BBG Watch Commentary
Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) journalists are indeed doing an outstanding job under very difficult circumstances, despite being managed by the worst-rated management (International Broadcasting Bureau) team in the federal government.
A suspected change in audience research methodology — a new way of counting an already existing audience in Latin America — “Results from Gallup World Poll surveys in 16 Latin American countries from September through December 2012 estimate the combined weekly audience for VOA Spanish content at 26.7 million. The figure includes a weekly audience of 18.7 million on television, 16.2 million on radio, and 8.3 million on the Internet, including use of syndicated or reproduced content.” — may have allowed the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives to claim an audience gain. Under the old audience ratings analysis, BBG’s global audience was the same in 2012 as in 2008.
The key phrase in the BBG press release, which was written by IBB officials, is “use of syndicated or reproduced content” in their new audience count. Secondary audiences were not usually included in previous BBG audience ratings.
IBB switched to Gallup to conduct audience research under a controversial $50 million, five-year contract. Gallup is being sued by the Department of Justice for overcharging other federal government agencies on their contracts. Gallup also has other substantial business in countries like China, which may have an impact on how it does audience research for BBG programs to which the Chinese government strongly objects — programs which the Chinese authorities are blocking and jamming.
Since 2008, IBB executives have reduced or eliminated programs to many critical countries without free media, such as Russia and China, choosing to rely instead on trying to increase their audience in regions where local program placement is not significantly restricted by governments, including Latin America.
Sexually suggestive content was used in a failed attempt to gain a younger audience in Kazakhstan, a largely conservative and Muslim country. The current team of BBG governors — Victor Ashe, Susan McCue, and Michael Meehan — should be applauded for reforming Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) — and for trying to reform the IBB bureaucracy. They have succeeded to some degree in reversing some of the worst decisions made by IBB bureaucrats.
In reading the press release, one must keep in mind that IBB executives will not tell you to what degree placed programs are mission-oriented. They have no system for measuring mission impact.
Some of the programs placed in countries with media censorship are known to be non-political and some are not even identified with Voice of America in order not to provoke local governments to take them off the air. In other words, numbers alone do not tell the whole story.
Still, Voice of America and other BBG broadcasters deserve praise and credit. We know for a fact that most of VOA’s Latin American local program placement consists of news and is indeed mission-oriented.
But anyone reading the IBB-generated press release, should go the the BBG employee union website, to read what IBB executives are doing to this great organization and how they are treating their employees.
If anybody should get credit for an audience increase, it should be first of all BBG rank and file employees and most mid level managers and, secondly, BBG Governors: Ashe, McCue, Meehan and Under Secretary Sonenshine (representing the Secretary of State) — not IBB executives who have been undermining U.S. international broadcasting for years and are responsible causing employee morale at the agency to be the lowest within federal government.
BBG Press Release
U.S. international media’s weekly audience has reached a new high of more than 203 million people thanks to substantial audience growth in Latin America for the Voice of America, innovations across digital media platforms, and expanded networks of distribution for award-winning news and information programs. These programs are produced around the clock for people around the globe in countries where the media are not entirely free.
The journalists supported by the Broadcasting Board of Governors continue to garner worldwide recognition for their high-quality reporting while the BBG solidifies new distribution avenues such as FM stations in South Sudan, Mali and Libya; TV affiliates in Burma and Russia; and digital content platforms such as SoundCloud, a smart phone app for audiences in Cuba, and SMS news service in Nigeria.
The latest audience measurement is an increase of 16 percent since the agency released official figures in November 2012, and has climbed from 165 million in 2010, a 23 percent gain.
“With dwindling federal resources, the BBG is proud to have reached a broader worldwide audience,” said Michael Meehan, chairman of the agency’s Strategy and Budget Committee. “In these tight fiscal times, breaking 200 million is a remarkable achievement. Then when you add a growing number of closed societies over the past decade, the feat is of an even greater magnitude.”
Noteworthy audience growth has occurred in Latin America, where more than 26 million adults are now getting up-to-date news, analysis and other content from VOA each week. The increase in audience numbers is the result of expanding partnerships with local stations from Mexico to Chile that are making use of VOA’s top-notch radio, TV and online reports and live, on-the-scene analysis of events in the United States and around the world. Results from Gallup World Poll surveys in 16 Latin American countries from September through December 2012 estimate the combined weekly audience for VOA Spanish content at 26.7 million. The figure includes a weekly audience of 18.7 million on television, 16.2 million on radio, and 8.3 million on the Internet, including use of syndicated or reproduced content.”Every day, people around the world count on our broadcasters to provide them with accurate news and diverse viewpoints, ” said Governor Susan McCue. “These people are hungering for the high-quality journalism that our broadcasters provide.”
BBG-supported broadcasters’ outstanding journalism continues to earn accolades, including awards this week from the New York Festivals for investigative reporting in Iran, and in 2012 by the Association of International Broadcasters’ for documentary work on human trafficking in Asia and a highly innovative teaching program to China, by the South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) for reporting from Syria’s war zone, as well as a Hong Kong Human Rights Press Award for reporting on child soldier recruitment in Burma.