by The Federalist
It is painful – the process of seeing the depths to which US Government international broadcasting has fallen at the hands of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) staff.
Here’s the latest example:
On Friday, April 20, 2012 the BBG issued another one of its press releases extolling itself, this time on the subject of its broadcasting to China. The title of the press release:
“Board Forges Ahead With China Strategy, Adapted to Modern Media Environment and Audience Needs”
Let’s be clear:
The BBG has no China strategy. Along with that, the BBG is not meeting audience needs or effectively addressing a “modern media environment, which for US Government international broadcasting requires a balanced multi-media approach to deal with the broad disparities within intended audiences and similar issues of accessibility.
The strategy embraced by the BBG/IBB is the strategy of defeat. In turn, this strategy of defeat has turned into a strategic rout. Once started, it is very difficult to stop – and will not be stopped while in the hands of the current BBG/IBB. Some would argue that this process started in the Middle East with the end of the VOA Arabic Service. It certainly became manifest with the unilateral ending of broadcasts to Russia in 2008 by the BBG/IBB. It continues with ineffective and costly television programs to Iran via its Persian News Network (and yes, the “Parazit” satire program doesn’t cut it because its strategic value is questionable and it has not been successful as a lead-in for the Persian News Network news programs). It continues in Latin America where those pesky Iranians are ratcheting up their Spanish language broadcasts.
Returning to the issue of China:
Thanks to the BBG/IBB, United States is already a big-time loser. It has ceded the initiative to the Chinese. In essence, the BBG has to concede that the Chinese have essentially outmaneuvered them across all media. As the BBG/IBB has noted on its BBG Strategy website, the Chinese jam BBG programs “very well.” The Chinese also have the likely capability to jam BBG television programs even if they have not exercised that capability. And as far as the Internet is concerned: forget it. The Chinese have replicated their own Internet, albeit content-controlled and periodically blocked. That’s it: game, set and match.
But wait! Breaking news!
Now we learn from the latest BBG press release:
“At the April meeting of the BBG Strategy and Budget Committee, the Board asked that key senior staff form a working group to devise a holistic solution for reaching audiences throughout China, including Tibet.” (emphasis added)
Chinese officials must be highly amused at this latest BBG/IBB pronouncement.
Because we are well into the realm of the surreal on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
Like an illness.
If the Chinese government wants the clearest indication that it has won what has to be one of the greatest of victories against the United States in the arena of international broadcasting, they just got it via this press release.
Whatever prestige US international broadcasting had has now been driven into oblivion by mumbo-jumbo and psycho babble by the wonks of the BBG/IBB.
And this thing about “asking” senior staff to form a “working group:” doesn’t the BBG know the meaning of the word “direct?” You don’t ask. You order and direct. You hold that senior staff accountable – in part because it is likely that there won’t be a great deal of enthusiasm for a task that has the potential for revealing how seriously messed up these officials have made of US Government international broadcasting.
Once again, the BBG has taken a pass on effective leadership.
Let’s go back to what we have said in previous commentaries:
The Chinese have a $7-billion dollar budget for its international broadcasting budget. It is booming into North America with radio, television and print media. They are a major player. They have the posture of a major player. Most assuredly, they do not rely on psycho-babble like the charlatans in the Cohen Building who are pushing a ludicrous “flim flam strategic plan” or a “holistic solution” to its self-inflicted disaster in China.
And look at this:
“The funding increase required in order to implement the board’s China distribution strategy totals approximately $3 million for FY 2013.”
What did we just say above?
The Chinese have a $7-BILLION dollar budget for its international broadcasting.
And if the Board doesn’t wrangle that $3-million dollars from the Congress, the BBG may very well try to terminate more US Government international broadcasting; in other words, proceed with the favorite BBG/IBB operational model: business as usual.
The BBG/IBB is no longer a serious threat to the Chinese – on any platform, in any medium.
How many times do we need to say it: this is really bad.
It’s bad not only for the US Government international broadcasting effort to China. It’s bad for all of US Government international broadcasting. The BBG/IBB has no meaningful strategy for effectively carrying out the agency’s mission as codified in the VOA Charter. They can’t even carry out their own spin on the Charter: “supporting freedom and democracy.”
Has there been any manifestation of this “holistic solution” regarding US Government international broadcasting to China?
We learn from our sources that the VOA China Branch staff has been informed that it will only do live radio programs to China in its morning broadcasts from Washington. That would be evening time in China.
For the evening programs from Washington, the broadcasts will be a repeat of the morning shows. We do not know if this includes the newscasts typically at the top of the hour and on the half-hour. Even so, in essence, this means that the Chinese radio broadcasts will be 24 hours behind in the news cycle, particularly in long-form news content. That means that the repeated programs could well be overtaken by events, making the “holistic solution” look even more ludicrous and ridiculous to the Chinese audience.
You know what happens next?
The audience will likely stop listening to the evening broadcasts (evening DC, morning in China). They will catch on to the fact that VOA is dealing in what is essentially “old news.” Good-bye audience!
Maybe the IBB apparatchiks will spend some of that $50-million dollar Gallup contract on doing a survey to verify that this decision results in no one listening to the evening Chinese broadcasts from VOA anymore.
