AFGE Local 1812

THE SILENCE OF THE VOICE

Responding to criticism of the less-than-mediocre showing of the Voice of America (VOA) on its coverage of the midterms on Election night, November 4th, there were a number of comments on a blog article. One commenter defended the VOA's lack of coverage by stating: "English speakers in developing countries can’t possibly be fixated on U.S. elections."

In addition, in a press release, BBG's management extolled the coverage of the mid-term Elections which created the impression that U.S. international broadcasting's coverage was stellar. To many of us at the AFGE Local 1812, that press release exemplifies the divide between Agency management and many in its rank-and-file. It also epitomizes the utter inability of those running the Agency to understand and comply with the VOA Charter, which, like it or not, contains the inherent mission of the Agency.

In its sparse coverage of the U.S. midterm Elections, VOA missed a great opportunity to explain the American political process. Did VOA management deem this a boring issue for a global audience, preferring to rely on reports from Reuters or playing continuous music or outdated posts on its website rather than broadcasting its own accurate, comprehensive and balanced coverage, in compliance with the Charter? Has the VOA News Division been so decimated that it cannot cover major events like the midterm Elections, thereby ignoring its Charter requirement of "representing America?" Is the Agency in such financial straits that it could not report on many individual races, as many competitors did, including the BBC? Reporting on the midterm Elections was an issue in which VOA should have excelled worldwide but didn't. Even with a limited budget, there were a great number of stories on which VOA could have reported on but chose not to. That is not the fault of the writers and broadcasters. That is the fault of management which assigns the coverage.

Coverage of last Tuesday’s Elections could have focused on not just local races in the United States but on the process -- a democratic process that takes place peacefully in our nation every two years, no matter who is in power. In contrast to so many other countries, especially totalitarian ones, Americans go voluntarily to the polls, campaign peacefully, vote in an orderly manner, and accept change gracefully, as President Barack Obama did on the day after the Elections when he congratulated his political rivals, the winning Republican candidates, on their victory at the polls. A process that may seem obvious to many in the United States is still a rarity in many nations to which the VOA broadcasts around the world. Are elections free in China, in Russia, in some Latin American or African countries? To speak of recent events, the president of Burkina Faso just fled his country after trying, like a number of his peers, to push through a change to the Constitution in order to run for a third time.

It is important to explain to the world how elections in the United States work. Basically, the U.S. midterm Elections were a teaching moment for VOA broadcasters to bring these facts about America to a global audience. Yet, it missed an opportunity to give comprehensive coverage to these Elections and explain what the results mean. How, for example, one party now has control of the legislative process but that power can be checked by the President; and conversely, how the legislature can check the power of the President. Checks and balances: an inherent part of the U.S. political system.

There was one comment on the VOA News website which sadly stands out: "Sorry VOA -- but I and others are watching TV, and the BBC. Where is your live coverage? What a shame that this country can't get more than a few stories on the VOICE OF AMERICA's front page."

Agency management may take democracy for granted. As long-term broadcasters of the Voice of America, we are keenly aware of its fragility and the threats it faces around the world. That is why the VOA has a Charter. That is why the VOA is charged with telling America's story to the world. That is why the VOA failed miserably on Election Day 2014, when it chose to ignore its mission, as mandated by the people of the United States through the Congress.

VOA Charter

1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
2. 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.
3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350).

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