Journalists at the Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Alhurra TV, Radio Sawa, and Radio and TV Marti are outraged that their parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has awarded a 50 million dollar multi-year audience research contract to Gallup while approving plans for drastic cuts and reduction in broadcasting overseas and for firing over 200 reporters and support staff, the majority of them working for the Voice of America in Washington, DC. The BBG plans to eliminate completely Voice of America radio broadcasts to Tibet and to close down the VOA Cantonese Service which produces both radio and television programs to China.
The BBG awarded the five-year 50 million dollar contract to Gallup on December 6, 2011. Link to: Award Notice, International Audience Research Program (IARP), Solicitation Number: BBG50-S-11-4564-RJ, Broadcasting Board of Governors.
As they were discussing the award of the research contract to Gallup, members of the bipartisan Board were finalizing plans to end or reduce broadcasts and other information programs to Afghanistan, China, Tibet, the Russian Federation including Chechnya, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and several other countries. Most of the cuts affecting over 200 positions target journalists, broadcasters, and support personnel while sparing top BBG executives and managers whose ranks have swelled over the years as they kept eliminating program after program serving foreign audiences.
According to inside sources, not all BBG members voted to approve this contract. Senior Republican member Victor Ashe was believed to be strongly opposed to some of the terms of the Gallup contract and its high cost. Sources told BBG Watch that he fought hard to save the jobs and operations at the Edward R. Murrow Radio Transmitting Station in Greenville, North Carolina but was outvoted in his attempts to save other programs for overseas audiences and American jobs.
Critics who acknowledge the importance of audience research objected to the contract’s exorbitant cost and pointed out that no reliable research can be conducted in the most critical countries such as China, Russia and Iran. Critics also argue that previous BBG-ordered audience surveys in these countries produced highly suspect and skewed results, which the BBG executive staff — consistently rated in official U.S. government employee opinion polls as being last in leadership and knowledge among managers of all federal agencies — then used to justify cuts in programs to China and Russia. Critics also point out that a substantial amount of money from this contract will be paid out to Gallup affiliates and contractors in China and Russia, while the BBG eliminates jobs of Americans working in the United States to bring uncensored news to these and other countries. The Gallup contract was awarded under the chairmanship of Walter Isaacson, a Democrat, who has subsequently resigned. Since the BBG has elected to make only one award, services at non-competitive pricing will be performed.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent Federal entity that is responsible for U.S.-funded non-military international broadcasting. The BBG awarded this contract through an umbrella organization called the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which is headed by President Obama’s appointee Richard M. Lobo. Lobo and his wife have been soliciting money for the Obama reelection campaign. First Lady Michelle Obama has recently visited their home in Florida for a fundraiser event.
According to our sources, BBG and IBB executive staff apparently failed to tell BBG members that one of their previous attempts to reduce radio broadcast hours to Tibet was promptly rejected by members of Congress after a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks staged a silent protest on Capitol Hill in 2007.
Despite their dismal performance ratings, Lobo kept the old management team and approved outstanding performance bonuses of up to $10,000 for some of its key members. They are believed to be responsible for proposing to eliminate jobs of hundreds of BBG journalists over the last several years. They were also responsible for drafting specifications for the 50 million dollar audience research contract that was eventually awarded to Gallup.
While the total cost of the multi-year contract is 50 million dollars, BBG estimated that the total amount of the so-called “Task Orders” to be issued under the contract will fall within the $5M – $10M price range per year. It is anticipated that each contract will have a one year base ordering period with (4) one year option ordering periods. Link to International Audience Research Program (IARP), Solicitation Number: BBG50-S-11-4564-RJ, Broadcasting Board of Governors.
The Board is composed of nine members (currently there are only eight). Eight members (4 Democrats and 4 Republicans) are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The ninth, the Secretary of State, serves ex officio. The Secretary is represented on the Board by the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. That place on the Board is held currently by Ambassador D. Kathleen Stephens, the Acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
The independent, nongovernmental Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – www.cusib.org), which last year had opposed a previous BBG effort to end all VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China and to fire 45 journalists, is again protesting against the latest BBG proposed cuts. The BBG’s last year’s proposal for China was overwhelmingly rejected by Democrats and Republicans in House and Senate oversight committees.
After the unveiling of the BBG’s FY2013 Budget Proposal, a CUSIB spokesperson told BBG Watch that “this egregious effort to disappropriate funding from VOA will effectively undermine the purpose of the Congressionally-mandated Public Law 94-350 to inform the people in China who speak Cantonese by providing them with news broadcasts that promote freedom and democracy.
“This campaign against Voice of America – during PRC Vice President Xi Jinping’s week-long visit to the United States – is nothing less than another attempt to concede that little by little, the Broadcasting Board of Governors will dismantle America’s commitment to broadcast news from the United States,” a CUSIB spokesperson said.
CUSIB also pointed out that the VOA Tibetan Service was created by an Act of Congress, Public Law 101-246, signed into law on February 16, 1990 “to provide Voice of America Tibetan language programming to the people of Tibet”. The BBG’ FY2013 Budget Proposal undermines the purpose of that Federal as well, a spokesperson said.
In commenting on the 50 million dollar Gallup audience research contract, proposed program cuts and firing of over 200 BBG journalists, the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting spokesperson said:
“It is doubtful that Gallup or any company can successfully conduct a reliable audience research about Voice of America and other US Government-funded broadcasts into countries like Iran, China, Russia and Cuba. People are too afraid to even admit that they know what these broadcasts are, much less tell a stranger that they are consumers of these news and information programs, which their governments tell them are dangerous and designed to destroy their nations. In fact, whatever audience research results Gallup reports will likely be skewed and counterproductive, i.e. they will lead the BBG to wrong conclusions about these audiences.”