International Broadcasting Bureau – Dysfunctional and Defunct Is So Much Fun! – Information War Lost: Waste Without End
By The Federalist
Once again, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) held one of its so-called “briefing sessions” regarding its survey collaboration with the Gallup polling organization (“Nigeria: Mobile Rises While Radio Dominates for News,” May 15, 2014).
This survey contains information about media usage in Nigeria.
However, there is absolutely no information about who the Nigerians rely upon for their information in terms of media news providers.
More to the point of the agency’s mission: are Nigerians listening to broadcast content by assets of US Government international broadcasting or do Nigerians go to others first for news?
Where is that information? It certainly cannot be found in this survey. We have said it before: the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) should be demanding this kind of information. Apparently, they aren’t or they aren’t getting it – yet one more reason to question the efficacy and effectiveness of the BBG in dealing with an IBB with its own agenda.
American taxpayers don’t need to be victimized by the IBB merry-go-round of avoidance; namely, not addressing what counts most to Members of Congress and American taxpayers who put the real money on the table to support the agency’s operations.
Keep in mind that the agency has a five-year, $50-MILLION dollar contract with Gallup at $10-MILLION dollars per year. Audience research is important, but not the way it is conducted by IBB and not at this price for a publicly-funded institution.
Essentially, American taxpayers are getting zero return on this investment. We don’t know who the Nigerians are most reliant upon for news and information or if/where US Government international broadcasting registers on the media “radar” in Nigeria.
Recently, the BBG reached an agreement to do “live” television to Nigeria.
This is interesting because the survey notes that Nigerians have a dim view of domestic media freedom, with positive responses coming in at less than 38%.
The programming the agency intends to provide will be broadcast over a domestic Nigerian television station or network. This makes it embedded into domestic news programs, which makes the effectiveness of the arrangement suspect.
Editor’s Note: Even though the station is called independent, the Voice of America might just as well announce that it will no longer say anything strongly critical of the Nigerian government or the station might face difficulties or even sanctions.
The agency’s presentation also notes that favorable opinion toward the United States is slip-sliding away: from 78.5% in March 2012 down to about 60% in July 2013.
What should really be questioned is the extent to which the Nigerian government will tolerate US Government supplied programs if they are critical of the Nigerian government and its policies. Other countries have had no trouble finding the “OFF” switch when it comes to cutting off US Government broadcast programs when they are transmitted via in-country providers. We expect nothing different here. In turn, that makes for a situation in which a BBG/IBB program “opportunity” becomes just another liability as the agency’s budget continues to diminish.
We make note of these things because Nigeria shows all the signs of teetering toward the status of a failed state. It has some ways to go, but the broad signs are troubling: widening socio-economic and political divides between northern and southern provincial states are sending tremors throughout the country.
Editor’s Note: And yet, VOA is entering into a partnership to increase its audience share in the country the easy way. Are the Kremlin’s state media, media outlets tolerated by the Kremlin, Chinese communist party media and media tolarated by Beijing next on the affiliate building list for the Voice of America and the IBB audience research and marketing team? After all, audience research (available free online) clearly shows that these state-owned media outlets would offer VOA the widest reach in Russia and China.
At the top of the list of Nigeria’s big problems is an insurgency by the fundamentalist group Boko Haram (which translated means, “Western education is forbidden”).
Oddly, the IBB/Gallup research claims that the Nigerian military is “the only government institution to enjoy the confidence of the majority of Nigerians,” coming in at a whopping 67.6%.
But in the same presentation, the IBB claims that “perceptions of safety (are) declining, especially in (the) North,” showing only 59.8% of Nigerians in the south and 36.9% of Nigerians in the north (the main area of Boko Haram operations) feeling safe walking at night where they live.
This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the military or local police forces. Indeed, a recent Boko Haram incursion had to be pushed back by local villagers in the North, absent Nigerian military forces.
Also not long ago, Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls. A video has shown up purportedly of a portion of the schoolgirls being held by the insurgents. Boko Haram leadership claims that it intends to sell the girls into slavery.
Frustration with the Nigerian military has reached a point where traditional hunter/trackers have now been called upon in the search for the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, according to news reports.
(Note: An excellent analysis of Boko Haram and its impact in Nigeria can be found throughout the BBC website. Look there first. We relied upon a report by BBC Africa writer/correspondent Farouk Chothia for background in this commentary [“Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?” dated 7 May 2014]).
How well BBG programming to Nigeria is effective in dealing with these issues for possible Nigerian audiences is unknown because no concrete information is identified in this latest IBB/Gallup collaboration.
What makes it worse, these presentations create the appearance, if not the fact that the agency is in some weird state of denial of what the real substantive issues are facing Nigeria.
Bruce Sherman is the director, Office of Strategy and Development. That’s two failed agency missions: strategy and development. He is also architect of the agency’s abysmally failed “strategic plan” (described as “being neither strategic nor a plan”). He is an integral part of these IBB/Gallup surveys that contain a prodigious amount of information but don’t tell us what we need to know about core agency operations.
Cumulatively, at a potential cost of $50-MILLION dollars, these surveys represent an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars. And they are repeated over and over again: all you have to do is change the name of the country with the same or almost identical survey parameters and partners who often work under the pressure of local regimes.
For the information that is provided in these surveys, much if not most of it can be readily obtained through reliable open sources (including the BBC, for example). It most certainly does not cost $50-MILLION dollars for this open source data and information.
This is yet one more example of how Mr. Sherman and the rest of the IBB are not contributing to the agency’s mission effectiveness. These surveys are something of a diversion. If anything at all, they are an attempt to justify the existence of the IBB.
They are doing a rather poor job of it.
Recent legislation introduced by the House Foreign Affairs Committee (H.R. 4490) intends to reform US Government international broadcasting. As part of the effort, the IBB would be eliminated.
This latest misdirected survey serves as a perfect example of why we support this legislation and advocate that it be signed into law.
Wasting $50-MILLION dollars on off-target surveys is not in the national or public interest. It contributes to the agency being mission dysfunctional and defunct.