Back during our vacation, on August 14th to be precise, we received a very critical email from someone named Rita in Russia. Here is the full text:
“Hello, The Voice of Saakashvili! Do not waste your time and money transmitting your programs in Russia. I do not know anyone, who listens to them. I also won't do it any more. Every time I turn on the radio I hear nothing but "Saakashhvili said, Saakashvili says, Saakashvili is saying". Is he going to shut up and let us have some rest? You should change your name from "The Voice of America" to "The Voice of Saakashvili". It suits you better.
One of these awful Russians”
Well, first of all, we double-checked with our Russian Service and they confirmed they halted radio broadcasts on July 26, before the crisis. A senior editor in the service said he wasn’t completely surprised by the criticism, though, because, as he put it: “What we have found in the past is that people sometimes write to us about things that were actually aired on Radio Liberty…”
So we have to put the question back to Rita in Russia: Are you sure you weren’t listening to some other radio?
Our Russian Service is now fully web-based. And we just completed an on-line customer satisfaction survey on that site. What we found, based on more than 350 responses, was what an internal analysis described as “skepticism about our content.”
That said, the VOA Russian site received a high score (80 out of 100) when those who responded to the survey were asked if they would return to this site. That is a very positive sign.
VOANews.com has of course been paying a lot of attention to the situation involving Georgia and Russia. In addition to reports from our resident correspondent in Moscow, Peter Fedynsky, we have deployed reporter Peter Heilein to Tblisi. Heinlein is himself a former Moscow-based correspondent. Recent sample reports can be seen here and here.
But we also get regular reports with reaction to the crisis from our correspondents covering the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and the White House.
Those are the English-language reports. We also have full coverage in Russian (see a sample report here) and in Georgian (see the Georgian website here). VOA has also doubled its broadcasts in the Georgian language. (See the announcement here.)
Going back to Rita from Russia’s email criticism, we’d also like to note the reports we’ve seen, including one by correspondent Fedynsky in Moscow, about how the truth has been a casualty in some of the Russian and Georgian reporting on the conflict.
He notes in that report the case of the Tbilisi correspondent for Russia Today, Moscow's international English-language television service, who resigned --- this after the broadcaster refused to air his reports after he informed viewers on live TV that Russian warplanes had bombed the central Georgian city of Gori.
Fedynsky also notes Georgian media have appeared heavily one-sided with Russian troops compared to brutal Soviet invaders of Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has also given numerous interviews to international media, prompting charges from Russia that western journalists favor the Georgian side.