Broadcasting Board of Governors – Negative Impact Through Disintegration

Broadcasting Board of Governors

Negative Impact Through Disintegration

by The Federalist

In late March, the Broadcasting Board of Governors/International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB) announced that it is partnering with the Gallup organization on “research.”

Gallup is a venerable polling and survey research company.  It has been around for a very long time, much like the Nielsen organization which also has done research for the BBG in the past.

Over a period of five years, the “partnering” contract awarded by the BBG/IBB could cost the American taxpayer $50-million dollars, at $10-million dollars per year.

Inaugurating the partnership, the BBG/IBB issued a press release on the subject of how global publics perceive the media where they live.  Let’s examine the press release and some of the statements and materials it contains.

According to BBG Governor Michael Meehan:

“This partnership with Gallup comes at a critical juncture for U.S. international broadcasting… Research is key to knowing our audience so we can serve them better and be even more effective with the limited resources we have.”

This is indeed a critical juncture for US international broadcasting, made more so by proposals put forward by the BBG/IBB and the Obama administration to substantially reduce or eliminate 14 of 43 Voice of America (VOA) language services.  That represents over 30% of VOA broadcast operations.  As we see it, the BBG/IBB doesn’t really care or want to know about its audiences.  It is abandoning those audiences in what has always been the core foundation of VOA broadcast operations.

Next up from the press release:

“BBG Director of Strategy and Development Bruce Sherman noted that the agency had conducted audience studies through other means for years.  But he added, ‘Gallup’s industry-leading research will play a key role in helping the BBG accomplish the objectives in our new strategy, Impact through Innovation and Integration.'”

In the press release, Sherman doesn’t explain “audience studies through other means for years.”

Unless the agency was using signal flags and Morse code, the methodology throughout the world of pollsters is fairly standard: phone calls and face-to-face interviews randomly or with focus groups.

What might be more the case is the BBG/IBB doing what it has done for years: bringing on consultants or pollsters looking for someone to validate a desired BBG/IBB outcome.  It’s the BBG/IBB version of Albert Einstein’s (attributed) definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.”

And with the agency poised to make substantive cuts to its core base audience, the real title for what the BBG/IBB is doing should be: “Negative Impact Through Disintegration,” because that is the ultimate consequence of the agency’s “new strategy.”

The press release goes on to roll out some current Gallup research on perceived media freedom.  Working off that research, the press release states:

“With few exceptions, perceived media freedom is highest in developed countries in Asia, Europe, and North America.”

This is all fine and good.  The problem is, as a general rule, VOA’s intended audiences are in places where things are a whole lot less free beyond the parameters noted above.  In so many words, this speaks to things that are known.  At $50-million dollars, that’s a pretty steep price tag for knowing the already knowable.

But wait, there’s more:

“The Gallup research is largely consistent with earlier studies of press freedom and with the BBG’s strategic plan to promote global media freedom and provide a credible source of uncensored world news.”

Here’s the rub: if this research is largely consistent with earlier studies, including those obliquely referenced by Sherman, why is the agency taking it to the American taxpayer for a $50-million dollar contract for what amounts to a reaffirmation of what is already obvious?  You can’t fault Gallup for picking up a cool multi-million dollar contract, at $10-mill a pop for each of five years.

However, there is a lot to question of a BBG/IBB that appears to be either asleep at the switch or oblivious to known realities.  And it could also be that the BBG/IBB is intentionally ignoring these realities.

As to “promoting global media freedom,” we can add that to the other BBG/IBB mantra of “supporting freedom and democracy.”  You can’t be doing a very good job of either when you take a sledgehammer to the operation and reduce your known audience by about 30% in a part of the operation (radio) that represents 50% of your known core audience.  The BBG/IBB uses phrases like these to get congressional buy-in to use American taxpayer dollars for “Negative Impact Through Disintegration.”

Moving on:

“The BBG is partnering with Gallup to conduct its global audience research program, which will inform current and future operations of its broadcasts in 59 languages to more than 100 countries.”

