Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Dysfunctional, Defunct and Ungovernable – The Latest Numbers Game
by The Federalist
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) issued a press release dated May 2013 on a lead topic which we always find interesting: the latest audience research.
As usual when it comes to the BBG’s executive staff at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), American taxpayers, members of Congress, Congressional staffers and foreign experts should take what you read with a grain of salt. These bureaucrats have been known to take liberties with the truth to make themselves look good. They often omit or hide critical information and material facts. They count on your ignorance.
IBB executives have not expanded BBG’s global audience since 2008. Suddenly, they produce research showing a new audience in Latin America of 26.7 million. But is this a new audience or just a change in audience research methodology to make IBB look good?
The following text was included in an email sent out to subscribers:
BBG Audience Tops 200 Million a Week “With substantial audience growth for VOA in Latin America, the Broadcasting Board of Governors now estimates its overall weekly audience is above 200 million people, up 12 percent this year. Click here for details on VOA’s growth. Read More“
The funny thing is that if you click on “Read More,” there is nothing there about BBG’s global audience, only information about a sudden discovery of a particular audience in Latin America. What is going on? We think that we might have an answer.
1. If you have not been able to increase your global audience since 2008 despite getting more money almost every year;
2. if you have destroyed your reputation and a large part of an important online and radio audience in Russia;
3. if you have failed to alert BBG members, your superiors, to a growing crisis at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL);
4. if the latest Office of Personnel Management (OPM) survey again shows that you are the worst managers in the federal government responsible for the world employee morale;
one way to try to redeem yourself would be to suddenly find a missing audience in Latin America — perhaps an audience that was there before but had not been counted.
You change your research methodology just a bit, and a large audience suddenly appears out of nowhere.
Note the following: the press release says that this is just an estimate prepared by Gallup which has a $50 million five-year contract with IBB and is under DOJ investigation for overcharging government agencies. The critical piece of information is that VOA already had 214 affiliates in the region and added 56 new ones in 2012. This is for the most part not a new audience. Much of it was there before. Miraculously, Gallup found it for IBB. It makes both of them look good.
What about the rest of the world and the most strategic countries and regions like China, Russia, and the Middle East? Has there been any progress there? What about Afghanistan and Iran? We have not heard of any new large audience gains in those countries. Quite the contrary. But give it time and a new audience research methodology developed by IBB and Gallup might produce higher numbers. The question is are these new audiences or were they there before?
If they were, then there is no progress. There was none between 2008 and 2012. IBB admitted that its higher estimate for 2011 was wrong and the audience was actually lower than what the graph shows. They made no progress between 2008 and 2012. With a new BBG chairman soon to be confirmed, they no doubt want to show that they are making progress when it fact the placement strategy for Latin America is nothing new. It has been the main activity of the VOA Latin American Division for years, if not for decades. These IBB executives are eager to take credit for something they had nothing to do with. This strategy was put in place by VOA broadcasters years ago.
Even if the numbers with regard to Latin America are accurate – and we believe they are not in terms of how much listening and viewing per week they really represent -– we need to put these numbers in a context:
This is an audience of 200-million a week out of a global population of 7-BILLION. The 7-BILLION number is “the elephant in the room” for the BBG.
We must also look at how long the agency has been in existence – over 70 years. That’s a long time – and it makes the 200-million number look not that impressive. In other words, there has not been much in the way of real growth when you put the numbers on a 70-year timeline.
But, unlike International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) “strategists,” we are not hung up on the numbers alone. What we want to see is impact in the most strategic countries and regions. Impact with real news programs, not with fluff journalism that anyone can do and almost anyone can place, especially on the Internet.
You need to measure these alleged audience numbers against US strategic interests – in other words, BBG audience penetration in areas with strategic importance to the United States. As a general principle, all of the world is strategic to US interests.
However, some places are more important than others or are recalibrated in importance due to changing geo-political events. But clearly, countries like China, Iran and Russia have high, ongoing strategic value, while others rank higher in importance on a situational basis, such as the North Koreans. Others carry strategic value due to situational continuity such as the Arab and Muslim world because of international terrorism and radical jihadist movements prevalent in these regions.
In short, what this means is that a spike in audience in Latin America, which may not be as sudden as the press release implies – while something to take note of – has less overall importance than other places in the world.
VOA broadcasters to Latin America certainly deserve full credit for their market outreach, as does the Albanian Service, one of the most successful international broadcasting outlets worldwide, which celebrated its 70th anniversary this week.
