police said that 10 women had reported being sexually assaulted and robbed. The Wall Street Journal said there were incidents in Stuttgart, but no arrests have been made in any of the cities.
Germany took in more than 1 million migrants and refugees last year. Most of them come from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa. Tensions have risen in Germany as it tries to deal with the social and political changes there.
The New York Times said the assault went largely unreported for days. That delay “has led to concerns that the authorities were playing down the seriousness of the assault to prevent it from becoming a point of contention” in the larger debate about migrants.
People were gathered to see the city’s fireworks over the Rhine River. Some were going to bars and nightclubs.
The Wall Street Journal said Heiko Maas, Germany’s justice minister, warned that the ethnicity, or background, of the criminals does not matter.
He said “the rule of law does not look at where someone comes from but what they did.”
In Cologne, police said that they believe that several hundred men, ages 15 to 35, were involved in the violence. It began in the early hours on New Year’s Day. The square was closed after men were throwing fireworks, reported the Wall Street Journal.
Police say the men broke into smaller groups. Each group circled a woman, the police said, and some would grope the victim. Other men stole the women’s cellphones or wallets.
One woman told police she had been raped.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the attacks “disgusting.”
Cologne is a city of about 1 million residents. It is one of Germany’s most diverse cities, and it took in more than 10,000 refugees last year. Many of them were young men from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, said the Wall Street Journal.
The paper said the city will increase security after the crimes, as they search for suspects.
The newspaper said anti-immigrant and far-right groups have said these crimes show the dangers of accepting such large numbers of migrants.
Frauke Petry, the head of the extreme right party, Alternative for Germany, told a Cologne newspaper that the violence is “the consequence of an uncontrolled migration,” according to the New York Times.
Chancellor Merkel has defended her migration policy, even as the issue has caused political problems in her conservative bloc.
On Tuesday, the Chancellor called for mutual respect.
I’m Anne Ball.


Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

harass – v. bother someone in a repeated way
sexual assault -v. illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person
grope -v. to touch someone sexually in an unwanted and unexpected way
diverse -adj. people, or things, that are different from each other
bloc — n. a group of people or countries that are connected by a treaty or agreement or by common goals


All major international media outlets, including Deutsche Welle (DW), BBC, Russia’s RT, Radio France Internationale (RFI) and hundreds of others had reports on the New Year’s eve assaults in Cologne on their main news websites and homepages, while VOA did not. U.S. media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, also reported extensively on the story after a few days.

RT Homepage Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12:21 AM EST
RT Homepage Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12:21 AM EST

Perhaps Voice of America Central Newsroom reporters and editors were afraid to report on sexual assaults on women in Cologne and subsequent protests in Germany because according to Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers, officers described the men who attacked the women as looking as if they were from “the Arab or North African region” and mostly between 18 and 35 years old.

We could not determine why this major news story was ignored by VOA’s Central English News, but VOA’s Central News reporters and editors had to be aware of it since it was reported by The Washington Post and hundreds of other newspapers and websites. Their colleagues in VOA Learning English recognized that it was a major and important news story and wrote about it for foreign audiences learning English.

The story certainly deserved to be on the main VOA English News website and on VOA’s foreign language news websites.

Washington Post Cologne Sexual Assaults Report Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1:51 AM EST
Washington Post Cologne Sexual Assaults Report Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1:51 AM EST
Voice of America English News Wesbsite Search for Cologne Women Sexual Assaults Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1:18 AM EST
Voice of America English News Wesbsite Search for Cologne Women Sexual Assaults Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1:18 AM EST

Since VOA often misses important news stories or is hours and sometimes days late in reporting on others, it could have been yet another sign of a leaderless news organization undergoing a deep management crisis.

VOA is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a U.S. federal agency and its bipartisan, part-time board. In 2013, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was at the time a BBG member, described the agency as “practically defunct.” Since September, the agency has new CEO John Lansing, but VOA has not had a permanent director for months and when it had one, these problems were even more frequent.

