BBG Watch Commentary



We did not see any Koreans who do the hard work for Voice of America (VOA) Korean Service in a group photo of VOA and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) employees with Greta Van Susteren and President Trump after her interview with him at the U.S.-North Korea Summit in Singapore.

Likewise, there was no reporter to be seen from the VOA Korean Service with Greta Van Susteren asking questions when she did her five-minute stand-up interview with President Trump after the signing of the U.S.-North Korean Agreement on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

In fact, senior leaders in charge of the U.S. government media agency— Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John F. Lansing, his deputy Jeffrey Trimble, who recently announced he was retiring, VOA Director Amanda Bennett and her deputy Sandy Sugawara— incredibly did not increase radio broadcast hours to North Korea in connection with the Trump-Kim meeting.

READ: OPINION Obama holdovers at VOA failed to broadcast the Singapore summit into North Korea by Ted Lipien, Washington Examiner | June 19, 2018.


Such a failure of leadership and gross insensitivity to the mission, the audience, and public perceptions is a triple insult to the broadcasters of the Voice of America Korean Service and all other Broadcasting Board of Governors employees, as well as to American taxpayers who give over $600 million annually to the agency to provide truthful and uncensored news and information, especially to those who can’t get it any other way. The lack of any other mass access to uncensored media is certainly true in the case with the VOA radio audience in North Korea.

Why senior leaders in charge of BBG and VOA would not boost shortwave and medium wave Voice of America radio transmissions to North Korea for such a historic news event involving the President of the United States is beyond comprehension. They refuse to answer, but they cannot claim that the North Koreans can more easily and safely get their news from the Internet and social media, as audiences in many other countries that don’t block the Internet now can. If anybody has non-government access to the Internet in North Korea they would not dare to look for the VOA website because they could end up in prison or dead.

North Korea is still unique in terms of program delivery options. Faced with these facts and a major news event, every other senior Voice of America management team in more than the recent past would have:


1. Increase summit meeting-related radio broadcasts to a country such as North Korea where there are no alternative ways of delivering news in real time or relatively quickly.

2. Would have at least try to have a VOA Korean Service reporter participate in the interview with the President of the United States by asking questions or at the very least standing next to Greta Van Susteren and perhaps passing on a written follow-up question.

3. Would have made sure that a reporter or several reporters from the VOA Korean Service were included in any Voice of America group photo with the President of the United States.


The BBG/VOA senior management failed to do any of this. Had they done it right, had this interview been planned better, had a VOA Korean Service reporter been given a chance to ask a follow-up question—perhaps President Trump could have delivered a more precise answer to Greta Van Susteren’s question about North Korea’s human rights record or at least had a chance to clarify his remarks.

We don’t blame Greta Van Susteren who is an outstanding journalist and a pro bono contributor to the Voice of America. Without her VOA would not have gotten this interview.

Ms. Susteren has a great following on social media in the United States, but through no fault of her own—not overseas, and especially not in North Korea.

It is immediately obvious that Greta Van Susteren’s VOA Plugged in Facebook page has truly minuscule engagement with international audiences compared to her regular social media posts and the engagement they get from Americans in the United States. The American engagement does not count. VOA is not supposed to target Americans; it is specifically forbidden by law from targeting Americans. Will the BBG/VOA management claim these Americans as the VOA audience? They should have not everything possible to bring more radio programs to North Korea but they failed to do that.

It is great that she was able to get an interview with President Trump. But the BBG/VOA management should have put in far more effort in expanding broadcasts to North Korea and in giving the VOA Korean Service access to the President and/or his senior advisors and a much more prominent live and delayed broadcasting role during the Summit.

An interview like this with the U.S. President and its handling needed careful preparations by the senior agency management. In this case the bureaucrats were far more interested in getting the interview for publicity reasons than in making sure that the North Koreans had more hours of radio broadcasts to hear it and to learn more about it, perhaps even in real time.

VOA shortwave and medium wave radio broadcasts and frequencies should have been increased by several hours—for early morning, early evening, during much of the night and even during some daylight hours on frequencies that can be heard during daylight. Live broadcasts in Korean should have been planned, pre-announced and aired. That’s where the senior management’s attention and energy should have been primarily directed to. They failed.

Let us not forget that the senior VOA leadership also failed to properly plan for and manage the Guo Wengui Chinese whistleblower interview in April 2017 and afterwards blamed their own management failures on VOA Mandarin Service journalists who had tried to prevent them from making fatal mistakes.

With all the lip service being paid by the current “arc of success” BBG/VOA management team in terms of how much they care about foreign language services, immigrants and refugees, we don’t recall any other VOA management team that had put five foreign language broadcasters on forced suspension over a management-labor programming dispute. We also can’t think of any other VOA or USIA management team that would not have increased radio hours to a country like North Korea for a historic news event such as the U.S.-North Korea Summit in Singapore.

Let’s face it. These bureaucrats are far more interested in making themselves look good and in their friends in the United States than in VOA audiences overseas and in VOA journalists working for foreign language services.

It’s an all around shame.

  1. Sarah Huckabee Sanders took the picture. Why don’t you ask her why there are no Korean staffers pictured. Honestly,

    1. Honestly, it does not matter who took the photo. It was BBG/VOA Senior Management’s responsibility to have a Korean Service staffer in the interview, and if not in the actual interview, then at least providing questions and being in the picture. Sarah Sanders had nothing to do with these senior BBG/VOA Management’s failures. It was also the job of BBG–Broadcasting Board of Governors– and Voice of America (VOA) Senior Management to increase the number of VOA and Radio Free Asia (RFA) radio hours and radio frequencies to North Korea during the summit, which these BBG and VOA leaders had failed to do. The BBG Public Relations later deceptively claimed in a press release that there was “surge” broadcasting during the summit. There was no “surge” broadcasting to North Korea during the summit except for RFA using a few repeat hours for live programming. That’s what happens when BBG/VOA Senior Management fails to plan for such things as surge broadcasting, interview with the President that actually has someone from the relevant VOA language service at least present, and for who may appear in a photo with the President if one is taken. We can assure you nothing like this would have been overlooked by USIA and/or VOA senior leaders in the past. Appearances matter.

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