Broadcasting Board of Governors – The Gallup Iran Survey

In a typical opaque fashion, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has released some Gallup telephone survey data from Iran but did not provide performance data. Therefore, the Voice of America’s claim of vastly increased VOA satellite television viewership in Iran cannot be properly evaluated. The BBG has recently awarded Gallup a $50 million contract to conduct audience research.

The resumption of VOA television programs on the popular Hotbird satellite may have produced an increase in audience size. The same would be true for BBC satellite television program to Iran. The BBG should release the performance data so outside experts could give their opinions. Gallup conducted the survey by telephone from Turkey, using Iranian speakers. About one third of those contacted refused to participate. This is one of the first surveys done for the BBG by Gallup.

BBG Watch suspects that the performance data was not released by the BBG because any sudden significant increase or decrease in audience reach when a new vendor, in this case Gallup, conducts a new survey calls for considerable caution in analyzing the results and reaching conclusions.

Broadcasting Board of Governors – The Gallup Iran Survey

A commentary by The Federalist
 
 
 
There’s a lot to digest here, so we are breaking into parts.
 
Part One: The Gallup Survey on Iran
 
Earlier this month, the agency’s Public Affairs (PA) office issued a press release under the BBG logo on the subject of recent Gallup polling on media usage in Iran.  By BBG standards, it was a pretty tame press release.  It included a link to the Gallup survey results, which we examined closely.
 
What it shows is that the Iranians have a variety of media options at their disposal: radio, television and the Internet, foreign and domestic.
 
Gallup conducted its survey using a sampling of 2,000 interviewees.  The interviews were conducted by telephone.
 
The survey shows that Iranians rely heavily on domestic television for their news (86%).  International TV – including that offered by the agency – not so much (12%).
 
In terms of Internet usage, Iranians rely heavily on Google (62%) and Yahoo (44%).  Websites of international broadcasters aren’t doing very well by comparison – a total of 10% divided almost equally between three unspecified international broadcasters.
 
According to the survey, domestic Iranian media far outpaces everyone else as the leading source of information (86%).  International TV combined comes in at (10%) divided between three unidentified listings.
 
And here’s an interesting – and not altogether unreasonable finding – among those categorized as “reformers” and “others,” both groups overwhelmingly choose domestic Iranian TV (91% and 93% respectively).  International TV totals only 27% total between both categories.  In short, it pays to keep a close eye on what is showing up on home-grown Iranian TV.
 
In the category of “Attitudes Towards External Media,” there are positives and negatives.  The negatives are described in two ways: a dislike of external criticism and perceived agendas of outside parties.
 
Trustworthiness of news on domestic Iranian media and international broadcasters reveals that cumulatively among four unidentified international “providers,” these are seen as more trustworthy.  However, on its own, against any one of the three international providers, Iranian domestic holds its own – slightly in one case, more demonstratively in others in the category of “very trustworthy.”
 
In the category of “unbiased,” Iranian media holds its own against any one of the international providers (only three listed instead of the four in the previous survey question).
 
In assessing “VOA Objectivity,” examples are split evenly positive and negative, probably reflecting general common observations, since only four examples were cited.
 
Here are the conclusions listed by Gallup:
 
• State media will continue to play a critical role in Iran.
• The audience for external media platforms is large and will remain so absent any significant reforms in domestic media.
• Attitudes towards specific media outlets are rarely uni-dimensional, and few enjoy unqualified trust.
• Satellite TV remains the medium of choice for reaching Iranians from outside the country.
• The audience for digital platforms continues to grow, but the future will partly depend (on) effectiveness of the Iranians “walled garden” approach.
• There continues to be an important role for international broadcasters like VOA, Radio Farda, BBC, and others.
 
Let’s examine the conclusions:
 
State media will continue to play a critical role in Iran
 
This is kind of a no-brainer.  For Iranians, it pays to know what the national government is reporting and saying, regardless of where one stands in relationship to the government.  You may like them.  You may not.  But you need to know.  This category is not likely to be seriously challenged by any external source.
 
The audience for external media platforms is large and will remain so absent any significant reforms in domestic media
 
Well, this sort of depends on which body of data you are looking at, within the particular questions being asked.  If you look at the category of “Media Choices by Attitudes,” you will see that domestic Iranian TV far outpaces external (“international”) media.
 
So, how does one define “large?”  That conclusion does not seem to be supported by the survey findings.  Even if you accept the Gallup conclusion on its face, “large” when compared to the overwhelming reliance by Iranians on their own domestic media doesn’t seem to hold up.
 
