BBG Watch Commentary
The U.S. taxpayer-funded Russian Service of the Voice of America (VOA) has possibly one of the largest website banner for the Winter Olympics in Sochi — even larger than those on Russia’s international media outlets RT and Voice of Russia (VOR). Note: We are showing some of these banners. Clicking on them links to each media outlet’s Winder Olympics coverage.
Visually, the Voice of America Russian banner might please President Putin, although VOA Russian Service coverage of the Sochi Olympics has been generally accurate and balanced. The banner links to a page where the service has posted reports on gay rights protests, poor preparation of the infrastructure, enormous expense of the games and government and business corruption.
BBG Watch has noted other significant improvements in VOA Russian Service news coverage over the last two years. But the quality and balance of a few news reports on the site, usually from the same reporters, are still questionable, according to inside critics who want to remain anonymous.
Our own analysts with years of journalistic experience and knowledge of Russian tend to agree with some of this criticism with regard to a few reporters and stringers, but they also see a lot of excellent work by the majority of the staff.
Not too long ago, BBG Watch analysts fully agreed with an independent Russian media scholar, Dr. Nikolay Rudenskiy, who concluded in 2011 in a study commissioned by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) that many of the reports on the site then had a “pro-Kremlin” or “pro-Putin bias.” Dr. Rudenskiy noted many other deficiencies, many of which have been addressed by the service. Our experts feel the VOA Russian website is not nearly as bad now as it used to be, but it is still far from perfect in terms of timeliness, balance, and comprehensiveness of its content, as well as potential impact in Russia and in other countries where Russian is used.
Some reports are outstanding, while others still leave a lot to be desired. Some major news developments are not reported at all, or are reported late.
BBG Watch had pointed out already in 2011 that VOA and IBB management’s use of hundreds of underpaid and exploited contract employees in violation of U.S. laws has a tremendous effect on the quality of VOA reporting throughout all VOA services. Nothing has changed since 2011. If anything, the number of contract employees has increased. The appalling treatment they receive from the upper management has gotten worse.
By the way, officials of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) working for the oversight BBG board, as well as VOA executives, tried hard to suppress the 2011 study, which accurately described the reviewed content. They also launched personal attacks on the reputation of investigative journalists who reported on the study and on other management problems at VOA.
Most of the past and current problems in VOA’s Russian Service can be attributed to managers and executives far above the service and the VOA Eurasia Division level.
IBB and VOA executives have practically destroyed VOA’s news reporting capabilities throughout the organization. Like many program units, the VOA Russian Service has insufficient resources and often fails to post and update news stories in a timely manner (the same is true for the VOA Ukrainian Service and many others), while IBB bureaucracy keeps expanding every year in terms of positions and budgets (37% growth in IBB positions between FY2007 and FY2014).
Overall, however, the quality of Voice of America Russian Service reporting and its website has improved since 2011.
Rightly or wrongly, some may view the enormous Sochi Olympics banner as too much kissing up to Vladimir Putin or simply as a reflection of poor design. These impressions matter online. If nothing else, posting a banner that is even larger then on the RT website shows poor judgement.
VOA English Website
VOA English homepage Sochi banner is quite small by comparison to VOA Russian Sochi banner.
Most other international media outlets have Sochi Olympics banner on their Russian-language home pages much smaller in size than the VOA Russian banner.
RFE/RL’s Russian Service banner is large, but it clearly promotes coverage of how expensive the Winter Olympics in Sochi have been and corruption associated with the games. The RFE/RL banner leaves no doubt that it is not designed to glorify President Putin’s favorite publicity project.
BBC Russian Service banner is quite small on the BBC Russian homepage.
BBC’s banner is larger on the inside page for Olympics coverage.
Radio France Internationale (RFI) Russian-language Sochi banner is also quite small and appears only on RFI’s Russian Service homepage.
Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Russian Service’s Sochi banner is bigger but nowhere near as big or as prominent as VOA’s banner.
Russia’s RT has a large banner on its English language news homepage, but even RT’s banner is not as big nor or as prominent as what VOA Russian website shows.
Voice of Russia
Voice of Russia Sochi Banner has the same width as VOA Russian banner but it has a smaller height and again is not as obtrusive as the banner on the VOA Russian website.
It is hard to tell what signal or signals the person or persons who designed and posted the VOA Russian Service Sochi Olympics banner were trying to send to the audience in Russia, but in our view it does not look good for a U.S. news organization funded by U.S. taxpayers.
RT and Voice of Russia have shown more good judgement and good taste, even though their coverage of the Olympics and all the associated issues is far from objective. In our view, the VOA banner does a disservice to the fine work of many VOA Russian Service journalists.
Voice of Russia Banner