BBG Watch Commentary

Zindagi 360 PromoHave Voice of America (VOA) high standards of journalism and high production values all gone to hell?

Please help us decide by watching videos.

Under the same executive management, VOA had produced two videos. One of them is a 2011 VOA news report from North Korea. The second one is a recent VOA promo for a program designed for placement on television stations in Pakistan.

To us, both videos exhibit extremely poor production values. The North Korean report has the additional distinction of being a platform for Pyongyang’s anti-American propaganda with hardly any challenge and for showing well-stocked shops and well-fed children of the ruling elite in a country known for starvation.

We understand that both videos were produced under the same VOA executive management which even bragged about the North Korean video in a press release. VOA public relations specialists described the capital of North Korea in their press release as “a vibrant city.”

We want to thank WND and its reporter Steve Peacock for bringing the VOA zombie video promo to our attention through their investigative report.

WND posted a Voice of America screen shot of “a bloodthirsty zombie version of the Uncle Sam character” who “bites the neck of a foreign man in a promotional video the Obama administration is using to catch the attention of Pakistani youth.”

VOA already distributes the program, called “Zindagi 360,” through a local Pakistani cable company, but the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which provides direction and oversight to VOA, is setting its sights higher and wants to target young Pakistanis through nationwide distribution, Steve Peacock reported.

“While the promo clearly is intended to be humorous, if not satirical, BBG is using it as a calling card in its search for a distributor capable of spreading its message,” he wrote.

We would add that to be exact it is not the BBG Board itself that is directly responsible for these videos. Members of the nine-person bipartisan BBG Board may have not even seen the videos.

Those responsible are Voice of America executives working together with strategic planners, program placement and affiliate relations specialists and public affairs experts of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). They are desperately trying to expand the audience no matter how poorly designed and produced these programs are and how much they violate the VOA Charter and basic journalistic standards.




One comment under the article said:

“So they are making the illiterate of other countries see America, as filled with blood thirsty zombies, hell bent on destroying the world.

And we wonder why Americans are becoming more despised around the world every day????”

WND, formerly WorldNetDaily, is an independent news company engaged in investigative journalism. It describes its mission as revitalizing the role of the free press as a guardian of liberty, and exposing wrongdoing, corruption and abuse of power. According to his bio, Steve Peacock is a freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in the Tampa Tribune, WND, Drug Enforcement Report, Corrections Journal and the Revered Review. He also is a teacher, storyteller, actor and poet.

BBG Watch is not surprised that after becoming aware of this Voice of America video for Pakistan, Steve Peacock wrote about it in an article for WND.

For the VOA management’s side of the story before the zombie promo was produced see this VOA press release: VOA’s Zindagi 360: Reaching a New Demographic in Pakistan, November 15, 2012.

BBG Watch does not question the need to target young audiences in key strategic areas of the world, but it appears to us that the zombie promo and the VOA North Korean video report both insult the intelligence of TV and online viewers and are doing more harm than good. At U.S. taxpayers’ expense, they make Americans look infantile, naive, and crude.

BBG Watch has long been reporting about massive mismanagement at the senior Voice of America and agency level and appallingly low standards of journalism, good sense, good taste and civilized behavior some of VOA top executives have imposed upon this once highly respected and journalistically solid organization.

There are, of course, still many excellent journalists working at the Voice of America and producing outstanding reports, but their working conditions are poor and employee morale is dismal. Management of news, programs and staff by senior VOA executives is equally dismal, and journalistic standards are rapidly declining.

We repost our report on the Voice of America North Korean video widely bragged about by a senior VOA executive. Compare and decide whether this is a serious news organization or an institution run by amateurs.



VOA and North Korea: Criticism of 2011 press release and VOA video describing Pyongyang as ‘vibrant city’

DECEMBER 13, 2013
BBG Watch Commentary
With a new focus on North Korea following the execution of a once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, we recall our earlier criticism of top VOA executives for their news handling policies and naive views of repressive regimes. A VOA executive who was so impressed with the VOA video describing Pyongyang as a “vibrant city” that he issued a press release is still in charge of planning VOA news coverage of North Korea and Ukraine.

VOA and North Korea: Criticism of 2011 press release and VOA video describing Pyongyang as a vibrant city

VOAs-Video-from-North-KoreaBBG Watch, an independent website run by former and current Broadcasting Board of Governors employees, wonders who signed off on the press release on the BBG official website,, quoting a Voice of America journalist who just completed a rare reporting assignment to North Korea, as saying that the country’s capital city Pyongyang is “vibrant and busy with activity.”

“Relative to what?” — BBG Watch wonders — “the Gulag? What are they smoking, or have we missed the opening of a new shopping mall with chic boutiques in downtown Pyongyang? Apparently, we did,” says BBG Watch. The VOA press release, issued earlier, even has a photo of a well-stocked store.
Keep in mind that North Korea has one of the most repressive regimes in the world, but you wouldn’t know it reading the press release on the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ website. At the BBG they have not yet heard of a Potyomkin village, says BBG Watch.


Link to the video on YouTube.

A VOA correspondent report from Pyongyang includes a video which is devoted largely to repeating North Korean anti-American propaganda claims with almost no attempt to counter any of them in any substantive way.

The video ends with a saleswoman dancing for the VOA reporter in a modern-looking store in Pyongyang.



VOICE OF AMERICA PRESS RELEASE [One of the original press releases showed a photo of a well-stocked North Korean shop which was featured in the VOA video. A second photo in the press release is no longer loading from the VOA server.]


VOA Reporter Gets Rare Glimpse of Life in North Korea

Officials appeared to be conveying a message that they want to improve strained relations with the United States.

A man reads the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper in Pyongyang.
A man reads the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s official newspaper in Pyongyang.
Kyle King
September 27, 2011

Voice of America journalist Sungwon Baik, who just completed a rare reporting assignment to North Korea, says officials there appeared to be conveying a message that they want to improve strained relations with the United States.
Baik was granted access to North Korea earlier this month, after receiving an unprecedented written invitation by North Korean officials, to cover the 17th International Taekwon-Do World Championships in Pyongyang from September 6th through the 12th.
North Korean officials at the event said on a number of occasions that they were familiar with VOA broadcasts and that the news programs are well recognized.  “The first time I thought they were just trying to be polite to me,” Baik said, “but then it was like 6 or 7 times a day they would say that VOA is very important and you can come back.”
In addition to his reporting on the taekwon-do championships, Baik was allowed to walk around Pyongyang and ride the subway, but always accompanied by an official.  He describes the city (click here) as vibrant and busy with activity.
Baik, whose reports aired live on the VOA Korean Service during the taekwon-do competition, interviewed a North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee, Chang Ung, who expressed hope the event would be a turning point in relations with the United States and could pave the way for future cultural and sports exchanges.
For more information about this release or to arrange an interview with Sungwon Baik, contact Kyle King in Washington at  Visit for more information in English or in any of our language services. END OF VOA PRESS RELEASE