But Albania and Latin America or even much of Africa are not typical markets for the BBG. They are easy markets where talented journalists producing outstanding programs can achieve local placement when there are no government-imposed or market-imposed restrictions on such placement. Also keep in mind that these local conditions can suddenly change, with Putin’s Russia being a good example. More typical markets for BBG are in fact Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, South East Asia and much of the Middle East. These strategic markets are a completely different animal. The agency cannot construct its strategy on the basis of easy markets alone. It should not mislead Americans that it is doing great, just because it found a previously hidden audience in Latin America, when it fact it is “dysfunctional” and “defunct,” as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on the Hill before leaving her State Department post.
It is dysfunctional and defunct in places where it counts the most because of IBB strategic planners and executives who should not be taking credit for achievements of VOA broadcasters, for which they are not responsible and whom in fact they want to hurt in their FY 2014 budget request, and whom they had hurt in the past.
That’s the big picture.
Now we get down into the weeds a little bit in terms of the agency’s approach to gathering audience data.
In April 2013, the agency conducted a “retreat” of its senior and mid-level managers. The numbers game came up in the course of a presentation of other topics. As shared by a source, one participant made the following observation of the numbers presentation:
“Total weekly IBB audience has topped the 200 million mark and now stands at 203 million. That total includes 112 million radio listeners and 91 million TV viewers. There are also 23 million web readers who were not counted into the total. Broken down by region, the audience is Southeast Asia 17 percent; Africa 27 percent; Eurasia 26 percent; Latin America 17 percent; Middle East/North Africa 26 percent. I don’t know why that adds up to 113 percent, maybe some countries were counted twice in two regions.” (Emphasis added)
It would not be at all unlikely for the agency to group countries differently with the end result that the total percentage becomes something more than a clear 100 percent, as the agency employee surmises here. Thus, if you want to have some fun with the numbers game on a purely surface level, you can take the agency’s overage of 113 percent and subtract from that its claimed 12 percent weekly audience increase and come up with an audience decrease of 1 percent!
But most important of all is how the agency lumps data to come up with its numbers for a weekly audience. The spectrum is obvious: anywhere from one time a week to several times a week are all considered to be positive data results in using a measurement of weekly audience. Thus, for example, a person may listen only once a week and still get lumped into the weekly total audience. Indeed, that person could be representative of a majority of the aggregate audience body – the very casual or infrequent listener, viewer and especially Internet user compared with someone who may be more of a regular consumer of news.
Thus, if you are the IBB playing the numbers game, you use this sleight of hand to make it appear that you are making great strides in your audience. The assumption is that other international broadcasters are using the same methodology
You have to go DEEP into the weeds of audience research to see what is going on. Why, for example, the Latin American audience was not counted before? Did it simply appear all of the sudden or were research methods modified to find it?
IBB executives would like to confuse the public with this “new” Latin American data, but their own reports to Congress, which they may have been afraid to cook too much, tell a different story. They even admitted that they overestimated their audience in 2011. The overall global picture of the last few years is nothing but dismal and that does not even take into account the quality of the content and its impact.
The following information and charts are from the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012.
VOA – Target: 141.1 million Actual: 134.2 million
VOA’s weekly audience declined from 141.1 million in 2011 to 134.2 million in 2012. This drop is largely due to significant apparent declines in Indonesia, Burma, and Nigeria. The drop in Indonesia likely results from a significant over-estimate in 2011 rather than a large decline in actual audience, while the drop in Burma probably reflects the considerable opening of that country’s media environment over the past year. Audience estimates in Nigeria have been notoriously volatile because the demographic diversity of the country makes reliable sampling a challenge. At the same time, VOA experienced very large gains in Iran, due to resumption of service on the country’s most popular satellite and the authorities’ cessation of jamming at the time of survey fieldwork.
[Let’s remember too that we are in the FY2014 budget cycle. The agency asked for $25-MILLION dollars less than its enacted budget for FY2013. Among other things, the last thing you want to do at this juncture is to show negative audience numbers. We’ll have more on this below.]
Is your head spinning yet?
Here’s another angle to the numbers game played by the IBB and its one of their favorites:
This involves the so-called “affiliate” stations. These stations are not really affiliated with the US Government or BBG. They do carry BBG programs. This is more a case of a station agreeing to placement of BBG programs.
[Note: In some places, if you claim yourself to be an affiliate of the BBG – the existence of you and your station may be flirting with “endangered” status, as it happened in Russia where affiliates were pressured to stop carrying VOA and RFE/RL programs.]
