Tag Archives: International Broadcasting Bureau

Draft bill outlines major changes to BBG and US International Broadcasting

BBG-LogoMany thanks to Dan Robinson who shares this post on the BBG Watch which outlines major changes to US International Broadcasting.

The draft bill, originating in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is known as the United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014. The bill outlines:

  • “the creation of the United States International Communications Agency within the executive branch of Government as an independent establishment”
  • creating an Advisory Board of the United States International Communications Agency–as the name implies, this board would serve in an advisory (in lieu of management) capacity
  • a new CEO of the United States International Communications Agency, who would be “appointed for a five-year term and renewable at the Board’s discretion. The CEO would exercise broad executive powers.”
  • the creation of the Consolidated Grantee Organization, for the non-federal grantees of the BBG who would be consolidated “and reconstituted under a single organizational structure and management framework.” This would affect the following agencies:
    • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL),
    • Radio Free Asia (RFA), and
    • Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)
  • “The Consolidated Grantee Organization would have its own board and its own CEO.”
  • “The Voice of America would be placed within the the United States International Communications Agency.”
  • Changes to the VOA charter including more freedom and flexibility to report the news. BBG Watch quotes: “The Voice of America’s success over more than seven decades has created valuable brand identity and international recognition that justifies the maintenance of the Voice of America; the Voice of America’s public diplomacy mission remains essential to broader United States Government efforts to communicate with foreign populations; and despite its tremendous historical success, the Voice of America would benefit substantially from a recalibration of Federal international broadcasting agencies and resources, which would provide the Voice of America with greater mission focus and flexibility in the deployment of news, programming, and content.”
  • The new bill also outlines sharing resources between the VOA and the new Consolidated Grantee Organization (which currently maintains much of its own network infrastructure)

There are many, many more points to this bill thus I would encourage you to read the BBG Watch post in full for all details.

 

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A second life for the VOA Delano site?

VOA-Delano

VOA Delano campus

Much like VOA Site A, the VOA Delano, California site has been turned over to the Government Services Administration (GSA). After consideration for federal use, the GSA reached out to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who expressed an interest in the site. If approved, HUD could use the site to house the homeless or, possibly, create an affordable housing campus. We won’t know the future of the site until later this year.

Many thanks to several of you who sent a link to this recent article in The Bakersfield Californian which not only talks about the history of the Delano site, but also its future.

Though I know it’s not in the realm of possibility, I would love to see the site donated to a non-profit broadcaster or university who could carry out HF broadcasts and/or research.

On a side note, several months ago, I came across a declassified 2005 Report of Inspection for the Delano Transmitting Station. It makes for a fascinating look into Delano when it was once fully operational.

Click here to download the Report of Inspection as a PDF.

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BBG’s 2015 budget: VOA to increase services to Asia/Africa, but cut others

The new budget would expand Leaning English (a.k.a. Special English) programming.

The new budget would expand Leaning English content, but reduce, “low-impact, long-form English language radio created for shortwave.”

The Broadcasting Board Of Governors is requesting a reduced budget from congress for FY 2015 and re-focusing efforts on services to Asia and Africa.

Of course, this will be at the expense of Azerbaijani, Georgian, Persian, and Uzbek language programming and a complete cut of programs to Serbia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia. Programming to Cuba will be reduced as well.

The FY 2015 Budget Request also outlines the closure of VOA’s bureaus in Jerusalem and Houston.

For a quick summary, read the VOA News article below.

After the article, I’ve clipped quotes where the BBG specifically mentions shortwave radio in the 2015 budget, so continue reading.

(Source: VOA News)

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. government entity that oversees the Voice of America, has released details of a 2015 budget request that will cut Balkan language services but add spending aimed at Asia and Africa.

The BBG is asking Congress for $721 million, a reduction from a $731 million budget in the current fiscal year. Agency officials say their goal is to reach a new generation of audiences through media that global listeners and viewers increasingly use.

The 2015 budget request includes youth-oriented video and digital initiatives for Cambodia, Vietnam, and Burma – also known as Myanmar.

In China, the BBG plans to increase the use of social media and programs to fight Internet censorship.