DW Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12:27 AM EST
DW Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12:27 AM EST
Voice of America Europe News Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1:24 AM EST
Voice of America Europe News Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1:24 AM EST
Radio France Internationale (RFI) Homepage Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1:12 AM EST
Radio France Internationale (RFI) Homepage Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 1:12 AM EST

There is nothing so far on this story from the Voice of America Central News. We are not counting here the story on the separate VOA Learning English website because that is not VOA’s news website. By not reporting on this story and on more recent protests in Germany over the incident in Cologne, VOA Central English News is in good company with North Korea, Cuba, and Iran.

A search of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) English news website also did not produce any news reports on sexual assaults in Cologne. This is strange because RFE/RL often reports on refugees in Europe. VOA does as well, but much of the VOA reporting is focused on the plight of the refugees.

RFERL Cologne and Sexual Assaults Search Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.52 AM EST

Like VOA, RFE/RL is also overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Ironically, a search for “Cologne, Germany, sexual assaults” produced this 2014 report on the VOA website. The 2014 report on the VOA site  was from Reuters.

Germany Pledges to Ban Anti-Islamist Rally After Cologne Clashes

October 30, 2014 11:40 AM Reuters

German capital Berlin is scrambling to ban a planned rally against … by neo-Nazis and self-styled soccer hooligans afterrioting in Cologne in which 49 police officers were …

But while VOA has nothing on a major news story being covered by BBC, RT and practically everybody else in the world, with the exception of North Korea, Iran, Cuba and perhaps a few other countries practicing press censorship, we found these recent VOA reports (Nero palace report on the VOA site was from Reuters) all paid for by American taxpayers. VOA reporters were working on news stories, just not on the news story almost every other news organization has on its homepage.


A few VOA English reporters who might have been working during the New Year holiday, as well as Monday and Tuesday, were working on these stories, but not on the story of attacks on women in Germany. That story would have been of great interest to international audiences, including audiences in the Middle East in countries where local media would not dare to report on such a story and in other countries where governments practice press censorship.

BBG had the story on its homepage all day Tuesday. BBC updated it with a new story on protests in Germany against the sexual assaults on women. RT also had a report on the protests.

VOA still has nothing on these protests. “LEGO Launches Robot-based Learning Kit” might produce more Facebook “Likes,” which is what BBG bureaucrats care about most of all, hoping that they won’t be removed by new BBG CEO John Lansing. They and their policies are ultimately responsible for the miserable state of VOA news and the VOA Central Newsroom.

BBC Homepage

BBC Homepage Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.34 AM EST


Cologne sex attacks: Protest against gang assaults on women

BBC News – ‎4 hours ago‎
Hundreds of people have protested in the German city of Cologne over sexual assaults and thefts carried out by groups of men on New Year’s Eve. Some held up signs demanding action from Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mrs Merkel has expressed outrage …

Germans shaken by New Year attacks on women in Cologne

Reuters – ‎7 hours ago‎
Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers told a news conference officers described the men as looking as if they were from “the Arab or North African region” and mostly between 18 and 35 years old. “We have one complaint that represents a rape,” he added.

Reports of Attacks on Women in Germany Heighten Tension Over Migrants

New York Times – ‎4 hours ago‎
BERLIN — The tensions simmering beneath Germany’s willingness to take in one million migrants blew into the open on Tuesday after reports that scores of young women in Cologne had been groped and robbed on New Year’s Eve by gangs of men …

Coordinated attacks on women in Cologne were unprecedented, Germany says

The Seattle Times – ‎29 minutes ago‎
BERLIN — German authorities said Tuesday that coordinated attacks in which young women were sexually harassed and robbed by hundreds of young men on New Year’s Eve in the western city ofCologne were unprecedented in scale and nature.