It all comes down to how survey questions are worded. For example, if you have a question asking, “Do you listen or watch station WXYZ within a certain time period?” and the agency has a program placed on that station, you get counted as part of the BBG audience, whether you listen to a BBG report or not. Such questions were not used before. We assume they are used now.
Here’s another twist:
If you ask the question, “Do you listen to ‘Good Morning Jakarta’ on station WXYZ?” between 9:30AM and 9:45AM and the respondent answers in the affirmative, the agency counts you as audience, whether you actually listen to the BBG content or not, whether you can distinguish BBG content within the program, whether the station identifies the content as BBG content or identifies the content as presented by someone in the Voice of America (VOA) Indonesian Service or as the station’s own “reporter” doing a story from the station’s “Washington, DC bureau.” This type of research does not reveal whether an “affiliate” station had asked that specific political or religious content be excluded from such reports or perhaps asked that only entertainment content be presented or even demanded that any reference to VOA be eliminated. We know that this happens and that IBB planners and marketers not only allow it but encourage such practices to achieve placement.
They agreed that VOA English lessons in China be marketed without VOA logo or a reference to VOA. Such educational programs might just as well be produced for profit by the private sector and they are.
The radio or TV stations may be playing their own game.
It’s all in how program content is presented, how survey questions are asked and how the data is correlated. So many games the IBB can play. And one thing we do know about the IBB is their penchant for being –
Loose with facts, misleading, sometimes outright deceitful.
But wait, there’s more!
Most certainly, the IBB would like to use this suspect data to demonstrate that its “affiliate strategy” is working worldwide when it is only working to a limited degree in a few markets that can be described as easy. And even beyond that, it would also like to use the suspect data as a ploy to demonstrate that its overall strategic direction is correct on a global scale.
Let us point out that IBB could easily achieve a large audience in China by providing programs that the Chinese government does not object to and then use it as a justification for a presumably effective strategy. We know for a fact that IBB “strategists” think that way by pushing non-offensive and often totally irrelevant programming for countries like China and Russia. Anything to increase their numbers at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. And even with this twisted “strategy” they could not show any global progress since 2008 until the sudden discovery of a missing audience in Latin America.
Well, Latin America is not China. With the exception of Cuba and Venezuela, one can usually place news reports in Latin America without getting in trouble with the local authorities. It’s not a big deal. If this is really new placement, then the question is why it was not done before. We suspect that most of this placement is not all that new but that IBB executives decided to include it in the count to make themselves look good. This is how they operate — never the whole truth.
But there’s an irony in this:
Let’s review the agency’s proposed budget for FY2014. It calls for cuts to broadcasts in Spanish to Latin America and Creole to Haiti (8 positions cut, between 6 and 9 vacancies). In the months ahead, this cannot be good for the supposed jump in its Latin America audience numbers.
And then –
Let’s talk about Afghanistan.
Information shared with us anecdotally details an audience survey conducted for the IBB by Gallup in Afghanistan in late 2012. The agency declined to release the data on the grounds that there were “concerns about the quality and veracity of the results.” To outward appearances, the IBB didn’t get the results it wanted and decided to reject the survey. And what’s more, they want Gallup to redo the survey with different questions – questions more to the liking of the IBB clique that are intended to skew results toward their agenda (and they are putting it on Gallup to pay for this new “survey”).
[Note: if you are a BBG member, you should be getting your hands on the Afghanistan survey the IBB canned.]
This is the IBB we have come to know: deceit and skullduggery intended to cover up their failed strategic plan.
But this has implications beyond the Afghan audience. Let’s walk ourselves through it –
What sources report is that the Afghan audience wants a lot of news about Afghanistan – hard news, not soft “puff” pieces.
But sources report that this does not comport with the “kumbaya” program format favored by the IBB types on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building. In the way the Third Floor likes to twist things around, they opined that the Afghan program content is “too political,” using a very broad, sweeping definition of the word “political,” and not at all solely in the context of partisan politics.
AND – we should be mindful that the IBB FY2014 budget proposal includes cuts to broadcasts to Afghanistan (10 positions, 5 of which are vacant). What appears obvious to us is that the IBB wants survey results to support making those cuts.
The last time we checked, there was a war going on in Afghanistan. Battles are being fought, people are dying, including US combat and support personnel. More than likely, the fighting will continue after the US bugs out.
And the clowns on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building want to do more “soft news” and to cut programs to Afghanistan!
