BBG Watch Commentary
When Voice of America (VOA) executives tried to justify their decision not to send a staff reporter to Turkey to cover anti-government protests in early June for worldwide VOA English broadcasts, its main news website and dozens of VOA language services, they reportedly used arguments that Prime Minister Erdogan was democratically elected and that he remains a close U.S. ally.
Such political or diplomatic arguments should never be used in a journalistic news organization. Yet, such arguments were made. That is highly unfortunate and dangerous. It shows lack of news sense, political judgment, commitment to journalistic values and understanding of audiences on the part of VOA officials who made these decisions and came up with arguments to justify them.
Decisions about news coverage should be based strictly on what news audiences expect and want from VOA. People in Turkey got far less from the VOA English news website or any VOA English broadcast than they had expected and wanted. They had been already bitterly disappointed by their own self-censored and government-censored domestic media. They turned to social media and international English channels such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today because Turkish affiliates of CNN and MSNBC were also afraid to cover the story in full and objectively. Today’s harsh court verdicts handed out against journalists in Turkey show how completely wrong Voice of America executives were if they thought that sending a reporter to Istanbul two months ago was unnecessary. It was not enough to cover the story with wire service reports and later with just a few reports from a stringer. Eventually, VOA did send a staff reporter to Turkey. By then, it was already too late.
VOA management’s job was to ignore political considerations and to cover news. America’s long term interests, including any public diplomacy interests, are served best when VOA and other U.S. funded broadcasters report on news that those in power find unpleasant and unwelcome. Otherwise, everything will go to the dogs, if it has not gone already.
After the fact, Voice of America Director David Ensor was quoted as saying that even though VOA did not have its own English Service correspondent in Turkey during the height of the protests in early June, VOA English website coverage of the Turkish protests was “balanced” and “responsible.” VOA management even put together a list of all the reports on Turkey posted on the English website in early June.
BBG Watch checked even further and found that while the VOA Turkish Service covered the protests well and had its reports carried by an independent TV network in Turkey, by decisions of its own management, the VOA English website relied largely on short wire service news reports, especially in the early weeks of the unrest. With no direct access to demonstrators in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and in other Turkish cities, VOA English news coverage tilted to reporting on official statements from Prime Minister Erdogan and his government. This was not, in our view, balanced news coverage.
News consumers worldwide showed their displeasure by ignoring the VOA English news website and flocking to BBC, Al Jazeera and Russia Today. They have been doing it for several years. It is hardly a secret, but Voice of America management is trying hard to hide it from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, members of Congress and U.S. taxpayers.
The management says that unlike Al Jazeera English, Russia Today English and BBC English, which are focused heavily on audiences in the United States – where Facebook “Likes” and sharing via Twitter Tweets are common — VOA is focused by law on areas of the world where the media are less free, and these countries have uneven usage of social media.
Until BBG Watch started to report on this story, VOA and IBB executives were saying that audience engagement through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube was of paramount importance. They said nothing about it being unimportant or barely used.
On the contrary, IBB and VOA executives justified ending broadcasts and eliminating program services by the need to expand into social media, which we always said was largely free and simply required more news reporting and better news reporting. These are commodities in very short supply at the Voice of America these days and have been for several years.
And what about Turkey’s mainstream media?
Do the Turks and the Egyptians use social media?
Do they ever.
So what about VOA being “focused by law on areas of the world where the media are less free, and these countries have uneven usage of social media”?
It’s hard to explain away with such dubious management arguments about social media audience engagement numbers where the difference in Facebook “Likes” or YouTube views between VOA and BBC or Russia Today is between two dozen and thousands or even tens of thousands. Houston, we have a problem. VOA Director David Ensor and VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch may not think so, but we do. If America’s primary news organization for strategic overseas audiences cannot properly cover news in its own country, not to mention Turkey, then the management needs to be questioned or VOA’s future will be seriously in doubt.
Voice of America and Russia Today Saturday Turkey Protests coverage compared: VOA Facebook “Likes” – 2, RT – 923 (Sun. 1PM DC)
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Voice of America English service failed to send staff reporters to Turkey to cover protests
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But the coverage of the Turkish protest is just one example of Voice of America under the current management and top leadership being unable to provide original news reports, especially in English, and to engage worldwide news consumers through social media. For several days after the crash in early July of a South Korean airliner in San Francisco, VOA English website relied on short reports from Reuters, while BBC, China’s CCTV, Al Jazeera, and Russia Today immediately offered extensive coverage. Since many of VOA’s language services rely for general news coverage on the VOA Central Newsroom, the problem was repeated throughout the organization.
When a plane crashes in US, web audiences abroad go to Al Jazeera, BBC, Russia Today – not Voice of America
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43 to 1 – Voice of America beaten by Al Jazeera on Morsi ouster news story in social media engagement on the web
BBG Watch Commentary English is America’s official language, but critics charge that news collection and reporting by the Voice of America (VOA) English Service has been undermined to such a degree by bad planning…
Inadequate coverage of the Turkish protests on the VOA English website and later explanations from VOA leadership look, however, especially bad in light of later developments in Turkey. VOA coverage of the military coup in Egypt was also hardly adequate.
OSCE Press Release
Latest press release from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – http://www.osce.org
Criminal prosecution of journalists in Turkey violates human right to free expression, says OSCE media freedom representative
VIENNA, 5 August 2013 – Today’s convictions and severe sentences handed down to dozens of journalists and writers violate Turkey’s commitments to free speech and independent media, OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatović said today.
“I am deeply alarmed by today’s convictions and harsh sentences that are of unprecedented length and severity in the entire OSCE region. Criminal prosecution of those with dissenting views violates the fundamental human right to free expression and the country’s OSCE commitments to develop and protect free media,” Mijatović said.
Verdicts and sentences for aiding or membership of an alleged terrorist organization, Ergenekon, were handed down in Silivri prison near Istanbul to dozens of media workers, in the frame of a larger trial. The sentences ranged from six years to solitary confinement for life.
Among those convicted today, journalist Tuncay Özkan was sentenced to life in solitary confinement. Mustafa Balbay, Hikmet Çiçek, Mehmet Haberal, Yalçin Küçük, Turhan Özlu, Ergün Poyraz and Deniz Yildirim are also among the journalists who were convicted.
“The damage of today’s verdicts on free expression and media freedom in Turkey is immeasurable,” she said. “I reiterate my call to the authorities for urgent and fundamental legislative reforms to improve media freedom, as well as the transparent and swift trial of all imprisoned journalists.”
Previous statements by Mijatović on Turkey can be found on www.osce.org/fom. The updated database of her Office on imprisoned journalists in Turkey will be published in the coming weeks.
For PDF attachments or links to sources of further information, please visit:http://www.osce.org/fom/104157
For further information contact:
Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
Office: +43 1 514 36 6800
Fax: +43 1 514 36 6802
Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
Office: +43 1 51436 6602
Mobile: +43 664 1342828
Fax: +43 1 514 36 6802
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