Radio World, 11 Oct 2013
, op-ed by Ann Noonan, executive director for the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting: "CUSIB appreciates the importance of both Voice of America and surrogate broadcasting and hopes that under [new BBG chairman Jeff] Shell’s tenure, their roles will be supported. CUSIB does not accept the myth that these different missions duplicate each other. VOA Cantonese, Mandarin and Tibetan services provide news and opinions from the United States as mandated by the U.S. Congress in the Voice of America Charter. Radio Free Asia has a separate congressional mandate and does tremendous work with local journalists. Voice of America’s identity and success abroad are tied to being identified with the United States. VOA cannot be a successful surrogate broadcaster, just as RFA cannot be a successful representative for all of America. ... It is highly unlikely that U.S. international broadcasting would ever emerge as another global, 'BBC-like' public media outlet serving both the U.S. and audiences abroad, with American taxpayers gladly paying for it with their tax money."
Ann Noonan has written a thorough and well-thought-out essay. However...
To CUSIB and others who insist there is no duplication in US international broadcasting, the facts are overwhelmingly against you. The truth (and isn't US international broadcasting all about transmitting the truth?) is that duplication is so prevalent in US international broadcasting that one cannot help tripping over it...
The story about Cambodia's statue to former King Sihanouk was reported by RFA, 11 Oct 2013 and by VOA, 11 Oct 2013. About a Spanish court hearing charges of genocide in Tibet against former Chinese president Hu Jintao, see RFA, 11 Oct 2013, and VOA, 11 Oct 2013. About additional charges for Greenpeace activists in Russia, see RFE/RL, 9 Oct 2013 and VOA, 9 Oct 2013. Malala Yousafzai meets President Obama at the White House: VOA, 11 Oct 2013 and RFE/RL, 12 Oct 2013. It took about five minutes to find these.
Peruse the websites of the USIB entities during a week to see dozens more instances of duplication, during a year to see hundreds. Duplication is a form of waste in federal spending. The new realities of the federal budget leave very little room for waste.
But, for the sake of conversation, let's be taken in by CUSIB's claim that surrogate stations report only about the target country, and VOA reports only about the rest of the world. Does this mean that there is one audience interested only in the former, and another only in the latter? Audience research amply demonstrates what should be obvious: no. Audiences want to know both what is happening in their own countries and in the rest of the world. And this means that, if there is no duplication, audiences would have to put up with the inconvenience of tuning to two US international stations, different times, different frequency, to get all the news. But, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, there is duplication, so audiences in many countries can tune to VOA to get all the news from one station. The USIB news service would be better, however, if the surrogates' and VOA's reporting were smushed together into one handy media outlet.
In the internecine conflict among the USIB entities, CUSIB seems to be pro-surrogate and anti-VOA. It damns VOA with incomplete descriptions. "VOA Cantonese, Mandarin and Tibetan services provide news and opinions from the United States as mandated by the U.S. Congress in the Voice of America Charter." This conveniently omits the 800-pound gorilla, which is that VOA Mandarin and Tibetan have broadcast a great deal of news about their target countries, and were doing so even before RFA was a gleam in the eye of those who precipitated the false premise that VOA was not providing such news.
"VOA cannot be a successful surrogate broadcaster." VOA is a surrogate broadcaster, and has been for decades. It provides news about its target countries that is not being provided by its target countries' media. This includes to Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Venezuela, and other countries where there is no nominally surrogate USIB entity (yet).
"Voice of America’s identity and success abroad are tied to being identified with the United States." Actually, VOA's success abroad comes from providing credible news. "Being identified with the United States" can sometimes be a strain on that credibility. So, gee, thanks, CUSIB, for pointing this out.
Given the USIB has the largest budget of any many-language international broadcasting service, then it can be "BBC like" by having the largest audience. CUSIB, BBG Watch, and fellow travelers want to Keep Everything The Same As Before, and that includes keeping USIB in the second tier, allowing BBC to bask alone at the top, even though the BBC has a smaller budget for international broadcasting. I will never be satisfied with this state of affairs.
USIB should aspire to compete with the BBC. It can do so only by consolidating its resources into one corporation, with a single, powerful, memorable, global brand. It must have an unambiguous commitment to independent, credible journalism, leaving public diplomacy to the public diplomacy branches and bureaus in Foggy Bottom. And just as the BBC world services derive advantages from working with the domestic BBC (and vice versa), so, too, should USIB partner with US domestic media.
For one example of the benefits of consolidation, consider the recent Alhurra video of the car chase near the US Capitol. It was widely used by media in the US and throughout the world. This generated great publicity for Alhurra, but people were wondering: who is Alhurra? If USIB had one strong brand, Americans would probably be more familiar with that brand and the work it does. And all of USIB, all around the world, would have benefited from that publicity.