Op-Ed: Ukraine gets short shrift from mismanaged Voice of America | Digital Journal

By Ted Lipien

Published January 29, 2014 by Digital Journal

Washington – Mismanaged and underfunded Voice of America failed to highlight in English and most other languages Obama’s State of the Union remark on Ukraine. Its oversight board needs to reform the taxpayer-funded media outlet and get more money from Congress.

As a former Voice of America (VOA) journalist and acting associate director, I was appalled that VOA English news website failed to point out in any substantive way President Obama’s remarks on Ukraine in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night. 

While VOA carried the speech live online and posted full text on its website, where the reference to Ukraine can be found toward the end of the address, very few people watch long videos or read such long texts in full online. That particular VOA post had only four Facebook “Likes” from VOA’s worldwide online audience as of 2 p.m. EST Wednesday, one of them from me in the U.S. 

If this was an important pronouncement on U.S. foreign policy, which many think it was because President Obama would not have included it in such a major speech, it deserved a separate report or at least some other mention on VOA’s main English-language news website. Ukraine after all has led international news for some weeks. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader and Ukraine’s former foreign minister who may become the next prime minister, tweeted his thanks to President Obama for mentioning Ukraine in his State of the Union speech. A search of the VOA English website shows that no separate report or separate mention of Ukraine in connection with Obama’s speech appears as of 2 p.m. EST, January 29, 2014.

President Obama said last night:  

“In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future. “ 

Even if this is only a public diplomacy gesture from President Obama, its importance abroad should not have been underestimated by Voice of America executives. Except for the full text of the speech, these words do not appear in any news item or news report on the VOA English website, not even in those about the latest developments in Ukraine.

That is not the case with other major media outlets, including VOA’s better managed and better funded competitors abroad: BBC and Russia’s RT websites. They both included references to Obama’s Ukraine remarks in their online news reports. 

VOA Ukrainian and Russian services did highlight Obama’s Ukraine remarks on their websites, but VOA English and the vast majority of more than 40 other VOA language services did not. Many of these VOA language services have audiences in countries without free media.

These people are demanding more freedom, as do people in Ukraine. They did not learn from U.S. taxpayer-funded VOA about President Obama’s emphasis on freedom of expression, not only in Ukraine, but worldwide. 

Even VOA’s Iranian, Chinese, Ukrainian, and Russian services have not been given sufficient resources to update news online 24/7 and sometimes delay posting of significant U.S. and international news for many hours. Important news from the White House, the State Department, and the U.S. Congress often do not make it onto VOA websites.

Failure to point out Obama’s Ukraine remarks in the State of the Union speech was not an isolated incident. Due to insufficient funding, aggravated by mismanagement at senior executive level, Voice of America has been failing to report adequately on many important U.S. and international news for a long time. VOA journalists are just as helpless against the uncaring management as are outside observers who value U.S. international media outreach. The federal Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which has oversight responsibilities, must undertake immediate management reforms to solve this news reporting crisis. Once this is done, working with Congress, BBG needs to provide Voice of America with more funding.

Read the Digital Journal op-ed in Internet Archive.