The BBG is also planning to set up a new satellite television channel and expand FM radio in the Sahel region of north-central Africa. A new Lingala language service is planned for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

VOA’s English Learning programs would also be expanded.

But the 2015 budget would eliminate the VOA language services for Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia. The Azerbaijani, Georgian, Persian, and Uzbek services would see reductions and broadcasting to Cuba would also see a very significant cut.

The proposal also calls for the closure of VOA news bureaus in Jerusalem and Houston.

Dave Allison, acting president of the union representing many VOA employees, said with the cuts in services VOA is “retreating” from its historic mission that began in 1942. He said Balkan broadcasters had tears in their eyes when they were told their shows face elimination.

[View this article on the VOA News.]

Shortwave radio in the 2015 budget?

If you take a look inside the FY 2015 Budget Request (click here to download it as a PDF) you will see how they perceive shortwave radio in the media mix moving forward.  I particularly find the mention in their summary insightful.

Here are a few highlights:

From page 9 of the FY 2015 Budget Request:

“The FY 2015 Budget Request reflects a host of distribution changes. In the mix of technology and distribution platforms, the BBG sees clearly the global adoption of digital media. Actively underway is the migration from legacy distribution platforms such as shortwave and medium wave (AM) to the media platforms audiences are using today, including satellite TV and audio, FM radio, mobile phone technologies, and social and other digital media. In many of our markets, use of the Internet overall and as a source of news already exceeds radio, and in some cases by a wide margin. The BBG is adapting to this fundamental shift by taking, where appropriate, a digital-first approach and combining digital and traditional media into one integrated strategy.

That said, the BBG remains platform-agnostic, meaning we will use the media on which our audiences prefer to receive information, engage with media and connect with one another.

Shortwave radio will still play a role in selected countries such as Nigeria, Burma, and Afghanistan, among others.”

No money has been budgeted for shortwave radio capital improvements in 2015:

CapitalImprovementsBBG

On page 45, the BBG mentions regions where they believe shortwave radio is still an important information medium:

“Audiences accessing VOA using mobile devices and social media grew exponentially in the past year; and VOA has a global network of FM affiliate partners as well as wholly owned FMs. Meanwhile, VOA’s long-standing role as a shortwave broadcaster remains at the forefront in markets where
shortwave is still viable, including the Sahel, where Islamist extremists have carried out terrorist attacks in the past year, and in information-deprived societies such as North Korea and Tibet.”

Then on page 64:

“Capitalizing on current research on audience media habits, TSI will continue taking steps in FY 2014 to move away from less effective legacy distribution systems, such as shortwave and medium wave transmission, toward use of more modern technologies, where appropriate, to reach larger and younger audiences. Where shortwave remains important, TSI is building a more cost-effective transmission infrastructure to support continuing broadcast requirements. In addition, where available, transmitting stations will receive their broadcast content through lower cost digital services, instead of the more expensive satellite distribution. TSI also is using satellite radio in China, including in Tibet, – for just a fraction of the cost of shortwave or medium wave transmissions to that country – as a means of leveraging the widespread use of satellite receive dishes in remote locations or where local cable and Internet access is restricted.”

Burmese broadcasts mentioned on page 74:

“RFA’s Burmese Service is preparing for comprehensive radio and TV coverage of the 2015 national elections, Burma’s first opportunity for truly free and fair elections. At the same time, RFA is reporting on the numerous domestic problems which could derail the move to democratization, especially the need for constitutional reform prior to the elections. RFA
provides a platform for civil, civic dialogue where the people of Burma can express opinions on their problems and possible solutions. RFA will also address religious and ethnic divides,
and more programming will be targeted toward Burma’s rural population, providing basic education in areas such as health, agriculture and basic human rights. Shortwave radio, which still dominates in rural areas where most of the population lives, is the best medium to present such programs.”

Afia Darfur‘s programming on page 78:

“Afia Darfur is broadcast into Darfur via shortwave each evening at 9:00 p.m. local time and targets all people in Darfur and eastern Chad, and it is heard in Khartoum. The 30-minute program is rebroadcast two additional times, once in the evening (10:00 p.m. local time) and again the following morning (6:00 a.m. local time).”

