Government-funded international broadcasting has been the subject of recent intense public debate. While many believe that international broadcasting is one of the strongest and most important instruments of American foreign policy, others criticize it as a Cold War relic that should be dramatically downscaled or even eliminated.(1)
U.S. nonmilitary overseas broadcasting is currently provided by several entities. Among the most prominent are the television and radio services of the United States Information Agency's (USIA's) Bureau of Broadcasting, which accounts for about a third of USIA's entire $1.2 billion budget. The bureau's key components include the Worldnet Television and Film Service, the Voice of America's worldwide radio programming, and the television and radio broadcasting services to Cuba (Radio/TV Marti). The administration's request for USIA's fiscal year 1994 budget also included funds for the creation of a new Asian Democracy Radio service, designed to provide surrogate broadcasting to China and other closed countries in Asia.
USIA has not been the only player in this broadcasting arena. There are also two major surrogate radio broadcasting entities--Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty--which have been overseen by the congressionally mandated independent Board for International Broadcasting. Headquartered in Munich, Germany, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty operate with a budget of approximately $220 million a year.
Post-Cold War foreign policy alone dictates a fundamental reassessment of the need to maintain separate broadcasting services. Resource constraints further underscore the importance of this reassessment. Significant savings are to be realized from the consolidation of these broadcast services within USIA. The savings would be generated primarily from reducing the amount of international broadcast programming; eliminating duplicative administrative functions and their associated costs; and optimizing the use of global technical assets, including facilities, transmitters, and frequencies. President Clinton has already approved such a consolidation and reorganization of U.S. international broadcasting, but this approach has not yet been enacted into law as of this date.
Within the framework of this consolidation, USIA should continue to assess the allocation of its broadcasting resources in light of the revolutionary changes in the international security arena and the effect that television has had on international affairs worldwide. The importance of the following trends in the current communications environment should be recognized:
--- The traditional medium of international broadcasting--direct broadcasting by shortwave--will continue to be an important medium in certain media-deprived areas of the world. In other areas, however, it is already declining in importance as television, FM, and medium- wave (AM) have become more prevalent technologies.
--- Television has become widely recognized as the principal source of news, information, and entertainment throughout most of the world. It is no longer available only to foreign elites. Even Burmese guerrillas are watching MTV in their secluded jungle outposts.(2) In fact, "the same motives that inspired national governments to create shortwave radio stations now inspire them to send television broadcasts via international satellites."(3)
--- As foreign audiences become more diverse, U.S. broadcasting policy and programming will be increasingly dependent on thorough media and audience research.
Despite these dramatic changes in the international communications environment, U.S. government non-military broadcasters continue to spend $18 on radio for every dollar they spend on television.(4)
1. Legislation should be enacted to consolidate U.S. international broadcasting under USIA.
Congress should enact the Administration's consolidation plan. The Director of USIA, in conjunction with the Chairman of the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB), should aggressively implement the plan to consolidate U.S. international broadcasting under USIA. Under the plan, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty will be administered by USIA's new International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). In addition, the BIB will be abolished and replaced by an independent bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors within USIA. This board will provide guidance and oversight to USIA's IBB, and be responsible for "assessing the quality, effectiveness, and professional integrity of U.S. surrogate broadcasting."(5)
2. USIA and the Broadcasting Board of Governors should continue to identify other broadcasting consolidation or elimination opportunities.
The director of USIA and the new Broadcasting Board of Governors should continuously assess the requirements for surrogate broadcasting and identify other consolidation opportunities, including the potential addition or deletion of language services. Working with Congress, they should establish language priorities based on U.S. interests, available resources, media research, and alternative technologies.(6) This is particularly important since past efforts to reduce the Voice of America's language services in order to maintain quality within resource constraints have been only minimally successful.
Furthermore, the director and the board should continue to assess, on a regional basis, the media mix that will be most effective in reaching its audience, with a particular emphasis on increasing television usage. They should also increase the bureau's media and audience research activities. Programming and signal delivery decisions should be thoroughly grounded in this type of research.
3. USIA should reallocate broadcasting resources from radio to television.
The International Broadcasting Bureau should continue--and accelerate--its efforts to reprogram resources to those technologies and methods of broadcasting that deliver maximum impact. The bureau director should work with the Broadcasting Board of Governors to develop a strategic plan for the use of U.S. nonmilitary international broadcasting resources. The plan should include a mission and vision for the bureau and lay out a roadmap for international broadcasting in the 21st century. It should take into account current and anticipated technological trends and advances, including the increasing global proliferation of direct satellite capabilities and the potential obsolescence of shortwave radio in all but the remotest locations. The plan must address the allocation of resources between radio and television and should emphasize those areas in which USIA has a qualitative edge over commercially available programming. The integration of the agency's radio and television services, including language staffs, editorial staffs, technicians, and worldwide correspondents, should also be addressed as part of the strategic plan.
While diplomacy was once defined as official state-to-state relations, it has become increasingly important to influence and communicate directly with foreign peoples. Clearly, international broadcasting--and particularly television--will continue to be one of the most effective means of accomplishing and communicating U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives.
Consolidation will bring about significant savings from the current baseline budget. In addition, significant personnel savings will accrue. However, these savings will occur largely from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; since they are an independent grantee organization, their employees are not considered full-time equivalent positions.
1. See U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, Diplomacy in the Information Age, 1993 Report (Washington, D.C., February 1993), which voices strong support for broadcasting as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Congressional Budget Office's most recent report went so far as to recommend total elimination of all overseas broadcasting, including closing the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and all broadcast services to Cuba. See Congressional Budget Office, "Chapter 2: Defense and International Discretionary Spending," Reducing the Deficit, February 1993, pp. 132-133.
2. Brauchli, Marcus W., "Star Struck: A Satellite TV System is Quickly Moving Asia into the Global Village," Wall Street Journal (May 10, 1993), p. A1.
3. Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, USIA: New Directions for a New Era (Washington, D.C.: School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, March 1993), p. 27.
4. United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, p. 42.
5. Memorandum from the Director, Office of Management and Budget and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs to the Secretary of State; the Director, United States Information Agency; and the Chairman, Board of International Broadcasting; June 1993.
6. U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, p. 42.
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