Tag Archives: International Broadcasting Bureau

BBG’s Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Budget Request

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Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who shares a link to the Broadcasting Board of Governor’s Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Budget Request.

Click here to download as a PDF.

I’ve read key portions of the request.

Regarding shortwave, the BBG are asking for budget reductions in almost all of the BBG shortwave broadcasting arms, with a few exceptions.   They acknowledge, in each case, that shortwave broadcasting is not as cost-effective as other means of distribution (including FM, Internet and satellite). The do acknowledge that shortwave broadcasting is still needed in some strategic markets. Here is, perhaps, the most telling quote I found:

“To serve audiences in less developed areas of the world, BBG must continue to broadcast via traditional technologies such as shortwave and maintain capability on these platforms by replacing antiquated equipment. But to stay relevant in competitive news markets and serve current and future audiences, BBG must invest in new cutting-edge technology. In areas where ownership and usage of shortwave radio has declined significantly, the Agency has evolved away from broadcasting in shortwave.”

A few specific highlights from the request:

Page 19

4) ENHANCE HIGH FREQUENCY TRANSMISSION CAPABILITY ($2.8M)
BBG will continue the shortwave realignment project that began in FY 2014, which increases shortwave transmission capability at its Kuwait Transmitting Station. This enhancement provides improved coverage to underserved areas of the world and
reduces operating costs by decreasing reliance on external leases. All aspects of
this proposal focus on improving transmission capability, while continuing
to reach audiences in Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Tibet and
Western China. The added capacity will support broadcasts for RFE/RL, RFA and
VOA.

At $2.00 per broadcast hour, Kuwait provides the highest return on investment in the BBG transmitting station portfolio. Thus, BBG began expansion of the facility in FY 2014 with
the construction of a new high frequency antenna and design of the transmitter building expansion. The proposed investment, extending through FY 2018, will bring the Kuwait
Transmitting Station up to the maximum capability allowed by the country agreement and will enable the Agency to decrease overall operating costs for the foreseeable future. When the realignment project is completed, the Kuwait station will have ten shortwave transmitters with associated antennas.[…]

Page 22:

Reduce Shortwave Costs [-$2.90M] The Office of Technology, Services, and Innovation (TSI) will eliminate less effective transmission frequencies and realign transmissions to end high cost leases. TSI will realize additional reductions to antiquated technologies by reducing transmissions to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, and Kurdish-speaking regions and eliminating shortwave to Russia, the Caucasus, Belarus, Laos, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Burundi. Audiences in these countries access news and information on more efficient,[…]

Page 69

STRATEGY BASED ON AUDIENCE
MEDIA HABITS
Using research on audience media habits, TSI will continue to move away from less effective legacy shortwave and medium wave transmissions toward other technologies, where appropriate, to reach larger and younger audiences. Where shortwave remains important, TSI is building a more cost-effective transmission infrastructure to support broadcast requirements. Of particular note are efforts at the Kuwait Transmitting Station. Because of the station’s strategic importance and low operating costs, TSI is installing a new shortwave antenna that is expected to be operational in FY 2015 and will expand the station’s transmitter building in FY 2016 to accommodate future transmitter build-outs.[…]

Page 109

To serve audiences in less developed areas of the world, BBG must continue to broadcast via traditional technologies such as shortwave and maintain capability on these platforms by replacing antiquated equipment. But to stay relevant in competitive news markets and serve current and future audiences, BBG must invest in new cutting-edge technology. In areas where ownership and usage of shortwave radio has declined significantly, the Agency has evolved away from broadcasting in shortwave.
BBG has closed transmission stations, repurposed equipment and invested these savings in platforms that the audience has shifted to, primarily in digital media technology and other high-priority programming.

Click here to download the full request as a PDF.

Breaking news: OIG Report on the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station

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I’ve just received a copy of the Office of Inspections (OIG) report on the VOA transmitting station in Greenville, NC. The full OIG report is now in the public domain as a PDF.

