Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Slip Sliding Away
by The Federalist
We now see in stark detail the dire consequences of where the agency’s misguided direction has taken US Government international broadcasting.
Here, we address another press release (below) dated November 14, 2012 titled, “BBG Measures Audience Growth in Key Markets.”
First of all, the audiences are not growing. They are decreasing.
To outward appearances, US Government strategic international broadcasting is in free fall at the hands of the Broadcasting Board of Governors/International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB).
In late 2011/early 2012 the BBG/IBB estimated their unduplicated global audiences at around 187 million: about 100 million each for radio and television and perhaps 10 million for the Internet.
Now, the agency is claiming 175 million “on a variety of media platforms” in the November 12, 2012 press release.
The press release claims a loss at 12 million but attributes it to “…a change in research providers and resulting changes in the survey questionnaire, both of which occurred in FY 2012.”
Ah, yes – the blame game, laying it on the previous polling contractor.
“The largest change was in Indonesia, where the audience numbers dropped by 17.4 million from 38 million to 21 million people, in part due to a potential overestimate in 2011.”
Either you have an overestimate or you don’t. The dictionary defines “potential” as “that can, but has not yet come into being.”
Either the overestimate happened or it didn’t, BBG/IBB. There’s nothing “potential” about it. Once again, another obtuse pronouncement from the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
More than likely, they never had the audience to begin with or used the smokescreen of claiming an audience within local Indonesian stations where the BBG/IBB (its Voice of America, VOA Indonesian Service) tries to place “lifestyle,” non-news feature content.
(Note: It is well known to readers of BBG Watch that The Federalist has long disputed the BBG/IBB claims of audience reach in Indonesia, citing Indonesian laws prohibiting the dissemination of foreign news broadcasts by Indonesian broadcasters, including programs of the BBG, in addition to common broadcast production techniques to edit, censor or not run at all the program content supplied by the BBG’s Voice of America Indonesian Service to the Indonesian broadcast stations.)
But wait, there’s more!
Didn’t the BBG/IBB “flim flam strategists” approve the survey methodology and questionnaire before going out into the field?!?
Come on. Most assuredly, they did.
Answer: they got a result they weren’t expecting.
Here’s another one:
In Russia, the BBG/IBB talks about audience declines, “where government media regulations have curtailed distribution.”
Putin’s crackdown on Radio Liberty and Voice of America affiliates in Russia happened in previous years, not in 2012, so the latest loss could hardly be attributed to curtailed distribution in 2012. What did change in 2012 were management changes introduced by new RFE/RL president Steven Korn.
The most damaging changes at RFE/RL, however, have occurred probably after the 2012 survey was conducted. The BBG/IBB conveniently ignores the recent “Steve Korn Fiasco,” destroying the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian Service by axing bout forty veteran broadcasters who have now set up shop as “Radio Liberty In Exile.”
In effect, the actions of Mr. Korn facilitated and enabled diminished RFE/RL effectiveness in Russia. Good-bye audience.
Fortunately, the former RFE/RL Russian Service employees have taken their credibility to marshal an alternative to the “Korn Fiasco” and in the process demonstrate to their Russian listeners the BBG/IBB hypocrisy of “supporting freedom and democracy” (which we know they are not).
For being at least one of the principal architects of this fiasco, Steve Korn should resign or be fired.
Lastly, the press release claims an audience of 10-million in Iran. We find this to be highly suspect. That’s almost one in every eight Iranians (a total population of around 80-million). What makes it even more suspect is the effectiveness of Iranian jamming of BBG/IBB satellite transmissions which the agency has been wailing about in other recent press releases.
This 10-million figure is also suspect, given the disappearance of the agency’s “Parazit” program on its Persian News Network (PNN) which was supposedly popular with Iranian audiences.
If the survey was conducted during a brief period when the Iranians were not jamming satellite signals, that fact should have been clearly acknowledged. It was misleading for Mr. Bruce Sherman, the BBG chief strategist, to announce to the world at an open BBG committee meeting, which was streamed online live and on-demand, that the audience grew in Iran in 2012 without at the same time pointing out that it is a temporary phenomenon and the TV audience in large part may no longer be there due to satellite signal jamming. It is yet another example how BBG members, members of Congress and American public are mislead by being given only partial information, with essential facts obscured or not presented at all.
(Perhaps now the biggest audience in Iran is the Iranian Cyber Army and the Iranian intelligence services.)
But even after all this, things get really bizarre:
At the November 15, 2012 meeting of the BBG, Bruce Sherman, who is also one of the IBB players in the flim flam Soviet-style strategic plan, did acknowledge briefly the audience drop was from 187-million to 175-million. But, in an apparent effort to obscure and deflect attention from a tremendous loss of global audience, Mr. Sherman then made a big deal out of the research findings that the agency picked up some audience in Latin America. That part of his presentation was far longer than his comments about audience losses.
(Note: Also keep in mind that the agency wants to eliminate programming to Latin America as part of the elimination of 14 of 43 Voice of America language service broadcasts and a reduction-in-force that could affect as many as 200 employees or more throughout agency assets.)
In an interview with Tom Fox on November 13, 2012 (Fox writes for The Washington Post’s “Federal Coach” blog and is the vice-president for leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service and also heads up the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership), David Ensor, the Voice of America director, claims a worldwide audience of 140 million for VOA. In fact, the BBG’s 2012 figure for VOA is not 140-million but 134-million — by far the largest audience among all BBG entities — but still a loss of seven million from the BBG’s 2011 figure of 141-million. Again, the public was getting misleading information about the actual size of VOA’s global audience.