Attitudes towards specific media outlets are rarely uni-dimensional, and few enjoy unqualified trust
 
Iranians seemingly subscribe to the view: “Trust no one.”  At least, be wary.  Be wary of “perceived agendas.”  They also don’t like external criticism, a direct reflection of the strong nationalist sentiments that Iranians identify with – not unlike people in other nations.  External criticisms and perceived agendas are directly related to international broadcasters including the BBG/IBB.
 
Satellite TV remains the medium of choice for reaching Iranians from outside the country
 
It may be a “medium of choice,” but not of a commanding percentage of the Iranian TV viewership.  Far and away, Iranians are watching their own TV in far greater numbers 86% over 12%.  That’s rather one-sided.  Another issue is the degree to which the Iranian government successfully interdicts all forms of media from outside sources.  And also keep in mind that outsiders divide the pie even further, with a substantial audience for regional broadcasts via satellite, not just those of the BBG/IBB.
 
The audience for digital platforms continues to grow, but future will partly depend (on) effectiveness of Iranians “walled garden” approach
 
For those of us who may not have been aware – the Iranians are adopting the Internet model embraced by the Chinese.  They may even be getting some technical support from the Chinese.  They will have their own Internet, tailored to their needs and controlling content which the Iranian government sees as disruptive.  That’s the “walled garden” approach, not unlike the “Great Firewall of China,” which it is based upon.  It may well be the future direction of the Internet in many other countries as well.
 
There continues to be an important role for international broadcasters like VOA, Radio Farda, BBC, and others
 
The wording here is noteworthy. “Important role” should not be construed to mean a dominant role – to the extent that US international broadcasts to Iran are able to get through.  But, questions of impact and effectiveness are the keys here are the most important underlying issue.  Remember the wariness of Iranians regarding external media and whether or not they are reliable or credible.  In short, while the US Government continues to spend millions of dollars on these broadcasts, how much impact they are really having is seriously debatable.  The Iranians own the category of “critical role.”  That is not going to change in the foreseeable future.
 
Part Two: A VOA Press Release
 
At the same time the BBG press release on the Gallup survey came out, there appeared a press release by the PA office with the VOA logo.
 
In tone and content, this press release was very, very different from the one put out by the BBG.
 
In this press release, the VOA Public Affairs Office starts off with the title:
 
“More Iranians Getting News From VOA.”
 
The press release goes on to claim:
 
The Gallup poll, conducted in March, shows VOA’s TV weekly audience grew to 21.4%, up from 6.5% in 2011. With the addition of radio and the Internet, VOA’s total audience reach in Iran is now estimated at 22.1%.
 
Wait a minute.
 
We’re looking at the same Gallup survey and nowhere do we see this claim asserted.  Knowing the BBG/IBB as we do, we would expect them to jump on such an uptick in the agency’s broadcast fortunes in Iran and shout it from the rooftop of the Cohen Building.  In the BBG press release, such a claim is nowhere to be found.  Nowhere.
 
We have looked through the Gallup survey results at length.  We may have missed something.  But on its face, we don’t see anything to remotely suggest that the VOA has moved out of single digits in its TV viewership in Iran.
 
In the category of “Dominance of TV as Platform for Daily News and Information,” the total for International TV only comes to 12%.
 
In the category of “Domestic Media Remains Most Important Source of Information,” domestic Iranian media – which includes radio, television, newspapers, the Internet, etc. – the numbers are off the charts: 86% for domestic Iranian media and for all international TV combined, only 10%.
 
Further, in the category of “Media Choices by Attitudes,” (people in two categories who identify themselves as either “reformists” or “others”), Iranian TV really pulls away from pack, polling in the 90 percentile, while International TV – combined – comes in at best at 23%.
 
The VOA press release cites the category of “How Trustworthy is the News On…,” domestic Iranian media comes in at 49% in “Very Trustworthy” while the International providers, range from 12% to 34% only identified by numbers 1 to 4.
 
Of course, the PA office ignores the fact that Iranians dislike those external criticisms and questions the agendas of international media broadcasting into Iran – and that includes the BBG/IBB broadcasts.
 
In short, we don’t know where the Public Affairs office is coming up with its numbers.
 
In a manner of speaking, not only is the PA office making its own “Kool Aid,” it is spiking it with something.  The numbers don’t add up and don’t make any sense.
 