A ‘new dimension’ of sexual assault in Cologne

Deutsche Welle – ‎8 hours ago‎
A mob of young men sexually assaulted and harassed dozens of women outside of Cologne’s busy main train station on New Year’s Eve. The city has said it wants to ensure that it never happens again.

Cologne Mayor: Women Should Be More Careful After Migrant Mass Rapes, Promises 

Breitbart News – ‎7 hours ago‎
The Mayor of Cologne has spoken out about the attacks, but her carefully chosen words are unlikely to delight many. Rather than addressing the root causes of the violence — unlimited mass migration and a totally failed system of integration — the 

Reports of New Year’s Eve sex assaults in Cologne fuel German migrant debate

CNN International – ‎9 hours ago‎
In a phone call with Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed outrage over the attacks, labeling them “disgusting” and calling for the culprits to be identified and punished as soon as possible, CNN affiliate ARD …

Germany shocked by Cologne New Year gang assaults on women

BBC News – ‎19 hours ago‎
The mayor of Cologne has summoned police for crisis talks after about 80 women reported sexual assaults and muggings by men on New Year’s Eve. The scale of the attacks on women at the city’s central railway station has shocked Germany. About 1,000 …

Organized Groups of Men Sexually Assaulted Dozens of Women in Cologne on New 

Slate Magazine (blog) – ‎8 hours ago‎
German police are searching for up to 1,000 young men who robbed and sexually assaulted women in organized groups during a public New Year’s Eve celebration in Cologne. Some of the nearly 100 victims who’ve filed criminal reports so far have …

Mass sexual assaults in Cologne test German openness to refugees

The Times of Israel – ‎4 hours ago‎
Police in Cologne said they had received 90 criminal complaints by Tuesday and quoted witnesses as saying that groups of 20-30 young men “who appeared to be of Arab or North African origin” had surrounded victims, assaulted them and in several cases …

Germans shaken by mass attacks on women in Cologne at New Year

Grand Forks Herald – ‎6 hours ago‎
Women shout slogans and hold up a placard that reads “Against Sexism – Against Racism” as they march through the main railways station of Cologne, Germany, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay …

Mayor of Cologne urges code of conduct for young women to prevent future assaults – ‎3 hours ago‎
Wolfgang Albers, Cologne’s police chief, said no arrests had been made yet. “We don’t currently have any suspects, so we don’t know who the perpetrators were. All we know is that the police at the scene perceived that it was mostly young men aged 18 to 

New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne stun Germany

euronews – ‎11 hours ago‎
The news of what happened in the city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve has electrified Germany and sent shockwaves through society after police said around 1,000 drunken young men went a rampage of robbery and sexual violence against women.

Hundreds rally against sexual violence after NYE attacks in Cologne

RT – ‎34 minutes ago‎
Several hundred people have rallied in Cologne in protest against heightened trouble stemming from the migrant community, and the authorities’ failure to intervene and prevent the dozens of sexual assaults which took place during wild New Year …

String of New Year’s Eve sexual assaults outrages Cologne

Deutsche Welle – ‎Jan 4, 2016‎
Some 1,000 men are alleged to have carried out dozens of sexual crimes on New Year’s Eve in the city of Cologne. That these crimes occured in the city’s most famous square has left local authorities reeling.

New Year’s Eve Assaults Renew German Tensions Over Migrants

NPR – ‎7 hours ago‎
German police are investigating reports of dozens of sexual assaults and muggings that occurred outside Cologne’s famous cathedral during a raucous celebration on New Year’s Eve.Cologne Police Chief Wolfgang Albers told a news conference Tuesday …

Germany stunned after scores of women in Cologne attacked on New Year’s Eve by 

Hot Air – ‎8 hours ago‎
It took a few days for the details to trickle out, possibly because German authorities were eager to keep them quiet, but this is officially international news now that the BBC and New York Times have picked it up. According to Cologne police, upwards 

