BBG Watch Board Note

Ryan C. Crocker
Ryan C. Crocker

We thought that former U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker’s New York Times op-ed on negotiations with Iran, “Talk to Iran, It Works,” Ryan C. Crocker, NYT, Nov. 3, 2013, was incredibly important, full of new information about past U.S. diplomatic talks with Iran, and very timely.

Voice of Russia LogoRussia’s state-funded broadcaster/media outlet, the Voice of Russia (VOR), agreed with this assessment. Voice of Russia quoted from Crocker’s NYT op-ed in this report posted today, “VOR Live Panel: Iran opening up,” Voice of Russia, Nov. 8, 2013.

Voice of America (VOA) English news service missed Ambassador Crocker’s op-ed, despite its news value and important contribution to the ongoing discussion on U.S. policy toward Iran.

Note that the Voice of Russia Logo on the page it quoted from Ambassador Crocker’s article says “American Edition.” We are convinced that both the Voice of Russia and Russia Today have noted VOA’s news reporting weakness and are capitalizing on this by increasing their own U.S. news coverage.

VOICE OF RUSSIA – “This week, Ryan Crocker penned a New York Times op-ed entitled ‘Talk to Iran, It Works.’ Crocker previously served as ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon, so he might know something about relations with the Middle East.

In the New York Times piece he called Iran a rational actor, capable of being pragmatic and flexible. Referring to some of his own negotiations with Iranian representatives, he wrote ‘The Obama administration can replicate past successes” in talking with the adversarial nation’.”

Read more:

One would think that the Voice of America English news would also pick on on it, faster and with more detail than the Voice of Russia, but it did not. There is nothing on Crocker’s op-ed on the VOA English website. We do not know whether the VOA Persian Service took note of the article. We hope they did.

The Voice America seems not to have any consistent editorial or news management policy. It is all hit and miss. English-speaking international audiences can get five reports on the British royal christening in two days or reports on a zombie convention in the U.S. and finishing schools in Switzerland, but nothing on the VOA English news website about American Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia or on an important NYT article by a distinguished American diplomat who also happens to be a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which has oversight responsibilities for VOA.

Not even the BBG’s public relations office noted Crocker’s op-ed or the Voice of Russia article in its online BBG Media Highlights.

International audiences and U.S. audiences — not even BBG members — can count on the BBG’s IBB (International Broadcasting Bureau) executive staff and VOA management to keep them consistently and comprehensively informed online about U.S. foreign policy and important policy discussions in the United States.

We found Ambassador Crocker’s op-ed to be one of the most important ones published recently on U.S.-Iranian relations.

Individual VOA reporters still try to offer good news reporting, but they are working against enormous odds. VOA correspondent Dan Robinson interviewed Ambassador Crocker a few days ago. But there is no consistency, and this is not reporters’ fault. It’s the management’s fault.

No matter how hard VOA correspondents try, they can’t keep up in this kind of environment and with this kind of management.

Obama, Maliki to Discuss al-Qaida Threat in Iraq,” Dan Robinson, VOA, Oct. 30, 2013.

Kudos to Dan Robinson and his colleagues who often have to plead and beg to get their reports and their own audio, video and images posted online on the VOA website. For some strange reasons, the VOA management prefers Reuters, which is a UK-based news agency and does not particularly specialize in U.S. news, hence nothing in Reuters reports on VOA website about Americans jailed in Russia in a Greenpeace protest and their American families (see below).

In terms of ongoing, fast, timely, responsive, day-to-day news reporting with a U.S. and international focus, even the best VOA reporters can’t work effectively and consistently under the current management structure that lacks leadership, has no editorial focus, and offers no support to its own talented staff.

There is no planning, no consistency, nothing that foreign audiences can count on on the VOA English news website. VOA has lost its news image, its American image, its place online and in social media.

It’s incredible that the Voice of Russia, Russia Today, Al Jazeera are now more consistent — but often biased — in offering serious U.S. political news and analysis. This is bound not be very good for the United States in the long run.