USAGM Watch Commentary
We are not suggesting that U.S. tax-funded Voice of America (VOA) federally managed by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) should never have news that other news organizations (NPR, HuffPost, NBCNews, etc.) label as “weird,“ “unusual,” “odd,” “strange,” “amusing” and hide them somewhere toward the bottom of their websites and usually not on their homepage, unless they should decide at some point that they want to be like The National Inquirer or The Daily Mail.
For sure, the Voice of America should not leave the impression to the whole world that Americans are hiding in bunkers during the COVID-19 pandemic, “As Coronavirus Spreads, Some Americans Flee to Bunkers.”
If VOA splashes something at the top of its main news homepage, that in itself sends a powerful message about America to foreign audiences, even if the headline says “some Americans” in reference to what Americans think and do.
It is also significant and disturbing that almost all the other news featured at the top of the main VOA English News homepage on May 19, 2020 have nothing to do with the United States, and are marginal at best.
In the Voice of America report “China Backs Calls for Probe of COVID Origins – But Not Now” Chinese propaganda lies are presented at some length as facts, with the only counter from President Trump provided in two sentences and no further indication to VOA audience whether the Chinese communist government in Beijing has engaged in persistent lying about the origins and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The VOA report, as it was written, would not cause any concerns in Beijing. Chinese communist officials would be concerned and VOA audiences would benefit from a report that presented in some detail international criticism of China over its refusal to provide timely and accurate coronavirus information.
Some of the Voice of America news reports prominently presented on the VOA homepage are also culturally insensitive as they tend to reflect concerns of affluent Americans who don’t have to worry about access to good healthcare, food, basic consumer goods or sufficient income, as many people around the world and also many Americans who are less privileged do, especially at this time. Such insensitivity and poor judgment in choosing news stories and how they are presented signal to us that VOA is now rudderless and practically dysfunctional.
A former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) official who has had decades of experience in journalism and is still working as a journalist, called the Voice of America’s May 19, 2020 homepage and the selection and presentation of VOA News stories “disgraceful,” which is similar to what President Trump said several days ago about VOA. Sadly, we must say that in this case both are right in their respective comments.
The VOA Charter says that “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.”
A major report suggesting to foreign audiences that Americans are panicking and seeking shelter in bunkers and several reports on foreign topics of marginal interest — “Weird Quarantine Dreams. You’re Not Alone,” “COVID Diary: Enjoying Venice Without the Tourists,” “Finding Hope: They’ll Be at the Pub Until Pandemic Is Over” (about a pub in London) — prominently presented on the VOA homepage do not meet the requirements of the VOA Charter and expectations of VOA’s audiences.
U.S. taxpayers who pay for these VOA programs, and U.S. lawmakers in Congress who authorize these expenditures deserve better.
A change of leadership at the Voice of America and the U.S. Agency for Global Media is long overdue.