And then they will troop out the usual IBB spin that no one listens to radio. Why would they when the BBG/IBB sets up the VOA China Branch to fail by cutting back on generating live programming for virtually all of its evening broadcast schedule?
There is nothing worse than the work of the staff of the VOA China Branch being deliberately undermined by decisions of the career, bonus-seeking bureaucrats on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
And let’s be clear: this is a known BBG “strategy,” albeit in a different form. In the past, the BBG has eliminated broadcasts over radio frequencies, which in turn means that audiences can’t hear the broadcasts. Do a survey. No audience. Good-bye broadcasts and/or language services altogether.
In any form, this constitutes self-inflicted defeat, ladies and gentlemen. It is intentional and it is deliberate – brought to you by the bonus-mongers of the IBB.
And you can best believe that if the BBG/IBB “brain trust” decides to pull the plug on the evening VOA Chinese broadcasts, the Chinese will then have the opportunity to really ramp up and concentrate their jamming efforts of the VOA Chinese morning broadcasts.
One other thing:
We also learn from our sources that the BBG/IBB “holistics” now want to do two hours of live television programming to China.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The production costs for those two hours of television are substantially greater than those for the same amount of radio time.
This isn’t rocket science. Here’s an example: The average American needs to look no further than the Super Bowl to understand how costly television time is: the amount of money to produce a television commercial to run in the Super Bowl – along with the amount of money that networks will charge to run that spot. Sure – this is at the high end of the spectrum by nature of the event. However, a side-by-side comparison of the typical radio versus television spot would show the same cost difference.
And every Member of Congress knows how much radio versus television time costs when they are formulating their media campaigns in their election bids. The same thing applies when costing out radio versus television programs. That’s something every Member of Congress can understand and see in context. They should be asking the BBG/IBB for this cost comparison for what it intends to do with its VOA China Branch programs – presuming the BBG/IBB would be forthright with an honest answer – which isn’t a given.
And here’s another way to look at it –
You are not likely to hear a US congressman or senator saying to one’s constituents that he/she is looking for a “holistic solution” to the national debt, to Social Security solvency, to rising food and gasoline prices or the war on terrorism.
You know why?
Because it would be absolutely ludicrous! It would be moronic. The congressman or senator would be soundly ridiculed across all media. It would be the kind of nonsense that gets people unelected.
That is what the BBG/IBB is doing: trafficking in nonsense in the form of oxymoronic pronouncements.
We’ve seen a variation of this oxymoron before. It has been applied to the VOA Central Newsroom. In that instance, a senior Newsroom manager referred to taking a “holistic approach” to VOA news reporting.
You know what this is?
It’s reaching, grasping at straws. It’s desperation – not being willing to face the reality that the people in charge of this agency and its mission have lost their grip, their ability to carry out the mission effectively or efficiently. The initiative now is in the hands of others: the Chinese, the Russians, the pesky Iranians, the “Arab Spring” fundamentalists.
US international broadcasting has deteriorated to such an extent that the highest levels of US Government must make a decision to rescue the agency’s mission and remove it from the hands of the BBG/IBB – some of whom are now reported to be preparing for overseas junkets.
Perhaps these Don Quixotes are on a search for the ultimate “holistic solution!”
Most likely, the travel will be at taxpayer expense, of course.
The American taxpayer should never pay for a strategy of defeat. They should have zero tolerance for officials of a Federal agency who embrace and are proponents of a strategy of defeat.
Perhaps the only thing “holistic” about the BBG “strategy” is that it is shot full of holes, if you’ll pardon the play on words.
We provide the BBG press release for your excursion into the surrealism of the “holistic solution” below.
Friday, April 20, 2012
Board Forges Ahead With China Strategy, Adapted to Modern Media Environment and Audience Needs
Miami, Fl, April 20, 2012 – The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) today announced a renewed strategy for broadcasting to China that will be reflected in the ongoing dialogue with Congress about the Agency’s proposed FY 2013 budget.
“China’s highly competitive media market and its government’s aggressive jamming of BBG content are long-standing challenges,” said BBG board member Michael Meehan. “Beijing blocks media of many kinds and aggressively stifles free expression, especially in regions where dissent continues to arise in the open, such as Tibet. While the Board understands the reality of the current budget environment, it also perceives a pressing need for the news and information that we provide to be seen and heard across China and Tibet.”
In response to inquiries from Congress and other stake-holders, the Agency is developing alternatives that take into account the roles of Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) Tibetan Radio, along with VOA Cantonese TV programming and VOA satellite TV capability in China.
At the April meeting of the BBG Strategy and Budget Committee, the Board asked that key senior staff form a working group to devise a holistic solution for reaching audiences throughout China, including Tibet.
The funding increase required in order to implement the board’s China distribution strategy totals approximately $3 million for FY 2013. The Board directed top agency management to identify various areas to offset the cost of the new strategy, including migrating satellite frequencies to the KU band and accelerating other transmission optimizations.
This was one of several key initiatives discussed today at the Board’s meeting, held this month in Miami at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
An account of those initiatives, as well as reports and other documents, will be posted on the Agency’s website, www.BBG.gov.
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).
For more information, please call the BBG’s Office of Public Affairs at 202-203-4400 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.