Cost savings through shortwave broadcasts from Kuwait (page 82):

“BCI funds will be used to reconfigure the shortwave broadcast infrastructure at the Kuwait transmitting station to enhance coverage of Iran and achieve cost savings for shortwave
broadcasts. Because of the very low cost of electrical power in Kuwait, the IBB Kuwait Transmitting Station is the least expensive station to operation in the IBB global network. This project will allow the Agency to shift scheduled transmissions from other stations in the IBB network to Kuwait, especially those transmissions from high cost leased facilities wherever possible.”

But, perhaps this clip from the 2015 budget summary provides the best insight:

“In order to serve audiences in less developed areas of the world, the 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 both current and future audiences, the BBG must also invest in new cutting-edge technology. In areas where the BBG has ceased to broadcast, or where ownership and usage of shortwave radio has declined significantly, the BBG has closed transmission stations, repurposed equipment, and invested these savings in digital media technology and new high-priority programming.”

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Deadline approaching: BBG seeks public comment on relevancy of shortwave radio

Students in South Sudan listen to their favorite shortwave radio program, VOA Special English.

Students in South Sudan listen to their favorite shortwave radio program, VOA Special English.

Reminder: The US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is asking for your comments on the relevancy of shortwave radio broadcasting.

In short, simply send the BBG an email (limited to 1,200 words or less) with your comments by Friday (March 14th, 2014). The BBG has set up the following email address: ShortwaveCommittee@bbg.gov

Click here for full details.

Thank you for defending the relevancy of shortwave radio on behalf of those living in impoverished areas, and in states with repressive regimes: listeners without a voice.

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BBG seeks comments on relevancy of shortwave radio

The United States’ Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)–the governing body responsible for all US international broadcasting–is asking for your comments on the relevancy of shortwave radio broadcasting today.

Teacher in rural South Sudan with an ETOW radio. (Project Education Sudan Journey of Hope 2010)

Teacher in rural South Sudan who relies on shortwave radio to learn about international and domestic news. (Photo: Ears To Our World and Project Education Sudan Journey of Hope 2010)

In short, simply send the BBG an email (limited to 1,200 words or less) with your comments by March 14th, 2014.

The BBG has set up the following email address: ShortwaveCommittee@bbg.gov

As a favor, I ask that every SWLing Post reader consider sending their comments in support of shortwave radio broadcasting, even if you argue in favor of reduced capacity.

There are still so many parts of the world–impoverished areas, and states with repressive regimes–that rely on shortwave radio for information access. Additionally, shortwave radio can serve as an information source, domestically, in times of large-scale disasters.

I’ve tagged dozens of posts here on the SWLing Post which reference the necessity of shortwave radio broadcasting. Click here to read these posts.

Read below for the full press BBG release:

(Source BBG)

Shortwave radio has been a mainstay of U.S. international media since the 1940s.  Over time, however, the number of countries in which shortwave is the medium of choice for audiences overseas has been shrinking.  In many places, people are increasingly turning to other means to get news and information – including but not limited to FM radio, satellite television, web sites, social media, and their mobile phones.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the independent federal government agency that oversees U.S. civilian international media, has been adjusting to these changes over the years and now delivers news and information programs on a wider variety of platforms in more languages than any other media organization.  To support its commitment of reaching audiences on their preferred media, the Board recently established a Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Radio Broadcasting, which has been conducting a thorough review of the agency’s use of shortwave radio as a distribution platform, the associated costs, and the likely reliance on it by next-generation audiences.

This Committee is now seeking feedback from external experts and stakeholders on their perspectives on the role of shortwave radio broadcasting as a BBG distribution platform. We are particularly interested to hear views that consider the evolving media consumption of target audiences, changing access to shortwave and other platforms, and the need to prioritize in an austere federal budget environment.

The BBG is committed to sustaining shortwave broadcasting to regions where a critical need for the platform remains.

The Shortwave Committee has held two meetings focused on the shortwave audience’s listening experience, the BBG networks’ success in reaching target audiences, the role of shortwave in the networks’ engagement strategies in various markets, the cost of operating shortwave transmitting facilities, and the BBG’s research into how shortwave is being used and its impact on audiences.

Your input will better inform the Committee’s recommendations and could help shape its comprehensive report to the plenary Board.

