Here is the first of a series of factual updates about United States public diplomacy and broadcasting. A link to each will be posted on our Advocacy page.
GUTS: USG Broadcasting
Fiscal Year 2018 spending level: $793,808,000 including capital improvements
2018 audience: 278,000,000 unduplicated users a week (TV, radio and internet)
Since the end of 2015, there have been striking reforms in U.S. funded international media. Among the most notable are the following.
- The first daily cooperative effort between two of the five networks in the 76-year history of taxpayer funded overseas broadcasting. Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America (VOA) have launched an around the clock Russian language program called Current Time, or in Russian, Real Time. Each network is assigned segments of the broadcast, formally launched in February last year and available in video and on-line formats, as well as radio. In 2017, an estimated 150 million users accessed the new program.
- Within two weeks of becoming the first CEO of U.S. international broadcasting in September, 2015, John Lansing established an International Coordination Council of all five networks to exchange ideas on content at least twice monthly. This has greatly enriched content across the system. As Lansing once said: “On a dark night, two headlights are always better than one.”
- There are five networks in the system. In addition to the VOA and Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL), the BBG includes Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Network in Arabic, and Radio-TV Marti in Spanish to Cuba. Together, they reached 278 million unduplicated viewers, listeners and online users a week last year.
- VOA, the only U.S. global network, broadcasts in 45 languages including English, plus English lessons that senior Chinese, Burmese and Cambodian leaders all called “indispensable” as they learned English. Rigorous research in 100 countries in both 2017 and 2016 indicates that the Voice reaches 80 percent of the users of U.S.-funded international media, or 236 million different users every week.
- All five U.S.-funded networks are required by law or in their corporate charters to convey the news of the day “accurately, objectively and comprehensively.” VOA and the Middle East Broadcasting Network offer a combination of American news and comment. VOA Director Amanda Bennett has pressed for a steady increase of U.S.-related content since joining VOA in April, 2016. The Voice recently opened a Silicon Valley bureau and produced a series of in-depth on-scene portraits on scene from a dozen Mississippi valley communities, large and small.
- Abroad, the Voice has produced well more than a hundred on-scene reports from across drought stricken central African countries entitled “Hunger Across Africa”. The series also includes news about appeals in Washington, at the United Nations, Rome and London to help six and a half million threatened people, from Yemen to Senegal. To quote one World Food Program relief worker in Ethiopia: “Looking into the eyes of a child dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul.”
- VOA today continues to report the facts, “good and bad” pledged in its inaugural broadcast to Nazi-occupied Europe in 1942. It has inaugurated two new multimedia program series these last couple of years designed to inform users and set the record straight. They are:
- Polygraph.info, that does extensive research on statements by Russian officials and corrects these as necessary, and labels the claims as “false” or “misleading.”
- The Extremism Watch desk that focuses closely on the activities of ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations and presents on scene correspondents’ reports — including eyewitness victims’ testimony — about their atrocities.
The BBG follows a unique method to measure its impact. However, these examples show real impact on the ground.
- Last year, RFE/RL broadcast a program documenting the Russian government’s failure to provide sufficient power and water to its provinces in Central Asia. Soon thereafter, Moscow dispatched help – proving that even in Russia’s capital, officials were heeding the news heard on a U.S.-funded international broadcast.
- North Korea’s highest ranking defector, Thae Young Ho, told VOA correspondents after an exclusive interview in 2017 in Seoul that the Kim regime requires its senior officials to read official transcripts of VOA Korean language broadcasts twice during their shifts at the foreign ministry in Pyongyang. VOA director Bennett later pledged substantial increases in the Voice’s broadcasts as a prelude to the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.
- VOA’s pro bono contributor and program host Greta van Susteren had an exclusive Washington to Singapore telephone interview with President Trump as the summit concluded. The interview was excerpted on numerous U.S. and international multimedia commercial broadcast outlets.
- Senator John McCain is noted for traveling to even remote areas of the world in his investigations of interest to Congress. According to the Washington Post, he was greatly moved during a visit a couple of years ago to Southeast Asia when he met some former political prisoners in Burma, introduced himself, and they broke into tears. “Why?” the Arizona Senator asked. “Because,” they said, “we recognized your voice from hearing it on the Voice of America.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More