(Note: Our sources report that the Partnership for Public Service apparently has been enlisted by the BBG/IBB to address the agency’s horrid record in the Federal employee survey. The latest survey again shows the agency at/or near the bottom in leadership and employee morale – as it has been from the first survey to the latest. Some of our sources have expressed concerns about the appearance of a conflict of interest between this article and the role the Partnership for Public Service has with the agency in attempting to address the matter of the survey results.)
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what we see going on here:
The BBG/IBB either has no idea how precipitously they have killed off their global audiences with their “flim flam strategic plan” or they are randomly throwing out numbers here and there with no rhyme or reason, perhaps thinking no one is paying attention, or to obfuscate the extent of the destruction.
The things that are apparent here are the following:
* This is a failed agency with a failed mission as the result of a failed strategic plan.
* We – the American taxpayers – are wasting close to a BILLION dollars annually on an agency whose officials have deliberately and intentionally reduced the footprint of US Government strategic international broadcasting and communication with global publics.
* There is no such thing as a reinvented “global news network” remade from the agency’s various assets and entities as agency officials have claimed.
* The direction these officials have taken has increased not reduced the vulnerabilities to delivering critical news and information to global publics by relying on technologies that can be controlled, blocked and interdicted almost at will when foreign governments choose to do so.
* The IBB’s flawed strategic plan is making it more difficult, not easier, for global publics to get reliable news and information as well as a clear articulation of US policy directly from the United States Government as the agency is required to do by law (the VOA Charter).
In essence, we have no reliable way of knowing if there is any audience of any consequence out there for US Government international broadcasting.
(Note: the agency is paying $50-million dollars to the Gallup polling organization for research data – $10-million per year over five years.)
The only thing we know with any clarity is that what the BBG/IBB has become is a spin factory for useless information in the form of numerous press releases extolling “research” that has little or no strategic corollary to US Government international broadcasting where vital US interests are at stake.
What these numbers suggest – particularly the low end figure of 140-million – is that the BBG/IBB is reaching almost no one, when viewed in the context of a global population of 7-BILLION.
We can see where this is going. If this accelerated pace of audience loss continues, in the very near future the agency will reach a point where its audience becomes, in effect, a statistical zero.
It is time for the US Congress to stop treating this agency and its budget as a billion-dollar loss for the US Government. Fix it or close it. Send the employees and the mission to another Federal agency (transfer of function) where they may be managed more effectively. Thank the BBG political appointees for their service and send them on their way.
And as for the perpetrators of this disaster – the IBB careerists – send them into the land of buyouts and early retirements. The American taxpayer does not need them selling their corrosive strategies elsewhere in the Federal Government.
Put them out of business.
BBG PRESS RELEASE
November 14, 2012
Washington, D.C. – U.S. government-funded, civilian international broadcasters reached an estimated 175 million people per week on a variety of media platforms in 2012, including large audiences in countries that are key priorities for U.S. foreign policy, the Broadcasting Board of Governors announced today.
The figure, which reflects the combined viewership and listenership of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), is a net decrease of 12 million from last year’s record total as detailed in the BBG’s annual Performance Accountability Report. While this drop likely reflects actual loss in overall audience, some of it may also be attributable to a change in research providers and resulting changes in the survey questionnaire, both of which occurred during FY 2012.
“Reliable and high-quality research informs our strategies, which in turn helps us fulfill our critical mission of reaching marketplaces around the globe, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan,” said BBG Presiding Governor Michael Lynton. “This agency is committed to evaluating and assessing performance through a rigorous research program as required by law. And as audience preferences change, we will continue to innovate on all platforms – radio, TV, the Internet and social media.”
Audiences grew substantially in Iran, where more than 10 million people watch or hear BBG programs, and in other key countries including Libya, and Ethiopia. The largest change was in Indonesia, where audience numbers dropped by 17.4 million, from 38 million to 21 million people, in part due to a potential overestimate in 2011. Among other countries that saw audience declines were Egypt, Nigeria, and Burma, as these markets became more competitive and open; in Haiti, where surge broadcasts instituted after the 2010 earthquake diminished; and in Russia, where government media regulations have curtailed distribution.
BBG broadcasts reached significant audiences in other important markets, including 75 percent of the adult population in Afghanistan, 75 percent in the Somaliland and Puntland regions of Somalia, 67 percent in Iraq, 30 percent in Libya, and 27 percent in the FATA region of Pakistan. In FY 2012, the BBG enhanced its distribution network, adding new FM transmitters in key cities in Libya and Afghanistan.
Consistent with the practice of other international broadcasters, the BBG measures and reports unduplicated audience; each individual, regardless of how many programs watched or listened to, or media platforms used, is counted only once. This is a conservative approach to quantifying the audience and in keeping with the mission of BBG to inform and engage people, rather than count individual interactions with them.
Other indices of impact – such as how trustworthy audiences find BBG programming and how much the broadcasts increase their understanding, the scope or quality of an individual’s consumption of BBG programming, the level of social media engagement, website page views, file downloads or media citations of BBG news coverage – are important factors considered for program and strategic planning purposes.
Radio and TV are increasingly close in terms of reach by platform, with radio reaching more than 95 million people per week and television measures in at 92 million people. The Internet audience was between 12 and 13 million, with the largest online audiences measured in Iraq, at 2.7 million.
The audience estimate includes research conducted within the past five years in over 70 countries and territories and surveys representing 2.8 billion people in markets around the globe. The 2012 Performance and Accountability Report will be available to download on Nov. 16. For further facts and figures as well as information on research methods, please refer to the following information.
BBG Research Methodology (PDF)