The controversial 50 million dollar audience research contract between the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and The Gallup Organization will be discussed on Tuesday by the BBG Strategy and Budget Committee. The move comes after the U.S. Department of Justice joined a suit accusing Gallup of overcharging other U.S. government agencies for similar work. The Gallup Organization strongly disputes these charges.
The BBG executive staff, which continues to support the contract, did not refer specifically to The Gallup Organization in the announcement of the meeting posted on the BBG website. The announcement itself does not appear on the home page and requires searching the site to be found. BBG Watch has learned that the staff discussed keeping the Gallup contract off the agenda but eventually included a reference to the BBG global research contract without mentioning Gallup.
The BBG’s contract with Gallup is highly controversial because of its high cost — 50 million dollars over five years — and the fact that it was negotiated at the time when BBG executives were proposing to eliminate key radio and television broadcasts to China and other countries without free media. Critics have also charged that the terms of the contract are highly unfavorable to the U.S. government and call for collecting data, much of which can be obtained for free. Critics also point out that any data Gallup can provide from countries ruled by dictatorial or authoritarian regimes, like Iran and China, are highly suspect since many individuals there are either too afraid to participate in face-to-face or telephone surveys or may give misleading answers to protect themselves. Critics also said that the BBG executive staff is incapable of properly interpreting research data, as evidenced by their proposal to eliminate Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to Tibet. The proposal was eventually rejected by BBG members after a storm of protests from Congress and human rights organizations.
Ambassador Victor Ashe, who is one of the two members of the BBG Strategy And Budget Committee, has called for the BBG to disengage from the contract with Gallup in light of the U.S. Department of Justice decision to join a suit accusing Gallup of overcharging government agencies. Ashe believes that pulling out of the five-year 50 million dollar contract with Gallup would be a prudent move. He was a vocal critic of the contract when it was being negotiated and called the 50 million dollar amount excessive in times of tight budgets and layoffs of BBG journalists.
Ashe, a Republican, does not hide his criticism of the BBG executive staff, which reports to the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) director Richard Lobo. Michael Meehan, a Democrat, the second member of the Stategy and Budget Committee, is also known to be critical of BBG/IBB executives, as is another BBG Democratic member Susan McCue. BBG Watch and U.S. News & World Report disclosed recently that senior IBB and VOA managers kept BBG members and key Congressional staffers in the dark about a prominent Voice of America television program “Parazit” to Iran being off the air for the past nine months while at the same time issuing press releases that suggested that the program was still being broadcast.
BBG executives and BBG research staffers respond by questioning the criticism. Writing in a private blog, one BBG researcher asserted that the agency has no obligation to inform Congress about stopping programs and took barbs at BBG Watch and Victor Ashe. A VOA spokesperson said that “Parazit” program was “suspended” and not canceled. It appears, however, unlikely that the program will be revived. A VOA executive in charge of programs to Iran is involved in another controversy over his request to the United Nations to “review” UN press accreditation of independent American journalist Matthew Russell Lee who apparently annoyed him with emails relating to a private dispute with a VOA reporter at the UN.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors executive staff posted the following announcement about the BBG Strategy And Budget Committee Meeting on August 28, 2012, which notes that the meeting will be closed to the public.
The Strategy and Budget Committee will meet on August 28 to consider the ongoing implementation of the Agency’s Strategic Plan and related issues. Agenda topics include broadcasting to Burma, Iran, and the Balkans; Internet anti-censorship efforts; the BBG global research contract; the Agency’s proposed FY 2014 budget submission; and new content distribution opportunities. The meeting is closed to the public.