BBG Watch Commentary EXCLUSIVE from Voice of America Reporters
The Dalet system used by Voice of America (VOA) reporters to receive, process, store and transmit digital data for VOA video, TV, radio and online content is once again experiencing one of its frequent catastrophic and near catastrophic failures. VOA reporters have been sending desperate confidential messages to our BBG Watch watch dog website about VOA broadcasts being interrupted.
Reporters say they are afraid that if they complain directly to top managers, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John F. Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett, or their deputies, they will be branded as not being good team players and suffer negative consequences. Recently, VOA women reporters said that they were afraid to complain to VOA and BBG management about a Twitter account of a fellow employee which included erotic content degrading women. Voice of America later explained that Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara, and other VOA and BBG managers listed as followers of the Twitter account never saw any of the offensive tweets. “If the big bosses stand up and applaud, you had better, too,” one message said. “If you report an abuse, an act of discrimination or any wrong-doing, you will be ostracized and viewed as a non-Team Player, as one going against the flow,” the message continued.
“Most of BBG’s senior management does not want to hear bad news or negative [comments]; [they do] not want to hear the truth…,” one person observed. “Why? Because it would mean they would have to do something about it,” the message continued. In a highly controversial move that contributed to a sense of fear and helplessness among employees, VOA senior leaders put on administrative leave with pay five Mandarin Service journalists who had challenged the management’s decisions as unwise and are reportedly threatening two of them with firing for alleged insubordination, a charge vigorously rejected by the affected employees.
In the latest technical and management failure, VOA reporters who had contacted BBG Watch blame both Lansing and Bennett for not solving the digital system problems during the past two years and allowing them to continue.
Here are some of the messages BBG Watch has received from Voice of America reporters:
VOICE OF AMERICA REPORTER:
[This may be] interesting to you as another evidence of the failure of management here at VOA/BBG [the Voice of America (VOA) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)] and lack of priorities and professional expertise among top leaders.
It is already 4 (!!!!) [day] that entire video broadcasting system here at VOA is not working. At all. Nada.
TV production [is] basically paralyzed. We don’t have normal access to the wires, video from agencies.
Mr. Lansing [John F. Lansing, BBG CEO and Director] – CEO with experience at commercial industry should understand that such situation is just abnormal. In any commercial networks, such situation would lead to the rolling heads, firings, and resignations. But Lansing keeps silence. No statements about the situation from Amanda [Voice of America (VOA) Director Amanda Bennett] and her multiple deputies.
We have problems with computer systems at least once a week. And in the last couple years, nothing has changed. And despite of all that, VOA and BBG management still talks about projects of new 24/7 channels in English, Farsi, Spanish and Chinese.
Another VOA reporter wrote:
ANOTHER VOICE OF AMERICA REPORTER
There is a major technical difficulty at VOA, and it has been going on for almost four days with no resolution in sight (please read the official email below).
I am not a technical person, but as I understand it, what happened was that the Dalet system, which is used for radio and TV production and almost everything else at VOA, such as line-ups, run-downs, news scripts, wire feeds, etc, cannot play any video elements any more. All languages services are asked to store every video element, including show openers and bumpers, onto a hard drive and then played in the control room. This defeats the purpose of having a digital broadcast system such as Dalet.
I have heard from technicians that the root of the problem is that Dalet is technically not capable of handling large scale radio and video broadcasting. No major commercial networks uses Dalet, because of its unreliability and inability. VOA has made the matter worse by relying on Dalet solely for everything.
As of now, the problem remains unsolved and BBG has no clue what went wrong. There are many outside contractors, and each of them denies it is their problem.
The questions then are: who made the decision to purchase the Dalet system in the first place and upgrade it time and again for it to handle all radio and TV production at VOA? Were there sufficient feasibility studies and trouble shooting measures put in place before each upgrade?
Almost all language programs have been affected. For example, the live Mandarin TV show for last Friday afternoon had to be replaced by a repeat, and last Saturday morning’s Mandarin TV show did not go out at all. In other words, a major broadcasting blunder.
Instead of giving answers to these questions and shouldering the responsibilities, top VOA management is blaming rank-and-file TV production personnel for “not putting everything on a hard drive” and bring it to the control room. As I said earlier, this requirement defeats the purpose of having a digital broadcast system and is beyond the ability of languages services. To put every video element onto a hard drive before a show requires a lot of time and manpower, a luxury that many, if not all, languages services do not have, given the time pressure that they work under and the budget restraint.
Many technicians and journalists at VOA fear that this technical debacle will further hurt VOA’s reputation and credibility among millions of its audience and listeners. It will no doubt further crush the morale of the rank-and-file at VOA and BBG, especially now, when a federal employee viewpoint survey is going on right now.
VOA Persian Service staff reported news coverage and management problems that went far beyond the technical digital failures but were made worse by them.
