The Federalist calls for translating into English and putting online some of the foreign language reports and commentaries broadcast by the BBG and paid for by American taxpayers. What and how much should be translated and at what cost may be debatable, but it would certainly give the American people and the Congress the level of transparency and scrutiny that the Broadcasting Board of Governors executives fear. These translations, in any case, should be done outside of the BBG. It was not BBG executives and program evaluators, but independent media freedom and independent journalism NGOs that exposed the airing of statements from Holocaust deniers on the BBG-managed Alhurra TV and statements from Russian nationalist extremists on Radio Liberty.
Broadcasting Board of Governors: More of The Battle Rages On
by The Federalist
We have an opportunity to expand on a couple of points made in our recent post, “The Battle Rages On.”
24/7 VOA English:
A BBG Watch reader stated that there are seven 24/7 “streams” of English on VOA. The reader did not go into detail.
If the reader is using the term “streams” to refer to the Internet, the results are somewhat underwhelming.
Using the agency’s own data, its audience for radio broadcasts is around 100-million, for television, about another 100-million and for the Internet, about 10-million.
In the big picture of the numbers game, the world population is about 7-billion. Of the 7-billion, around 2-billion is at or below poverty line demarcations.
One also needs to keep in mind that the agency’s Internet programs are available in places where Internet use and accessibility is high. If the best the “streams” could do is 10 million, the results would not at all impressive. They get lost in the cacophony of the billions. But, 24/7 English audio streams get far less than even 10 million. Most visitors to VOA websites don’t listen to audio.
When it comes to the Internet on a global basis, the issues for the user will always be: affordability, availability and connectivity. Too much of what the BBG/IBB does has an “inside the Beltway” focus. Most assuredly, the rest of the world isn’t situated in like manner.
The American taxpayer should demand – and is entitled to demand – better performance out of the agency. If marked improvements aren’t forthcoming in a reasonable amount of time, the issue then becomes whether or not the American taxpayer should be expected to continue to fund this exercise. With the increasing demands of higher priorities, the answer can likely be in the negative.
Language Service Websites:
This reader also commented on our view that there should be English language texts running concurrently on VOA language service websites in the various vernacular languages. The reader remarks that to do so would be “too expensive.” This is an all-too-familiar refrain heard from the BBG/IBB when it doesn’t want to do something that it should be doing.
Of course, the first response from us is going to be: “How much is ‘too expensive’?” The reader doesn’t provide details.
When one reads comments posted on various websites that give treatment to US international broadcasting or public diplomacy, one of the charges commonly leveled is that US Government international broadcasting is “propaganda.” Following right behind that observation comes the opinion that the American taxpayer shouldn’t be funding a government propaganda operation. Propaganda is a dirty word to many Americans. It is synonymous with the practices and ideologies of totalitarian regimes.
If the cast of characters on the BBG/IBB want the American taxpayers to pony up funding for their operations, they are going to have to become acquainted with and responsive to a higher standard of public transparency. If they want modifications to the Smith-Mundt Act to make their content accessible to American citizens, this has to be part of the deal. Any American citizen should be able to view content on any BBG/IBB website in English particularly since these operations are publicly funded. In our view, they are obligated to do so or they can kiss their “flim flam strategic plan” goodbye.
Should the American taxpayer demand higher standards of accountability and transparency out of the agency? The answer is: YES. Members of Congress and the American taxpayer should not be satisfied with the usual, self-serving rhetoric coming from the BBG/IBB.
January 24, 2012