Broadcasting Board of Governors "forges ahead with China strategy" by maintaining the status quo.

Posted: 22 Apr 2012   Print   Send a link
Broadcasting Board of Governors press release, 20 Apr 2012: "The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) today announced a renewed strategy for broadcasting to China that will be reflected in the ongoing dialogue with Congress about the Agency’s proposed FY 2013 budget. 'China’s highly competitive media market and its government’s aggressive jamming of BBG content are long-standing challenges,' said BBG board member Michael Meehan. 'Beijing blocks media of many kinds and aggressively stifles free expression, especially in regions where dissent continues to arise in the open, such as Tibet. While the Board understands the reality of the current budget environment, it also perceives a pressing need for the news and information that we provide to be seen and heard across China and Tibet.' In response to inquiries from Congress and other stake-holders, the Agency is developing alternatives that take into account the roles of Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) Tibetan Radio, along with VOA Cantonese TV programming and VOA satellite TV capability in China. At the April meeting of the BBG Strategy and Budget Committee, the Board asked that key senior staff form a working group to devise a holistic solution for reaching audiences throughout China, including Tibet."

Committee for US International Broadcasting press release, 21 Apr 2012: "The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) has been vindicated by the action of Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) who approved a plan to restore funding in the FY 2013 budget request that the BBG proposed to cut earlier this year for U.S. international broadcasting to China and Tibet. CUSIB applauds efforts by its members to bring this important issue to the attention of the American public. We are also deeply grateful to Mrs. Annette Lantos, a Holocaust survivor and human rights campaigner, who made a powerful plea to the Broadcasting Board of Governors in defense of Voice of America programs to China, Tibet, and Russia. CUSIB also thanks its Advisory Board members Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, and Jing Zhang, founder and president of Women’s Rights in China, for their efforts to show how VOA and Radio Free Asia (RFA) radio and television broadcasts help women in China who are victims of human rights abuses."

CUSIB is justified in taking credit for the preservation of the VOA Mandarin and Tibetan radio services. Its efforts seem to have brought pressure on the BBG to delay its previous decision about broadcasting to China and Tibet.

The victory, however, is pyrrhic. It is very difficult to get reliable news out of China and Tibet, and to get that news back into China and Tibet. Furthermore, most Chinese have hundreds channels of entertainment and information via video and internet media. In this challenging environment, US international broadcasting is attempting to succeed with two entities that split scarce money, resources, and talent, while duplicating their efforts.

Just three days ago, in this website, we saw an example of this duplication. RFA Tibetan and VOA Tibetan both sent people to shoot video of the Dalai Lama's visit to the United States. In San Diego, "[a]mong the 50 or more media members waiting to cover the talk were Tibetan-born, Washington, D.C.-based reporters for the Voice of America's Tibetan Service and Radio Free Asia." That video was used for RFA's and VOA's separate Tibetan broadcasts and websites.

The Obama Administration has announced its intention to reduce duplication in the US government. The pervasive duplication in US international broadcasting being such an obvious target, it is only a matter of time before before the BBG comes under the scrutiny of the OMB. The BBG, however, did not create the duplication. Congress did, most egregiously in 1994 by establishing Radio Free Asia based on the entirely false premise that VOA did not broadcast news about its target countries. (They somehow forgot VOA's extensive coverage of the Tiananmen Square protests, just five years earlier.)

The BBG might try to eliminate the duplication by ordering the USIB entities to adhere to their oft-stated but mostly unobserved mandates. The Radio Free stations would broadcast news about the target countries. VOA would broadcast US and general world news -- and lose most of its audience, because people mostly want to hear about what's happening in their own countries. In the competitive global media environment, however, audiences will not put up with the inconvenience of having to tune to two US broadcasting services to get complete news coverage. They will not pay this price to keep the USIB entities intact.

No matter how you slice or dice the "many brands" strategy of US international broadcasting, the outcome is unsatisfactory, both for the audiences and for the US taxpayers.

The Board has "asked that key senior staff form a working group to devise a holistic solution for reaching audiences throughout China, including Tibet." They haven't asked for this already? In any case, I, as non-key junior staff, formed a working group of one, mostly working on the Metro during my commute home, resulting in this holistic strategy for US broadcasting to China, published in May 2011 by the Public Diplomacy Council.