They also want to cut VOA radio to Iran. Perhaps they will then show another increase of their placement audience in Latin America and declare it a global strategic success. Nothing but numbers in the numbers game.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a sterling example why US Government international broadcasting has lost its credibility around the world – the IBB is going out of its way not to confront reality and to provide program content consistent with that reality or not to provide program content at all (cuts to broadcasts). With intended audiences, like the one in Afghanistan and Iran staring down reality on a variety of levels every day, these IBB cartoon characters want to peddle “soft” news.
And that makes these IBB strategists and executive more dangerous and foolish than ever.
Decisions by the IBB put US national security at risk. In turn, by attempting to skew the programming, these IBB decisions endanger US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Afghans want hard news. They don’t want la-la happy news from the IBB global appeasers. The Afghans are entitled to hard news and US Government international broadcasting is required to deliver the goods. If necessary, BBG board members need to roll up their sleeves and order the IBB not to deviate from hard news as the bulk of program content.
You can also get large numbers by offering all sorts of questionable or titillating material, which has been done, although it failed to produce a new audience but instead offended the old one, as in Kazakhstan. In the final analysis, it is the mission and the impact that counts, not how many Internet users per week saw a funny image or a video with semi-naked girls on a website. Granted, even serious news organization offer feature material and we are not arguing against it. Quite the contrary. But the whole programming strategy cannot be built only around such type of content or placement of short reports in easy to place countries, as IBB executives and strategists are doing.
One last thing:
The May 2013 press release reprised its “BBG Provides Bird Flu Reporting Workshops” which appeared not long ago in a previous press release.
Bird flu reporting workshops – all fine and good.
But what grabbed our attention was the picture accompanying this particular feature in the press release.
In the picture, we see people sitting in a U-shaped table arrangement. On the back wall, lo and behold, there is a likeness of the late North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh and the communist hammer and sickle, both displayed prominently and unmistakably.
Next, there is a banner along the top of the wall. We asked a contact to get a translation of the Vietnamese script. The translation reported back to us was this:
“Bravo to the Communist Party!”
Apparently the IBB doesn’t bother to check these things. These are the people in charge of U.S. taxpayer-funded programs to counter anti-American propaganda and disinformation abroad with accurate and objective news. They do not inspire a lot of confidence.
There may be another translation of the banner, but that’s the one we have.
Maybe someone in the IBB thinks it’s clever that we are now doing some free advertising for the Vietnamese Communist Party.
Perhaps it is a “news” philosophy promoted by the former CNN managers who run amok in the Cohen Building that seems to make US Government international broadcasting appeasers to the world, as in this VOA video which one of the top executives liked so much he had special press release issued about it.
Direct LINK TO VOA VIDEO.
We showed this video before because it illustrates how clueless these managers can be.[aside]
If a North Korean dictator saw this VOA video he could only conclude that North Korean propaganda is working on naive Americans and may decide on the basis of this conclusion to take even more outrageous actions and make even more outrageous demands vis-à-vis the United States and other Western nations. All of this paid for by U.S. taxpayers and overseen by IBB and VOA executives.
Most of the video is just a repeat of North Korean propaganda with almost no attempt to counter it or to present the real dismal state of the nation ruled by a cruel totalitarian regime. If you watch it, you might think that the North Koreans are both prosperous and happy despite some minor restrictions. Is this also part of the IBB soft core placement strategy to increase BBG’s global audience? What comes first: real objective and skeptical journalism and mission or counting the numbers using questionable methodology?
We don’t like what we see and hear.
We really don’t like it.
Remember what we said in a previous piece:
That entire contingent on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building has to go. The types who have no clue about international affairs, communist propaganda, public diplomacy and public affairs have to go. Those who don’t know how to treat journalists and other employees decently have to go. It’s either that or close the place entirely. It has become offensive and odious to the American Experience. It is –
Dysfunctional. Defunct. Ungovernable.
We already saw the departure of those who had fired experienced Radio Liberty journalists in Putin’s Russia. But that happened at RFE/RL in Prague. It’s a good start and BBG members should be applauded for making it happen. Governors Susan McCue and Michael Meehan visited Russia because they knew that they could not rely on the agency’s executive staff in Washington. They met with representatives of the fired Radio Liberty journalists who are now being invited to return. Earlier, they had appointed Kevin Klose to carry out reforms at RFE/RL.
But what about IBB executives who knew about these firings and did nothing to stop his dangerous move and great injustice? They are still doing their damage at the BBG in Washington in defiance of the presidentially-appointed bipartisan Board. This has to stop.
The International Broadcasting Bureau is still
Dysfunctional. Defunct. Ungovernable.