BBG Watch Commentary

If you are wondering how U.S. taxpayer-funded ($777 million in FY 2017) Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) spends your money on its mission of “to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy,” look at this Voice of America (VOA) video posted on August 15, 2016 on its Facebook page. VOA will get $224 million from the BBG budget next fiscal year if everything goes well.

The VOA Chinese video shows animals in an Italian zoo eating watermelons on a hot summer day.

Animals eating watermelons in an Italian zoo on a hot day is not exactly hot news, or any news.

Point one of the VOA Charter says that VOA will broadcast accurate and objective news.

Point two of the VOA Charter says that VOA will represent America. There is nothing American in this video, except U.S. tax dollars being wasted to produce and post it and the fact that it was done by the Voice of America, in this case for China.

Point three of the VOA Charter says that VOA will talk about polices of the United States and present opinions. Again, nothing in this video on that score.

This is pure waste of peoples’ time and American tax money. We are not saying that lighter content has no place in VOA programs, but there are plenty of U.S. stories that could meet this goal and present something interesting and educational for the Chinese audience.

If the purpose of this video is to attract an online audience, keep in mind that the Great Firewall of Internet censorship in China prevents VOA websites and social media pages to be seen inside the communist nation.

This video does nothing to pierce the Great Firewall. As of August 19, it shows only 4.4K views, 123 “Likes” and only 4 comments. We can safely assume that almost all of the views and “Likes” came from overseas Chinese, probably in the United States. Granted, some of them might then look at other VOA content, but why not give them something of value to begin with.

Journalists in the VOA China Branch do produce many excellent news reports, videos, interviews, and TV programs, but at the same time there is a lack of leadership at the top of the agency and millions of dollars are being wasted.

China is ruled by a communist regime. It does not need videos about watermelons. It needs programs and program delivery that pierce the Great Firewall and advance the ideas of freedom and democracy.

The problem is the agency’s oversight board and senior management. The BBG has had members from the Hollywood movie industry and advertising backgrounds who have been doing private business in China and Russia. Perhaps they and BBG executives with experience in entertainment TV think that this is the way to expose the Chinese and the Russians to American values.

We can assure then that this is definitely not the way to achieve anything other than wasting taxpayers’ money. The money used to produce and post this video should have been used on programs that have some value and on circumventing the Internet censorship in China.

We stress again that many VOA Chinese programs, as well as Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts, where such watermelon videos would not be found, are in fact outstanding and much needed. They could have a much greater impact if the BBG bureaucracy would only invest money in getting them into China instead of using the money on themselves and their frequent international travels.

The VOA watermelons video is just a minor example of what is wrong with the agency in general, and the Voice of America in particular.

If you want to really scare yourself, take a look at this Voice of America video, produced especially and posted online by VOA to promote the message of Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria originally videotaped by their enslaved girl captives under the threat of death. The Voice of America had no problems producing and promoting this video on social media with the terrorists’ message and substandard reporting.

Meanwhile, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, BBG CEO and Director John Lansing, and BBG executive Jeffrey N. Trimble were recently traveling to Russia, where it appears Jeff Shell wants to do private business. (The Russians expelled Mr. Shell, while allowing Mr. Lansing and Mr. Trimble to enter Russia.)

We don’t know where VOA Director Amanda Bennett has been lately. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, but we can say with some confidence that neither she nor her deputy Sandy Sugawara has not been reviewing VOA websites closely enough in recent weeks. Ms. Bennett seems to think that VOA is led by an outstanding management team.

One of the four comments under the VOA Chinese video pointed out its pointlessness–its lack of any redeeming meaning or value. The image posted with the comment shows a child’s face covered with flies, possibly a refugees suffering from hunger.

The comment written in Chinese under the watermelon video said: “Heaven and earth difference!”

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