by The Federalist
We now have a new Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) press release dated June 19, 2013:
One can accept these figures from the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and Gallup (five-year $50 million contract, which at least one BBG member wants to end because it is outrageously expensive and Gallup has been accused of overcharging other federal agencies) and not question why and how a new audience in Latin America has been found, why it was not counted before, and whether or not surveying methodology has been adjusted to make IBB bureaucrats, who have not increased the audience between 2008 and 2012, look good.
Or one can look at completely objective social media metrics from completely neutral Facebook and YouTube. You can’t adjust these figures or make changes in audience survey methodology with or without Gallup. They are what they are.
These latter figures tell a devastating story about the failure of IBB strategic planners, bureaucrats, and their strategic plan — the failure they have been trying to hide from American taxpayers and Congress. You can’t do funny things with Facebook and YouTube metrics. We’ve included some of them at the end of this commentary and in our special insert which shows how Russia Today and Al Jazeera completely demolished today (Monday) VOA English in online audience reach and engagement on the Edward Snowden story.
But, there is one thing the agency finally acknowledges in its press release: whatever positives there are to be had in the place are because of the employees and in spite of the machinations from the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.
The agency’s employees gamely make an effort to keep the agency from going completely off the radar. It is an effort loaded with adversity: from being under-resourced, under-staffed and targeted for further cuts and reductions. It is an effort that is daily undermined by working in an agency with the worst of the worst reputations in the Federal Government, as documented year after year by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in their Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
[Note: And while we’re on this subject, how many times has the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) tried to put the axe to the Voice of America (VOA) Turkish Service? Answer: plenty of times. Without the Turkish Service, VOA coverage of recent events in Turkey would be practically nonexistent. Add to that the blindness of the IBB to Turkey’s strategic position geographically, historically and politically at the crossroads between the Arab/Muslim world and the West. Turn your back on Turkey at your own risk, IBB.]
The latest spy scandal involving a former NSA employee Edward Snowden is the latest example where VOA English news coverage does not even come anywhere close in social media outreach to the coverage provided by Russia Today and Al Jazeera. VOA English did not have a video report on YouTube today on Snowden’s travels. Russia Today did. It already had 3,697 views, 374 “Votes Up,” 3 “Votes Down” and 554 Comments.
Al Jazeera also posted a YouTube video on the U.S. spy scandal. It had 301+ views.
Obama: US Using All Legal Channels to Capture Snowden – VOA News – Facebook Recommend 1, Tweets 4, Comments 0
US Accuses China of Letting Snowden Flee – VOA News – Facebook Likes 1, Tweets 8, Comments 0.
SCMP: Snowden Says He Took Job for Access to NSA Programs – Reuters – Facebook Likes 3, Tweets 8, Comments 0.
Alleged NSA Snooping Target is One of China’s Internet Hubs – Reuters – Facebook Likes 2, Tweets 4, Comments 0.
Compare VOA’s digital social media outreach on this story with Russia Today’s news coverage today.
Snowden’s plane leaves Moscow, NSA leaker not seen aboard – Russia Today with Video – Facebook Likes 2,600, Tweets 783, Comments 403.
‘Who betrayed whom?’ Ecuador considers Snowden’s asylum, dubs persecution ‘paradoxical’ – Russia Today with Video – Facebook Likes 3,000, Tweets 412, Comments 118.
White House: Snowden still in Russia – Russia Today – Facebook Likes 744, Tweets 258, Comments 242.
Assange reveals details of ‘Snowden Op’, slams US ‘war on whistleblowers’ – Russia Today – Facebook Likes 2,700, Tweets 298, Comments 84.
Snowden healthy and safe, says Assange – Al Jazeera – Facebook Likes 190, Tweets 171, Comments 40.
Edward Snowden ‘likely to have left Russia’ – Al Jazeera with Video – Facebook Likes 498, Tweets 228, Comments 78.
When numbers of Facebook Likes, Tweets and Comments are added, Social Media Scores are:
Voice of America English – 32
Al Jazeera English – 1,205
Russia Today English – 11,642
The ultimate irony is that Russia Today and Al Jazeera beat VOA English many times over in reporting on statements from President Obama and other U.S. Administration officials on the Snowden spy case.
These Third Floor actions undermine the ability of the agency to carry out its mission and have that mission be effective with a substantial portion of the world’s population.
That is the key: substantial.
203-million out of a global population of 7-BILLION is barely keeping hope alive.
Any time the agency troops out numbers it becomes our job to put those numbers into a context for people to understand.
The first thing is proportion – which we point out in balancing the claimed audience against the total global population.
Another thing to consider is breaking the agency’s numbers down by the total number of language services (around 40 in VOA alone) to try to gauge an average.
In addition, you also use proportion to gauge audience numbers juxtaposed to the size of the overall population in a specific target area.
For example, how do the agency’s audience numbers shape up in places like China, Iran and Russia when compared to the total population in these countries?
Another critical determinant would be what we like to call “terms and conditions of service:” namely, how do the numbers break down between radio, television, Internet and wireless services?
Here’s another one: how does the agency compare with international broadcasting heavyweights?
Not necessarily last and definitely not least, you need to see the agency’s survey questionnaires and how the agency groups responses. We’ve dealt with this at length in other commentaries.
To use a brief example, there could be a wide range of responses that the agency would consider positives, such as viewing or listening to agency programs one day a week to every day of the week. The agency could lump the aggregate of positives to produce an inflated percentage and pass that off as its audience penetration.
The agency could also purloin the projected audience numbers of a station on which it has placed its programs and use those numbers as its own.
So many ways to parse data and mold it to be whatever you want it to be.
But the elephant in the room is always going to be that 7-BILLION global population number. And next to that would be the numbers other international broadcasters are bringing in and how much money they are spending to bring in those numbers.
At present, the agency spends around $700-million dollars annually for its operations. What we look at is the following: this agency has been around for 70 years. Is this all the agency can deliver in terms of audience? What is it doing to lose its core audiences? What is the proportion of audience gain to that of audience loss when the agency cuts programs, language services? What percentage of increase over the current agency budget would be needed to make serious inroads with global audiences?
[That kind of serious, deep pockets money isn’t there, folks.]
Cresting over 200-million in weekly audience IF (and we really mean IF) these numbers are accurate, still means the peak number of global population is still running away from the agency’s efforts to make substantial, strategic inroads with global publics.
Should the IBB succeed in making the cuts to its core audiences as it proposes in its FY2014 budget, the likelihood is that these small gains will evaporate. That is perhaps the most likely scenario.
Finally, we note the agency claim that
“Results from Gallup World Poll surveys in 16 Latin American countries from September through December 2012 estimate the combined weekly audience for VOA Spanish content at 26.7 million. The figure includes a weekly audience of 18.7 million on television, 16.2 million on radio, and 8.3 million on the Internet, including use of syndicated or reproduced content.”
The agency does not explain (as it leaves many things unexplained) what it means by “syndicated and reproduced content.”
We recall some years ago a story making the rounds in the Cohen Building that the IBB tried to pass off syndicated entertainment programs as “news” in its Spanish language programming to Latin America.
We wonder if that ploy is in play again this time. If it is, that means the agency is off its core mission, “to be a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” and other provisions spelled out in the VOA Charter.