Here are a few highlights…

A summary of what OIG found:

  • The Broadcasting Board of Governors Special Committee on the future of shortwave broadcasting issued the report “To Be Where the Audience Is,” in August 2014. It concluded that the demand for shortwave broadcasting is declining in most of its audience markets. The report referred to transmission to Cuba twice, but fell short of recommending to close any Broadcasting Board of Governors shortwave transmitting stations.
  • The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station reports to the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Office of Technology, Services, and Innovation. The dual reporting structure has not affected operations negatively.
  • Administrative operations for the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station were effective, except in management of human resources. Specifically, the station
    manager’s position description was outdated and the performance evaluations record keeping did not comply with Federal regulations.
  • The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station had effective internal controls processes in place. The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station management were
    cognizant of internal controls and provides effective oversight of operations.
  • The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station complied with the Broadcasting Board of Governors and applicable Federal regulations for contracting, property management, and safety. The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station complied with the Broadcasting Board of Governors review processes for unliquidated obligations and the purchase card program.
  • The security and emergency preparedness at the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station met the Interagency Security Committee, Office of Security, and Office of
    Technology, Services, and Innovation policies and standards. The employees participated in emergency drills and complete required insider threat training
    annually.
The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station's mail building, located in the center of the 2800 acres campus. (Click to enlarge)

The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station’s mail building, located in the center of the 2800 acres campus. (Click to enlarge)

Regarding the future of the station:

BBG has not evaluated the return on investment of the Station’s operations to determine its effectiveness in advancing the U.S. international media strategies. The BBG’s Special Committee report refers twice to transmissions to Cuba but falls short of recommending to close any BBG shortwave transmitting stations. Congress continues funding the Station’s budget even though on February 1, 2010, the BBG FY 2011 budget request proposed the closure of the Station.

Futhermore, in FY 2011, the Senate Committee on Appropriations asked BBG to submit a “multiyear strategic plan for broadcasting to Cuba to include an analysis of options for disseminating news and information to Cuba and a report on the cost effectiveness of each.”

The Office of Management and Budget’s Global Engagement Resource Guidance for FY 2015 and for FY 2016 address the need to modernize U.S. International media by “transitioning away from the use of shortwave radio where this platform is ineffective, toward more widely used media platforms like mobile, television, and the internet.” The United States International Broadcasting Act, Public Law 103-236, Section 303(a)(1) and (7) states that BBG has the responsibility to “be consistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States” and “to effectively reach a significant audience.” Section 305(a)(7) states the Board is also authorized to “ensure that all broadcasting elements receive the highest quality and cost effective delivery services.” Given BBG’s limited resources and changes in technology as well as the significance of Cuba to U.S. national security objectives, BBG risks missing an opportunity to engage with Cuban audiences in a digital media environment.

Recommendation 1: The Broadcasting Board of Governors should prepare a written
cost/benefit evaluation of the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station to determine its
efficiency and effectiveness for continuing, reducing, or eliminating operations. (Action: BBG)

The full report:

Click here to download the full report as a PDF.

For a little context, this is the same station I’ve visited multiple times and even posted a photo tour of (click here to view) several years ago.

US House passes H.R. 4490

View of the Capitol Building from the roof of the Voice of America on 330 Independence Ave., S.W.

View of the Capitol Building from the roof of the Voice of America on 330 Independence Ave., S.W.

The United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490) has just passed the the House today, next it will go before the US Senate.

This bill proposes major changes to the overall structure of US international broadcasting. Click here to read previous posts about the bill and read the press release below for more information.

We will update the SWLing Post with news about H.R.4490 as it is presented before the Senate–follow the tag HR4490.

(Source: House Committee On Foreign Affairs)

Washington, D.C. – Today, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, applauded House passage of bipartisan reform legislation to improve the missions, objectives, and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasters, such as the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN).  The legislation, the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490) was unanimously passed by the Foreign Affairs Committee in April.  Chairman Royce and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Memberintroduced the legislation in April.

On House passage of H.R. 4490, Chairman Royce said:  “For many years, our international broadcasting has been broken and ineffective.  While strongmen, despots, and terrorists are working overtime on their public disinformation campaigns, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees our international broadcast efforts, meets once a month.  The status quo is a recipe for failure on the critical information front.  The legislation the House passed today provides serious reforms to U.S. international broadcasting, allowing for a strong, effective tool in the fight against censorship and harmful misinformation.”

