BBG Watch Commentary
There is no shortage of good news from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) despite last night’s analysis by BBG Watch that BBG’s Voice of America (VOA) had over the weekend only 9 Paris terror-related Facebook posts in English and 7 in Russian, and that among international broadcasters (BBC, DW, RT and VOA) Voice of America had received only 2% Facebook “Likes” for such posts in English and also only 1% in Russian (BBC English got 84%, RT English 12%, DW English 2%; among Russian Facebook Paris terror related posts — BBC Russian got 38%, DW Russian 12%, RT Russian 32%, RFE/RL Russian 16% “Likes”). VOA English share of Facebook comments among international broadcasters was also only 1%.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors today released its annual impact numbers, including an unprecedented weekly measured audience of 226 million, but internal and external critics doubt that these numbers are accurate considering Voice of America’s dismal performance on social media, as well as reports of self-censoring of VOA news to achieve local placement in countries known for news censorship in order to increase the size of its audience even though such self-censorship of news violates the VOA Charter. BBG officials are also known to place non-news programming in countries which have free media, such as Mexico, and claim such placement as its audience. Critics also question BBG’s estimates of such audiences.
Critics have asked how BBG can claim large audiences for programs that actually advance its mission if Edward Snowden has four times more Twitter followers than VOA English News Twitter page.
In 2013, Hillary Clinton called the BBG “practically defunct” in its ability to tell a message around the world and to engage in the war of ideas. Mrs. Clinton made the statement while she was still Secretary of State and a BBG member. Social media metrics, which cannot be easily manipulated, show that VOA is being vastly outperformed by Russia’s RT, BBC and other international and U.S. media outlets.
The Voice of America is not the only BBG entity in crisis.
“RFE/RL is in deep crisis,” a former BBG Governor who requested anonymity, recently told BBG Watch. “It can’t get powerful programming on the air in a timely fashion or of the quantity needed, due in no small part to having no senior leadership for more than a year in a half,” this former presidential appointee to the BBG stated.
“One hopes that new CEO John Lansing will come up to speed on international broadcasting,” the former BBG Governor added. This former BBG member said that current BBG members and other officials ignoring these problems and “drowning criticism in a torrent of over-inflated bombast trumpeting invisible successes.”
Today’s broadcasting Board of Governors press release claimed that the BBG “Ramped up coverage of Russia and the periphery by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America with a daily co-produced television program carried by 25 affiliates throughout the region that is watched by nearly two million people weekly online in Russia.”
However, a check on Alexa, an amazon.com web analytics company shows that BBG’s currenttimetv.com site ranks 119,918 globally, and 8,211 in Russia. Russia’s propaganda site RT, rt.com, ranks 408 globally, and 114 in Russia. VOA’s English news site, voanews.com, ranks 4,658 globally.
The only positive element in BBG’s triumphant press release seems to be a caution from BBG’s new CEO John Lansing that “even as we reach more people, we will hold ourselves accountable to ensuring that our content has measurable impact in the parts of the world where free speech and expression are inhibited or denied altogether.”
1-2% of Facebook “Likes” for VOA’s Paris terror related posts and similarly low numbers for readers’ comments on such posts among major international broadcasters, including Russia’s RT, does not seem to indicate any significant “measurable impact.”
BBG PRESS RELEASE
VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem speaks to refugees in Hungary
[Ed Note: This version of the press release contains a clarification on how audiences in China access RFA and VOA content.]
WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors today released its annual impact numbers, including an unprecedented weekly measured audience of 226 million. The increase includes substantial gains in digital and television audiences in highly competitive media markets that are of strategic importance to the United States.
Digital audiences increased from 25 million to 32 million, driven in part by social media and BBG-sponsored Internet circumvention tools used to evade the Chinese firewall to access Radio Free Asia and Voice of America content, as well as a new multi-platform campaign launched by the Middle East Broadcasting Networks aimed at engaging Iraqi audiences and providing them an opportunity to voice their opinions.
Thanks in part to a successful customized affiliate strategy, especially in Latin America, Africa and the Russian periphery, television audiences saw a substantial increase, growing 18 million in the last year.
“This audience increase – while it is just one of many impact measurements — shows the hunger for accurate and reliable information around the world,” said BBG CEO and Director John Lansing. “As propaganda and misinformation continue to saturate media markets globally, more and more people are turning to the networks of the BBG for trusted, fact-based reporting. But even as we reach more people, we will hold ourselves accountable to ensuring that our content has measurable impact in the parts of the world where free speech and expression are inhibited or denied altogether.”
In addition to weekly audience size, the BBG measures its impact using quantitative, qualitative, digital and anecdotal data on a wide range of factors including program quality and credibility, engagement with the news process, and audience understanding of current events. Examples of impact include:
Ramped up coverage of Russia and the periphery by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America with a daily co-produced television program carried by 25 affiliates throughout the region that is watched by nearly two million people weekly online in Russia.
Continued and expanded reporting by Voice of America during the upheaval in Burundi – the only international source of news and information in Kirundi after the government shutdown private radio and social media
The successful launch of a news program by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting dedicated to informing the people of Cuba on the process of normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
To learn more about the BBG’s performance measures, the 2015 Performance and Accountability Report, along with the BBG’s 2015 audience overview and explanation of research methodology are available here.
END BBG PRESS RELEASE
BBG Watch Commentary
ALSO READ: Voice of America with minimal Paris terror coverage had dismal social media engagement compared to BBC, DW, and RT, BBG Watch, November 15, 2015
Number of Facebook Comments for Paris Terror-Related Posts in English By International Broadcasters – November 13 – November 15, 2015, 10:00 PM EST
But according to BBG’s senior staff, the agency is doing just fine. While rank-and file BBG and VOA employees report that the VOA Newsroom was practically empty and there was almost no additional recording activity in the building during the weekend — there was also no additional posting on social media to speak of — a senior BBG staffer posted on Facebook a photo of her and other staffers on an official BBG trip to Nairobi. The purpose of the trip was not clearly identified, but we suspect it had something to do with training African journalists on how to report important and breaking news in a timely manner. Such training programs are needed, but wouldn’t it also be nice for VOA to post news online and on social media in a timely manner and in sufficient quantity … and quality.
As we can see, important BBG work is apparently being done behind the scenes even while a rank-and-file BBG staffer complaints that “We don’t have any people” [to do the news] and “Like every other corner of this building, everyone has been cut to the bone,” while another BBG staffer self-identified as “Ashamed of my [VOA] Job after 15 years,” commented earlier:
“They [in Pakistan] know that VOA is producing junk. But they also know NO ONE WILL LOOK AT IT AND DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY! Not their bosses. Not Congress. No one. VOA senior management will be able to write in official documents and to say in Capitol Hill testimony that ‘VOA broadcasts 7 hours a day of TV news to NW Pakistan’ and no one will ever ask ‘What EXACTLY do you broadcast? Show it to us.’ No one will compare their content to the BBC’s or Al Jazeera’s because NO ONE in the US GOVERNMENT WATCHES THE VOA PROGRAMS! No one at VOA management, no one at the IBB, no one on the BBG board, no one at the White House, no one at the State Department, and no one at Capitol Hill – those who allocate our funding.”
ALSO READ: Florida couple having sex while facing arrest number one U.S. news story on Voice of America French site for five days, BBG Watch, October 19, 2015
ALSO READ: Voice of America French to Africa service removes sex story after BBG Watch post, BBG Watch, October 22, 2015
ALSO READ: Barbarians in the Headquarters of Voice of America? – Cal State Professor condemns ‘secret visit’ to VOA of Ethiopian regime officials, BBG Watch, November 14, 2015