Please contribute questions, comments or suggestions via e-mail toShortwaveCommittee@bbg.gov by March 14, 2014.  To facilitate the review process, please limit your submission to 1200 words or fewer.  All comments may be reprinted as part of the Committee’s proceedings and may be made public.

The news and information provided by our networks helps bring the light of truth to some of the darkest corners of the world.  By supporting the free flow of news and information, including combatting Internet censorship and providing news and information tailored for specific audiences, developing local media, and creating access to global media, we purposefully support the freedom to speak, the freedom to listen, and the freedom of expression.

If you are aware of anyone with special interest in this topic, I encourage you to share this request with them.

Thank you for your interest in taking part in this process to help the BBG become more efficient and effective in supporting U.S. national security and foreign policy.

Sincerely,

Matthew C. Armstrong

Chairman
BBG Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting

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BBG tries to improve employee morale

BBG-LogoIn December 2012, we posted a survey from the 2012 edition of The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government by The Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte. The survey indicated that the Broadcasting Board of Governers (BBG) had been ranked in the bottom five places to work in the federal government.

According to the Washington Post, the agency is now working on a plan to boost employee morale. Some of their initiatives include:

“Agency directors and senior staff hold[ing] face-time sessions in the cafeteria for informal talks with employees, a “Civility Campaign” addresses labor-management issues, and a Workplace Engagement Initiative takes a deeper dive into the agency’s low morale ratings.

Some of the morale-boosting events are meant to be fun, such as the raffle during the fitness-center open house, a chocolate bake-off in time for Valentine’s Day, and ?after-work gatherings — a bingo night, happy hour, checkers and chess.

It’s going to take all that and some sustained work to improve the agency’s failing report cards.”

Read the full article on The Washington Post…

Many thanks to Richard Cuff for the tip!

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Heritage Foundation: BBG is cutting “the most cost-effective part of its organization”

One of the 19 curtain antennas on the campus of the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Site (Click to enlarge)

One of the 19 curtain antennas on the campus of the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Site (Click to enlarge)

For those of you not familiar, note that the The Heritage Foundation is a US conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

(Source: Heritage Foundation)

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) recently informed its workforce about sequestration cuts to Voice of America’s (VOA) shortwave and medium-wave broadcasting. Ironically, the Board is cutting the most cost-effective part of its organization: radio.

It would be more rational to cut the bloated management and administration of the International Broadcasting Bureau, which accounts for over 36 percent of the 2013 BBG budget request. Television broadcasting would also be a good place to look for savings, being far more expensive to produce and highly variable in terms of ratings.

Last year, however, the BBG declared in its “Strategic Plan” that radio is a “legacy medium,” a hold over from the past compared to television and the Internet. Now a golden opportunity has presented itself for the BBG staff. Thus, under the guise of complying with sequestration, the board has moved ahead with plans to cut radio, plans that have been fought by Members of Congress and heavily criticized by supporters of U.S. public diplomacy for several years.

One vocal critic was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, no less. During her Benghazi testimony in January, Clinton had harsh words for the BBG. Clinton bemoaned the fact that the U.S. government has “abandoned broadcasting to the Middle East,” and stated that the BBG, which is responsible, is “a defunct agency.” While this is hardly true in terms of budget, it is in terms of leadership.

Under sequestration, the BBG must cut $37.2 million out of its total budget of $720 million. The announced cuts in shortwave and medium-wave broadcasting are a drop in the bucket, a mere $5.3 million. While efficiencies should certainly be part of the budget picture, decimating the agency’s core mission—broadcasting—should not. Moreover, management has made it clear that these cuts are permanent and not reversible.

[…]It means deep cuts in broadcasting in Cantonese to China, Dari and Pashto to Afghanistan, English to Africa and Asia, Khmer to Cambodia, and English-learning programs around the world. It further means elimination of medium-wave and shortwave broadcasting in Albanian, Georgian, Persian, and Spanish, as well as in English to Afghanistan and in English to the Middle East.

The document notes that national FM and television affiliates will continue to carry VOA broadcasting. The catch is that local affiliates are subject to the whims of the host countries, with all the vulnerabilities and complications that entails.[…]

Read the full article on the Heritage Foundation website.

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