H.R. 4490 reforms U.S. international broadcasting, including in the following ways:

Fixes Well-documented Management Problems — Currently, five U.S. international broadcasting entities report to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (“BBG”), a group of 9 part-time individuals, who meet once a month to make management decisions. Important decisions can languish if the Board does not have a quorum, which is often the case. This legislation would establish a full-time, day-to-day agency head and reduce the role of the Board to a more appropriate advisory capacity. These changes have been recommended by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General and are widely recognized as needed reforms.

Clarifies the Mission of the Voice of America (VOA) — The VOA charter states that VOA will provide a “clear and effective presentation of the policies of the United States.” Over time, VOA has abandoned this mission and adopted a mission of the so-called “surrogates” to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies. This legislation makes clear that the Voice of America mission is to support U.S. public diplomacy efforts.

Consolidates “the Freedom Broadcasters” — Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) have the same mission – to provide uncensored local news and information to people in closed societies – with different geographic reach. Consolidating these organizations into a single, non-federal organization will achieve cost savings, allow for closer collaboration, and improve responsiveness. While the consolidation would mean shared administrative staff and other economies of scale, they would retain their distinct “brand names.”

For information of Chairman Royce’s efforts to reform international broadcasting, visit www.foreignaffairs.house.gov/broadcasting.

NY Times: Journalists “at Odds With Union” over VOA’s role

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The New York Times, in a  recent article, describes a growing split between the VOA Union (American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812) and VOA journalists over the proposed changes to the VOA mission (via H.R. 4490), which would make it an active voice of American policy. (Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Marty, for sharing this relevant article).

Below is an excerpt from The Times; click here for the full article:

WASHINGTON — Voice of America journalists who are fighting to maintain what they say is their editorial independence are now at odds not only with Congress, but also with their own union.

The union, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, recently endorsed a bill that would change language in the charter for the 72-year-old news agency and require it to actively support American policy. That came as a surprise to some Voice of America employees, who said the legislation would make them mouthpieces for government policy. They want the union to withdraw its letter of support.

“A lot of us would welcome change and reform, but not at the cost of undermining V.O.A.’s journalistic credibility,” said Jim Malone, a senior national correspondent at the government-financed news agency who is not a member of the union.

In its letter, union leaders said the agency’s managers had lost sight of their mission and were trying to turn the “V.O.A. into something they envisioned as a global variant of CNN.”

“In the end, some of the currently entrenched senior management represent a far greater threat to V.O.A.’s journalistic independence, indeed to the very existence of the V.O.A.,” the union wrote.

The danger, said the union’s president, Tim Shamble, is that the government could withdraw its financial support if the agency continued its current course. The federation represents about 40 percent of all Voice of America workers and 11 percent of the journalists in the central news division.

Continue reading…

For other posts about this topic, please follow the tag: HR4490

Washington Post: VOA needs to keep an “objective voice”

Many thanks to Richard Cuff for sharing this editorial from the Washington Post:

WashingtonPostLogo(Source: Washington Post)

AS AUTHORITARIAN states such as Russia and China ramp up well-funded and sophisticated global propaganda operations, U.S. officials and members of Congress fret that the U.S. government’s information operations are lagging behind. […]

A bipartisan bill headed for the House floor after more than a year of study and drafting would tackle some of these problems. But it also would take a dangerous step toward converting the most venerable and listened-to U.S. outlet, Voice of America, into another official mouthpiece.[…]

The bill sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking Democrat Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.) would refocus VOA on reporting “United States and international news and information,” which might eliminate some of the overlap. It also would usefully reorganize the management of the surrogates, combining them into one non-federal entity called the Freedom News Network and creating an independent governing board similar to the one that directs the National Endowment for Democracy.

However, the bill would define VOA as an instrument of U.S. “public diplomacy,” fold it into a new United States International Communications Agency and require programming that “is consistent with and promotes the broad foreign policies of the United States.” Quarterly meetings would be required with the State Department undersecretary charged with directing public diplomacy. This mandate inevitably would conflict with VOA’s historic mission of producing “accurate, objective and comprehensive news”; how could stories about controversial subjects such as the Guantanamo Bay prison or National Security Agency spying be “objective” and supportive of U.S. policy? The result could be an exodus of VOA’s best journalists and a steep drop in its credibility with international audiences.

[…]The United States will never beat China and Russia in the game of official propaganda, but it can win the war of ideas — if it doesn’t lose faith in its own principles.

Read the full editorial at the Washington Post website.