Let’s quickly revisit the statement up above about cutting broadcast services.  It’s not only VOA where there will be cuts, but also in US Government grantee broadcasting entities also under the BBG/IBB.  Thenumbers above will have to be revised downward if the FY2013 budget proposal goes forward.  Less broadcasting equates with reduced effectiveness.

When you talk about the BBG/IBB, you are talking about an agency that costs about the same and does less with diminished impact and effectiveness.  That’s kind of crazy, from the American taxpayer perspective.  But Einstein’s definition of insanity appears to be an operative methodology embraced by the BBG/IBB.

In short, why is it that the BBG needs to spend $50-million dollars on what is evident and obvious?

The American people would be better served if the agency spent that $50-million dollars on the language broadcasts it intends to reduce or eliminate, including broadcasts in English, particularly in the face of increased broadcasting to North America by China and Russia.

And the Congress would be best served by hammering the BBG/IBB on how it goes about spending (which equates with wasting) American taxpayer dollars.

Finally:

“The Gallup results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 133 countries between February and December 2011.”

Again, this is standard operating procedure in the polling universe.

The full press release is attached for your complete reading pleasure.

US international broadcasting has been around for 70 years.  That means there is a lot of known historical context.  If you know that, you know that the BBG/IBB is trafficking in a lot of nonsense in order to cloak a dysfunctional “strategy” that is way off the rails from the agency’s core mission.  It is not interested in historical context or institutional memory.

Don’t forget: this is yet another manifestation of what Secretary of State Clinton meant when she said, “We are losing the information war.”  The value of this press release is that it is an apt demonstration of how the BBG/IBB is losing the contest of global public opinion and spending oodles of your American taxpayer dollars doing so.

This is your BBG/IBB:

“Negative Impact Through Disintegration!”

The Federalist

(Part of the BBG Watch Collective)

April 2012

 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

 

BBG, Gallup Partner on Research

Washington, D.C. — The Broadcasting Board of Governors and Gallup today detailed the ways in which their new partnership is helping the BBG inform, engage and connect with people worldwide in order to better serve their needs and support U.S. foreign policy and national security goals.

“This partnership with Gallup comes at a critical juncture for U.S. international broadcasting,” BBG Governor Michael Meehan said at an event bringing together analysts from think tanks, government and academia. “Research is key to knowing our audience so we can serve them better and be even more effective with the limited resources we have.”

BBG Director of Strategy and Development Bruce Sherman noted that the agency had conducted audience studies through other means for years.  But he added, “Gallup’s industry-leading research will play a key role in helping the BBG accomplish the objectives in our new strategy, Impact through Innovation and Integration.”

At the event, Gallup presented the findings of a new global study of audience attitudes toward the media.

A median of 65% of adults in 133 countries say the media in their countries have a lot of freedom, but vast pockets of skepticism remain, particularly in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and former Soviet Union countries, the data show.

Gallup researchers Cynthia English and Lee Becker reported that only 23 percent of respondents in Belarus believe media in their country have a lot of freedom, the lowest percentage of the countries surveyed.  Next was Gabon, with 27 percent; Armenia, 29 percent; Mauritania, 29 percent; Congo Brazzaville, 30 percent; Palestinian Territories, 32 percent; Congo, 32 percent; Angola, 32 percent; Zimbabwe, 37 percent; Chad, 37 percent; and Iraq, 38 percent.

With few exceptions, perceived media freedom is highest in developed countries in Asia, Europe, and North America. They include: Finland, 97 percent; Netherlands, 96 percent; Australia, 94 percent; Ghana, 93 percent; Germany, 92 percent; Sweden, 92 percent; Canada, 92 percent; United Kingdom, 92 percent; New Zealand, 92 percent; Ireland, 91 percent; and Denmark, 90 percent. The U.S. figure was 87 percent.

The Gallup research is largely consistent with earlier studies of press freedom and with the BBG’s strategic plan to promote global media freedom and provide a credible source of uncensored world news.  The BBG is partnering with Gallup to conduct its global audience research program, which will inform current and future operations of its broadcasts in 59 languages to more than 100 countries.

The Gallup results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 133 countries between February and December 2011. For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup’s Country Data Set details.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 187 million in 100 countries. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Martí).

 

 

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