Tag Archives: Radio Free Asia

“Shifting away from shortwave”: Significant reductions for BBG under FY 2018 budget

Edward R. Murrow Transmission Site near Greenville, North Carolina

(Source: BBG Press Release via Dan Robinson)

FY 2018 budget request reflects key BBG priorities amid spending constraints

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Broadcasting Board of Governors today released the FY 2018 budget request to support key U.S. foreign policy goals by providing news and information around the world while accommodating the current tight fiscal climate.

“As is true throughout the federal government, the budgetary environment requires that we prioritize our resources while emphasizing impact and maintaining the level of excellence our audiences have come to expect,” said CEO John F. Lansing. “Despite reductions in spending, we are committed to our mission, impacting the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world by providing accurate, unbiased, and uncensored news and information.”

The tight fiscal environment necessitates BBG to improve operational efficiencies and make difficult resource trade-offs to effectively meet performance goals and support U.S. foreign policy priorities.

The $685.1 million budget request includes transmission, program and staffing reductions across all BBG networks—the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks—and the International Broadcasting Bureau, including the Office of Technology, Services and Innovation. This includes reducing, and in some cases, eliminating certain language service capacities; shifting away from shortwave transmissions where they have the least impact; and optimizing information technology.

Although the funding request represents a 12.9 percent reduction from the FY 2017 enacted budget, it prioritizes funding for U.S. foreign policy goals, including combatting violent extremism, countering Russian disinformation, and enhancing programming for North Korean audiences. It also capitalizes on the momentum gained from the streamlining of operations in 2016 and the aggressive shift to digital already underway at each of the five networks.

The request includes $680.4 million for International Broadcasting Operations, including Federal and non-Federal networks, as well as $4.7 million for Broadcasting Capital Improvements.

The FY 2018 budget request contains proposals to continue the agency’s responsive shift to the most effective media platforms, respond readily to crises, keep pace with shifts in audience demographics and interests, and sharpen strategy and results measurement to drive performance.

BBG’s extensive network of seasoned, professional and well-connected journalists is particularly strong in regions where ISIS, Russia, Iran, China and other global actors that do not share American values are attempting to make further inroads.

“Should Congress enact this budget, there is no doubt that staff reductions would be difficult,” Lansing said. “We will do everything possible to minimize the effect on our employees by emphasizing attrition, early retirement opportunities, and agency buyouts for federal employees wherever possible. Our staff and journalists are the core of what drives our impact around the world. We will do everything we can to safeguard our greatest asset.”

Washington Post: “A big change to U.S. broadcasting is coming”

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

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who shares this editorial from the The Washington Post:”

“FOR YEARS, members of Congress have fumed about what they regard as ineffective U.S. public diplomacy, including the failure of broadcasting operations such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to match the reach and apparent influence of networks such as Russia’s RT and Qatar’s al Jazeera. A frequent and arguably fair focus of criticism has been the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the body created to supervise government-funded media outlets while serving as a firewall between them and the political administration of the day.

A radical change to that system is now coming — and it looks like one that Vladi­mir Putin and Qatar’s emir might well admire. An amendment quietly inserted into the annual National Defense Authorization Act by Republican House leaders would abolish the broadcasting board and place VOA, RFE/RL and other international news and information operations under the direct control of a chief executive appointed by the president. The new executive would hire and fire senior media personnel and manage their budgets.

[…]The point of board governance was to prevent direct political interference in programming by the White House, State Department or other agencies. It was a guarantee that for decades has helped to attract journalistic talent to the broadcasting organizations, as well as listeners seeking reliable information. The board of governors had serious problems: Its members served part time, and not all took their duties seriously. But the system’s biggest flaw was remedied three years ago with the creation of a chief executive position.

The new reform, driven by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), enhances that executive’s power and makes him answerable to the White House rather than the bipartisan board. A new advisory panel will be created, but it will be toothless: Its members will also be nominated by the president from a pool provided by Congress.[…]”

Click here to read the full editorial at The Washington Post online.

Also, Richard points out this article in BBG Watch which highlights comments from Dan Robinson.

BBG’s Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Budget Request

BBG-Budget-Request

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.

Could radio be a catalyst for revolution in North Korea?

north_korean_propaganda

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley for sharing this article from The Guardian. The following is an excerpt:

Kim Cheol-su, who was born in Pyongsong City and defected from North Korea last year, says that up to 30-40% of DPRK citizens now listen to pirate radio, and that listening to the broadcasts made him realise the true nature of Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion on the implications of the broadcasts in Seoul – and of the North’s thundering reaction – he said: “Children know that Kim Jong-un weighs more than 100kg. It’s because they are repeating what they hear from their parents, who listen to these foreign programmes.”

He added that the majority of North Korean citizens, desperate for news of the outside world, listen to the propaganda broadcasts which fan the flames of their doubt about the regime. The majority of those who flee to the South do so after hearing the broadcasts, he claimed.

“Before listening to the broadcasts, the citizens have no idea. But after they hear them, they realise the fact that the regime is deceiving people. They share what they have heard with their neighbours and friends.”

Kim also highlighted the fact that he heard about the Arab Spring movement through the broadcasts, and learned of the death of Libya’s former president, Muammar Gaddafi. “If the UN were to guarantee for us, as they did for Libya, help in opposing the regime, I believe that we would revolt as well,” he said.

Kim said lot of people listen to Radio Free Asia, as it comes in the clearest. “Personally, there were some programmes I liked on Open Radio for North Korea, so I used to tune in to those as well. However, short, one-hour programs were easy to miss. They were often finished by the time I found the frequency they were on.”

As for the contents of the broadcasts, Kim said having defectors talk freely about their lives was the best approach, and that programmes should include information on how to defect, offering examples of the kind of support and policies that exist for defectors in the South.

Read the full article at The Guardian online.