BBG Watch Commentary

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is seen by Russia experts as a failure in countering Russian propaganda and disinformation from such Russian outlets as RT and SPUTNIK. The BBG’s two media operations focused on Russia, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Voice of America (VOA), had failed to uncover in real time the Russian government’s interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election even though they have had more reporters and freelancers working for them in Russia than perhaps any other Western news organization. It was the most stunning proof of the BBG’s failure. The agency is still being run by an Obama administration holdover, BBG CEO John F. Lansing, whose choice for VOA director and deputy director were Amanda Bennett and Sandy Sugawara, both with previous links to the Washington Post.

In one of the more honest recent mainstream media articles on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Washingtonian magazine’s senior editor Andrew Beaujon draws a picture of the agency’s Current Time Russian-language TV program as just as bland as some of the government bureaucrats who are in charge of the federal agency costing U.S. taxpayers about $740 million a year (FY 2017).

As reported by Andrew Beaujon in the Washingtonian, on the day he visited the Broadcasting Board of Governors at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., the BBG’s much heralded Current Time Russian TV program, produced jointly by VOA and RFE/RL, had “about 165 people … watching on Facebook Live, just a few dozen more than work at the network.” He was most likely referring to the number of people working on the Current Time program, since the BBG has several thousand employees and contractors. It also happens to be the worst-managed federal agency in its size category, with the lowest employee morale and the lowest employee rating of the agency’s leaders, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys (FEVS).

BBG executives told the Washingtonian reporter that viewership to such programs as Current Time can spike sharply. We at BBG Watch have never seen it spike once on Facebook Live to more than several hundred, although there have been some variations and one or two especially good news videos registered a large number of views. BBG executives are very clever with conflating various unrelated statistics over a long period to make their failures look good to unsuspecting journalists. Washingtonian‘s Andrew Beaujon did not fall for this usual BBG propaganda. He reported accurately what he saw and drew the right conclusions. Beaujon was previously the news editor and lead media reporter for the Poynter Institute. BBG executives may have hoped to see another puff piece, but the Washingtonian article did not make them look good.

The reporter may not have had access to this particular data, but according to the U.S.-based Alexa web traffic measuring service, Current Time, VOA Russian Service and Russian Service of Radio Liberty websites are ranked well below even some of the remaining few independent Russian news websites such as MEDUZA or TV Rain.

After seeing the dismal Facebook LIVE numbers for BBG’s Current Time, Andrew Beaujon concluded:

“…if you worked at a conventional network, numbers that small might make you leap off the nearest onion dome.”

Voice of America English-language programs have suffered the same fate under the BBG management. About half of their web traffic comes from the United States even though the BBG is required by law to focus only on foreign audiences.

The Washingtonian reporter dismissed explanations from BBG deputy director Jeff Trimble that “these videos are on track to attract more than 300 million views this year.”

“Still, it’s a number unlikely to make Putin especially nervous,” Beaujon wrote.

We might add that Russia’s RT has had more than 5 billion views since 2007 for its YouTube videos.

READ MORE: Can This DC TV Show Win the Messaging War Against Russia? In a DC studio, the US government produces a Russian-language news program. Can such efforts combat Moscow’s media operation?, Andrew Beaujon, Washingtonian, November 1, 2017.