This press release lends itself to yet another example of domestic propaganda coming from the Third Floor of the Cohen Building – spinning data in some seemingly absurd way to show what a great job they are doing – which they are not.
 
Part Three: A Summary
 
Polling in a closed or semi-closed society is an inexact science.  No one can be certain that the responses are candid or truthful uniformly.
 
Gallup set up a survey group of 2,000 respondents all by telephone.  In Iran, telephone calls can be monitored by state authorities.  So can Internet users.  In short, one must be cautious when dealing with the known reach of the authorities in Tehran.
 
One thing seems to be certain – Iranians pay close attention to what is broadcast by their own media.  This makes perfect sense.  One needs to know which way the wind is blowing from Tehran – and that is more important than whatever wind may be blowing thousands of miles away in DC.  By the time it gets to Iran – it may be felt, but not much.
 
The best example may be provided by Gallup itself.
 
Gallup suggests that there continues to be an “important role” for international broadcasters in Iran.  Perhaps.  But “important role” is not the same as “major role” or “decisive role” or “critical role.”  The BBG/IBB and other international broadcasters are there, but only a small blip on the radar.
 
In so many words, this news coming out of this survey isn’t good for the BBG/IBB.  The program reach of the BBG/IBB into Iran is on the margins and there is no reason to see it changing in any significant fashion any time soon.
 
One can argue that the survey points to the manner in which the BBG/IBB has lost the information war in Iran.  The survey data suggests that Iranians are probably inclined toward being in control of their own destiny.  That’s called self-determination.  They don’t need to be told what to do from Washington, London or elsewhere.  They will figure it out for themselves and proceed accordingly.
 
We are not surprised by any of the information collected in the Gallup survey.  It tracks our belief that this is yet another example of strategic failure by the BBG/IBB, right in line with the other two major failures in China and Russia.
 
American taxpayers spend a lot of money on international broadcasting.  In today’s fiscal environment, American taxpayers want an accounting of how that money is being spent and whether the expenditure is worth it.  Increasingly, through the actions of the BBG/IBB, the answer is that it is not.  The effort is impaired by a “flim flam strategic plan,” which the IBB careerists push with a lot of effort – not only to the detriment of the American taxpayer but also to American strategic interests.
 
American taxpayers need to be more like the Iranian respondents in the survey: question everything and trust nothing coming from the domestic propagandists of the BBG/IBB/VOA on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
 
The Federalist
June 2012
 
###

Voice of America Press Release
 
 

More Iranians Getting News From VOA

Washington, D.C., June 12, 2012 — Voice of America’s audience in Iran grew sharply in 2012, according to new research data released Tuesday.

The Gallup poll, conducted in March, shows VOA’s TV weekly audience grew to 21.4%, up from 6.5% in 2011. With the addition of radio and the Internet, VOA’s total audience reach in Iran is now estimated at 22.1%.

Voice of America’s Persian TV programs were taken off the popular Hotbird satellite in mid-2010, contributing to a sharp dip in audience figures from the previously estimated 20%. Resumption of VOA service on Hotbird shortly before this new survey played a role in restoring VOA’s audience, researchers say.

“This new data underscores the growing importance of satellite television in Iran, and the critical role that international broadcasters like Voice of America can play in providing balanced news coverage in a highly restrictive media environment,” says VOA Director David Ensor.

“Millions of people in Iran turn to VOA and other international broadcasters to fill in the gaps left by state controlled outlets,” Ensor says.

The Gallup poll, carried out under a contract with the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Audience Research Program, found that while 86% of Iranians get news and information from domestic television, only 49% found the broadcasts “very trustworthy.”

Internet usage is also growing sharply in Iran, with 43% saying they had Internet access, and the overwhelming majority of respondents (80%) saying they had it in their homes.

In the past year, Voice of America’s Persian Service has updated its schedule and introduced a number of show changes, including the addition of the new program, ‘Inside the USA,’ which shows Iranian audiences various aspects of American life and American institutions.

For more about this release contact Kyle King at the VOA Public Relations office in Washington at (202) 203-4959 or email kking@voanews.com.

The Voice of America is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.  VOA broadcasts approximately 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 141 million people.  Programs are produced in 43 languages and are intended exclusively for audiences outside of the United States.

For more information, please call VOA Public Relations at (202) 203-4959, or e-mail us at askvoa@voanews.com. Follow us on Twitter @VOABuzz and Facebook at InsideVOA.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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