VOA PERSIAN SERVICE REPORTER
On 5/21/2018, at 10:30am, VOA Persian News Brief started with Gina Haspel’s confirmation news, continued with President Trump and NATO Secretray General meeting, and NO mention of Secretary Pompeo’s Iran strategy speech which was delivered that morning at 9am!
VOA Persian at 10:36am continued with a Bloomberg TV shows on US cars!
At 11am VOA Persian continued with a cultural show on music, completely irrelevant to Secretary Pompeo’s newly announced strategy against Iran.
VOA Persian at 11:30am repeated the same news brief, still without a word on Secretary Pompeo’s speech on new Iran strategy.
VOA Persian at 11:36am had a taped talk show from last week mostly on North Korea and Iran.
VOA Persian at 12pm, broadcast another Bloomberg talk show on transportation and food delivery start-ups in Indonesia.
VOA Persian at 12:30pm, 3 hours later, started to explain Secretary Pompeo’s speech with guests including Behnam Ben-Taleblou from FDD, Reza Pirzadeh an opposition figure from LA, and Menashe Amir an analyst from Israel. That was it!
VOA Persian, at 1:15pm, broadcasted a recorded interview with an Afghan cage fighter and because of a technical error was forced to repeat some news items.
VOA Persian, at 1:30pm, again repeated the news brief from yesterday without a word about Secretary Pompeo’s new Iran strategy.
VOA Persian at 1:30pm, dedicated its live call-in show to the unrest in Kazeroun and not to Secretary Pompeo’s speech.
VOA Persian, at 2:30pm, broadcast Shabahang an entertainment show including an interview with an Iranian artist regarding dance.
VOA Persian at 2:30pm repeated its 12:30pm newscast.
On such important day, key VOA Persian Service managers were out of office.
The following day, VOA Persian in its TV coverage almost did the same repeats with the excuse of continued technical issues in broadcasting. But even one day after the Secretary Pompeo’s speech, VOA Persian dedicated its only call-in show to Cultural Diversity in Iran.
On 5/22/2018, still all VOA Persian News Brief segments were repeats of last Friday with no mention of Secretary Pompeo’s speech on new Iran strategy.
VOA Persian Service management made no effort to come up with a contingency plan or to set the live shows focused on newly announced US strategy toward Iran.
VOA staff was provided by the Management with this explanation:
BBG MANAGEMENT EXPLAINS
At approximately 3:15 pm on Friday afternoon May 18th, 2018, connectivity was lost to the high-resolution video storage device (MediaGrid).
This has resulted in a complete outage of DaletPlus production high-resolution media operations, including:
· New media ingest of any kind
· File imports and exports
· XTend access to MediaGrid file stores
· Upload to Spectrum (both Control room and Master Control)
· Upload to Control Room emergency backup stations
· Creation of new content
· Sending or restoring from the Dalet Video Archive
Existing video files may be viewed if the proxies already exist.
RSHD audio processes are not affected.
Please be prepared to use emergency procedures in the studios for video playout.
We are very aware of the debilitating nature of the outage and want to assure the staff that we are working to restore services as quickly as possible.
The MediaGrid is still down. VOA should be prepared to operate without it and on Emergency Procedures for the next couple of weeks.
TSI is still investigating the issue and working with the vendors to provide a remedy.
TSI is also working towards alternative technical replacement options –
1) Set up a new communication path to the MediaGrid and test to ensure appropriate communications
2) Setting up the NEW NetApps media storage that was procured for Dalet Galaxy to replace the MediaGrid
It should be known that both of these options mean that the complete High Resolution Video Storage will be inaccessible for up-to a couple of weeks.
Why will it take so long?
· The alternative solutions mean that new paths and configurations will need to be made internally which take time
· Professional services will need to be called in to set up storage solutions and appropriately map connections which also take time
· The data migration from the old high-resolution video storage to the new storage.
In short, the language services will need to operate through the Brio for media and follow the Archives guidance for access to the Wire Services.
END OF BBG E-MAILS TO STAFF
Photo: Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO and Director John F. Lansing in the Voice of America studio. He was selected for his post in 2015 and is the person in charge of all BBG operations, including digital support for the Voice of America.
The fact that this problem developed at least four days ago, and is just being reported now, speaks volumes about mismanagement and incompetence at VOA/BBG. And this appears to be a repeat, but on a worse level, of media system breakdowns several years ago that forced an apology from the then CIO/CTO, Andre Mendes.
Dalet isn’t just useless when it comes to video — just writing a simple piece of copy causes tons of aggravation, especially when you’re on a deadline — it’s painfully slow, it freezes, it arbitrarily deletes entire scripts, and has mysterious functions that will take your work and hide it somewhere in its bowels making it impossible to retrieve. It’s a real piece of junk and no amount of “upgrading” will make it any easier to use.
Whenever people try to bring issues up the “chain of command,” they are met with either indifference or hostility. No one tries any more because of the incredibly toxic environment created by VOA leaders. This is not new to Bennett, but it has gotten worse under her rule.
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