BBG Watch Commentary
BBG Watch has learned that rather than arranging for news coverage of Lech Wałęsa’s return to the U.S. Congress for a screening of the latest biographical movie about him, which took place on Wednesday, December 4, Voice of America (VOA) senior managers were trying to request an interview with him a day later, Thursday afternoon, at his hotel in Washington, DC.
We do not know whether the interview did in fact took place Thursday afternoon, but as of Friday morning, it is not on the Voice of America English news website or any VOA foreign language websites. The initiative for an interview with Wałęsa apparently came from the Eurasia Division, not from the VOA Central English News Division, which issued no news about the event. This meant that VOA language services also did not have this news.
[Update: BBG Watch has learned that during this time VOA Director David Ensor was traveling to Paris, France, to attend an international conference together with two BBG Governors and IBB Director of Strategy and Development Bruce Sherman. See BBG Press Release: BBG Expands Collaboration With Leading International Media. Perhaps BBG Governors will have a chance to ask Mr. Ensor what is happening with VOA news operations.]
There are still no reports on VOA websites about Wałęsa’s visit to the United States and the reception for him on Wednesday on Capitol Hill. More than 500 dignitaries attended the event, including Senators and Congressmen.
Sources told BBG Watch that in emails they have seen, which were sent by a senior VOA executive, he did not ask why VOA is not planning to cover the film screening and Wałęsa’s appearance in Congress.
The VOA executive also reportedly did not ask in his emails why VOA should not send a reporter with a TV camera and attempt to do a stand-up interview during the event on Capitol Hill. At the very least, VOA could have obtained video footage of Wałęsa being interviewed before the film screening by former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd and would have footage of his meetings with members of Congress and other guests for use by VOA services. VOA’s presence during the event would have also ensured timely news coverage, we hope.
But rather than trying to provide international audiences with timely news about an inspiring human rights leader, former President of Poland, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was speaking only a few blocks from their offices in Washington, DC, Voice of America executives were hoping for an interview with Lech Wałęsa a day or two later. They did not care about the news value of their plans. They wanted to make themselves look good.
In our view, they definitely did not make themselves look good by not reporting on Lech Wałęsa’s return to the U.S. Congress when it happened on Wednesday, and not reporting on it at all.
They failed to deliver timely news. Trying to arrange for an interview a day later is no excuse.
According to our sources, the VOA executive who was part of the email exchange was particularly concerned whether this would be a video interview and whether Lech Wałęsa can answer questions in English. He was told that a Polish translator would be needed.
There was no news from Capitol Hill on Wednesday and we are still waiting for the interview. It is now Friday morning.
The mighty International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which manages the agency and is responsible for its public image — also on Capitol Hill — did nothing to take PR advantage of this event.
International audiences and members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), who have oversight responsibility, will not be learning about Lech Wałęsa’s visit to the U.S. Congress from the Voice of America website.
We have provided for them a few other links:
Lech Walesa cracks jokes — in Polish, The Washington Post blog.
Lech Walesa, Nobel laureate and former Polish president, returns to D.C. as a movie star, The Washington Post.
Lech Walesa Gets Another Day at the Capitol, Roll Call.
Speaking about the death of Nelson Mandela, Poland’s Solidarity leader and former president Lech Wałęsa said: “A great man has died.”
The Voice of America failed to report this statement as well.
And since VOA has also failed to report so far on the Oscar-nominated film about the Solidarity hero, here is a link to a BBC report:
“Lech Wałęsa: ‘I only fear God and my wife’,” BBC, October 18, 2013.