Germany was shocked by mass attacks on women in Cologne during New Year’s 

Business Insider – ‎8 hours ago‎
cologne women attacks gang violence new years protest Wolfgang Rattay/ReutersWomen shout slogans and hold up a placard that reads “Against Sexism – Against Racism” as they march through the main railway station of Cologne, Germany, January 5, …

Cologne police have ‘no leads’ on sex attacks

The – ‎14 hours ago‎
People outside Cologne main train station on Monday. Photo: DPA. As the group grew in number to around 1,000 people and became more unruly, police took the decision to clear them from the area – calming the situation until around quarter to one in the …

Cologne inquiry into ‘coordinated’ New Year’s Eve sex attacks

The Guardian – ‎13 hours ago‎
German police are investigating reports that scores of women were sexually assaulted and mugged in Cologne city centre during New Year’s Eve celebrations, in what a minister called a “completely new dimension of crime”. Authorities and media were …

Mayor of Cologne says women should have code of conduct to prevent future assault

The Independent – ‎8 hours ago‎
The Mayor of Cologne said today that women should adopt a “code of conduct” to prevent future assault at a crisis meeting following the sexual attack of women by 1000 men on New Year’s eve. Mayor Henriette Reker attended an emergency meeting with …

Merkel outraged at New Year sex assaults in Cologne – ‎12 hours ago‎
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced outrage Tuesday at a series of sexual assaults in the western city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve, saying the perpetrators need to be found as soon as possible. Merkel called Cologne’s mayor Henriette …

New Year assaults spark fresh migration debate in Germany

Yahoo News – ‎7 hours ago‎
“It’s completely improper … to link a group that appeared to come from North Africa with the refugees,” Cologne’s mayor Henriette Reker told reporters after a crisis meeting with police Tuesday. Syria, Albania and Kosovo were the top three countries 

Cologne Police: Roving Packs Sexually Assaulted Dozens on New Year’s Eve – ‎15 hours ago‎
MAINZ, Germany — Roving packs of men sexually assaulted dozens of women on New Year’s Eve in western Germany’s city of Cologne, officials said, describing the attacks as unprecedented. The spree suggested a “new dimension of organized criminality,” …

Cologne sex attacks: Merkel disgust at New Year gang assaults

BBC News – ‎10 hours ago‎
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced outrage over the sexual assaults and thefts that male gangs inflicted on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. Women have made at least 90 criminal complaints to police about the harassment by gangs at …

Germany on edge after mass sexual assault in Cologne blamed on refugees – ‎7 hours ago‎
More than 90 criminal complaints were filed, and about a quarter of them cited sexual harassment or groping, with most others citing theft, Cologne Police Chief Wolfgang Albers said at a news conference. Small groups of men would emerge from the larger …

Merkel voices outrage over ‘disgusting’ outbreak of mass sex attacks in 

The Independent – ‎9 hours ago‎
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced her outrage over a string of “disgusting” sexual assaults that male gangs committed against women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. As many as 1,000 young men, many of whom were said to be drunk and of Arab …

Mass Sexual Assaults In Cologne, Germany, Renew Debate About Migrants

NPR – ‎7 hours ago‎
Police in the German city of Cologne are investigating dozens of sexual assaults that occurred during New Year’s Eve celebrations. Thousands of people were packed into the city’s main square when the assaults occurred. The police chief has been 

German leaders condemn mass sexual assault on women on New Year’s Eve in Cologne

Sydney Morning Herald – ‎10 hours ago‎
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition condemned a “new dimension” of crime after scores of women reported being sexually assaulted as they passed though a group of about 1000 men during New Year’s Eve celebrations in downtown Cologne.

Angela Merkel Outraged At New Year Sex Assaults In Cologne

NDTV – ‎11 hours ago‎
Police car drives pasta train station of Cologne. Some 20 women reported sexual assaults by men on New Year’s Eve at the city’s central train station. (Agence France-Presse photo). Berlin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced outrage today at a