VoA’s David Ensor: “Not Familiar”

SIMON: I was very moved when I was reading up for this interview to read the first words that the Voice of America ever broadcast. Are you familiar with those?

ENSOR: I’m not.

SIMON: February 1, 1942 – obviously, early days of World War II for this country – they played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and said today and every day from now on, we will be with you from America to talk about the war. The news may be good or bad for us. We will always tell you the truth.

David Ensor, new Voice of America director, interviewed by NPR‘s Scott Simon. VoA is going to end its radio broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese by October.


5 Responses to “VoA’s David Ensor: “Not Familiar””

  1. I used to listen to VoA, and it is self-confessed propaganda – at least in its editorials which of course come with a section saying they are such. Infinitely inferior to the BBC World Service, even in its somewhat reduced form.


  2. I think an important reason for shortwave listeners to like the Voice of America anyway used to be the music programs. Willis Conover‘s Jazz Hour seems to have been very popular in Russia, and for some reason, some boring DJs of these days seem to be popular in Africa. The editorials were introduced during the Reagan era (you could say that they were the price the Voice had to pay for its technical modernization at the time), and Roy Medvedev, a dissident then and a Putin fan now, noted that the aggressive note the VoA stroke wasn’t really helpful. According to Der Spiegel at the time, around 1984, even John Kenneth Galbraith was blacklisted and not to be interviewed on the VoA at the time.

    But then, Medvedev and other Soviet dissidents listened anyway.

    VoA were at their lousiest in terms of quality during the first decade of this century, I believe. In the meantime, they’ve added an international edition newscast which seems to be one-size-fits-all-continents, but it’s actually quite informative.

    The problem as I see it is that VoA is going to become a supplier of news to the Chinese “middle class”, rather than for any citizen in China who might care to listen. I see a similar problem with Deutsche Welle, who want to promote democracy, rather than broadcast information, and Radio Netherlands who want to focus on “Dutch values”.

    To put it politely, that’s not service-oriented. A station should think about its listeners. When you start explaining that you are broadcasting “from a free country”, something must be wrong with your freedom. And when you only “socialize” with your listeners on Facebook, you seem to show very clearly that you give a damn on people in the hinterland. The concept certainly wouldn’t convince me, if I were Chinese.


  3. I used to watch it on tv and admired it. . . Quite good longform interviews. Recently i’ve been thinking about how china’s so shut off from the outside world. . . Good on people for trying to reach them; it’s all a learning process.


  4. It’s a learning process, I guess, Vitalnightful, but abandoning shortwave looks more like the willful abandonment of a huge potential (and to quite an extent real) audience. All the proud statistics about Chinese citizens online – occasionally or regularly – can’t deny the fact that the majority of PRC nationals isn’t online at all.



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