Even More Words and Their Stories and Some Numbers, Too – Information War Lost – The Standard for Dysfunction and Defunct in the Federal Government – International Broadcasting Bureau
by The Federalist
[Implosion: a bursting inward]
This is where US Government international broadcasting is at. It is in the process of imploding. It is well along the way in that process. To all appearances, it is a process that is irreversible.
This government agency has been described as “defunct.” In essence, this means that it has failed to carry out its mission and no longer functions effectively in that mission. Hence, the word “dysfunction” has entered into the lexicon describing this agency.
Both are correct.
So how is this process being speeded along?
We must consider the recent change in law (the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act) which now allows this agency to propagandize the American people.
And it will.
Perhaps not so much in the way of news and information: because they would be instantly exposed as propagandists if they did so.
[Not that it would bother senior officials of the agency if it did because there seems to be little or no oversight or accountability for what the agency says or does. And the IBB claim of increased “transparency” under the new law is patently obscene.]
But more so the propagandizing would be in the form of all those self-serving, self-congratulatory press releases the agency puts out that mean virtually nothing to the American people and perhaps not all that much with global publics. The agency uses these press releases to justify its existence with Members of Congress and to hold onto its government funding.
[And you may wonder if the agency may resort to planting stories laudatory of its move into the realm of domestic propaganda, sort of an extension of its propaganda-like press releases.]
In our view, this is the last act in the saga of this agency. Unfortunately, it has already demonstrated that it will be ugly and sullied, as we have seen in the behavior of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) in its official and public behavior toward members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
Doing It By The Numbers
Numbers data tells the story of how the agency has failed.
Consider the following:
With its usual overreaching bombast, the agency claims a global audience of 203 million. This is a paltry figure when stacked up against the global population of 7 BILLION. In short, it is easy for that 7 BILLION figure to run away from the 203 million figure exponentially, making the latter look even more insignificant.
And in truth, the agency is experiencing ZERO GROWTH. It is not keeping up with world population growth and it is not keeping up by a long stretch with the phenomenal growth of Internet use.
About half of the 203 million figure claimed by the agency comes from radio.
It is important to know that the agency intends to eliminate all of its direct radio broadcasting and do so as quickly as possible. This would eliminate half of its claimed audience, reducing it to about 103 million.
[Some of the radio audience might hang on, via programs that are placed on foreign radio stations. But that is a dicey proposition as foreign governments have become increasingly inclined to prohibit foreign news broadcasts over domestic radio stations. This is particularly true in those places with less-than-free media or media that is openly state-controlled.]
Television broadcasts represent a greater cost over the radio broadcasts because of leased satellite circuits and much more intensive, time-consuming production requirements. It faces the same restrictive placement hurdles as radio placement and can also be blocked or jammed, as the Iranians have done.
[And the Iranians – as with others – know that if you block a satellite channel, you may disrupt other channels on the satellite as well. This has a tendency to make the satellite provider and its clients irate because the disruption represents lost revenue.]
Eventually, the agency will likely face the prospect of cutting back its television output – particularly if it continues to ask for less money, not more, from the Congress to conduct its operations.
When the television component slips away, this leaves the agency with a miniscule Internet audience of around 3 million, using the agency’s estimates.
That is nothing. Unnoticeable. Insignificant.
Consider the numbers: BBG Watch has done a solid job of showing how IBB websites are performing when compared to those of Russia Today, Al Jazeera, BBC and others. On news of international interest, the IBB websites are getting crushed. Is this the sign of an “emerging” Internet operation with amazing growth potential?
And also factor in how the IBB and senior VOA managers have seriously depleted the VOA Central Newsroom staff and has some serious problems staying on top of breaking or developing news via its English website.
These are not encouraging signs.
At its current spending demands of the Congress, the American taxpayer is being asked to pony up around $730-million dollars for this failed agency.
That is simply outrageous.
But here is the real killer:
The “geniuses” of the IBB have now thrown the agency into the deep end of the pool: the domestic US media environment.
The United States is one of the most heavily media and technology saturated environments on the planet. Domestic media outlets across all media platforms are well established and have been so for a very long time. This does not take into consideration the inbound media efforts from abroad which themselves are substantial.
In addition, the agency jumps into the deep end of the pool with a negative value added to the equation: being seen as a vehicle for US Government propaganda operations directed at the American people.
An image of a drowned body at the bottom of a pool would be an apt metaphor representing US Government international broadcasting. It can’t “swim.” It can’t survive without a life preserver in the form of being subsidized by American taxpayer dollars.
How long the Congress will allow the American taxpayer to be stuck with this lost cause remains to be seen. But with exposure to an American public already wary of its national government for a variety of other reasons, perhaps not for very long. Read some of the readers’ comments under NBC News article by Elizabeth Chuck which she appropriately titled:
The IBB – thinking of itself first and the national interest not at all – has made this agency not worth the time, the effort, the money.
That is not to say that the agency’s mission, primarily codified in the VOA Charter, no longer has any value. It most certainly does. The problem is that mission has been undermined and rendered ineffective.
By the IBB.
Take a look around the globe:
No effective broadcasting presence in Russia (no direct VOA Russian radio and television broadcasts and the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty [RFE/RL] weakened by earlier firings of experienced journalists and scandal and only now being slowly rescued by a new management);
No meaningful presence in China (VOA China Branch only broadcasts live news in one program segment, once a day. Compare this to a robust Chinese domestic and foreign broadcasting effort coming in at $8-BILLION dollars annually and operating 24/7), and a rather skillful strategy of blocking agency programs and creating its own Internet; and
In the Arab/Muslim World, a lost resonance with the Arab/Muslim public at enormous cost in the form of the ineffective Radio Sawa and Alhurra television operations.
These are the strategic audiences. And the IBB has lost every one of them; along with other audiences the agency has or will deliberately cut off.
Simply put, the 21st century has run away from US Government international broadcasting – in large part thanks to decisions made by the IBB. The effort, while still spending a substantial amount of American taxpayer money, has slipped below the horizon.
The US Congress may continue to prop up this failed legacy operation with public funds. That in itself is a travesty that needs to stop sooner rather than later.
People around the globe know how badly the US Government has failed with its international broadcasting component. Apparently, coming to a like realization is something Members of Congress have some difficulty reconciling. But it is there nonetheless.
Things are bad all around in the Cohen Building.
And one should not have unrealistic expectations from incoming additions to the BBG. This is not a reflection on the nominees or their experience. The truth of the matter is that the agency has crossed too many thresholds in the negative and recovery is illusory from the damage inflicted upon it.
One last numbers discussion:
The agency is spending $10-million dollars per year over five years with the Gallup research organization.
The IBB seems to be reluctant to ask the key, critical questions in these surveys:
“Why are we losing our audience? Why does our message no longer have any resonance?
The answers would probably reveal how the IBB has undermined the agency’s mission.
For Members of Congress and incoming board members, sooner or later, the reality of the situation will become inescapable, inevitable and conclusive.