Broadcasting Board of Governors Initiatives: Outreach to Foreign Muslim Audiences
Overview. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) promotes freedom and democracy and seeks to enhance understanding through the broadcast of accurate, objective news and information about America and the world to foreign audiences. Since September 11, this mission has become more critical in the Muslim world and BBG programming has expanded accordingly. The result of BBG efforts, detailed below, has been to boost audiences in Muslim majority countries from under 15 million five years ago to over 60 million weekly today.
Four of the five broadcast entities under the supervision of the Board – the Voice of America, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia – provide programming for Muslim audiences. From 24-hour broadcasting to large Muslim populations in the Middle East and South Asia, to programs heard by smaller Muslim audiences in Thailand, Russia, and Russian-speaking Central Asia, BBG programs are serving Muslim audiences and U.S. foreign policy goals.
In the past five years, a number of new or expanded broadcasts reflect the continued urgency of the broadcast priorities associated with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. For example, the programs of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Radio Sawa and Al Hurra television) are broadcast 24 hours a day in Arabic and reach audiences in 22 countries in the Middle East and Europe. In 2007, the agency charted a dramatic expansion of VOA’s Persian News Network from the previous year, boosting production of original Persian language programming from two to six hours daily, with broadcasting into Iran 24 hours per day, up from only eight hours daily in 2006. “Radio Farda,” a joint VOA and RFE/RL effort that also broadcasts 24/7, rounds out the Persian broadcast strategy by targeting a younger Iranian audience with a mix of music and information programs. Today, the BBG’s Arabic and Persian broadcasts are available 24/7 and reach audiences in the broadcast media they prefer – radio, television, and the Internet.
To reflect the nation’s critical foreign policy priorities since September 11, 2001, BBG resources have also shifted from areas of the world where the local media are increasingly free and strong to the Middle East and Central and South Asia. VOA has similarly reduced its broadcasts to Europe, increasing its focus on Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, and other critical nations. Eighteen of RFE/RL’s broadcast languages, almost two-thirds of the total, are directed to countries or regions where the majority populations are Muslim. RFE/RL now broadcasts to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan; the majority Muslim populations of Kosovo; and Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and the North Caucasus in the Russian Federation.
The BBG’s research indicates that these new programs resonate with audiences and are drawing listeners and viewers, even in environments where listening or seeking access to satellite broadcasts may be illegal. In Iraq, Al Hurra Television’s audience has equaled that of Al Jazeera and competes increasingly well with Al Iraqia, Al Sharqiya, Al Arabiya, and MBC. Telephone surveys conducted in Iran indicate that the BBG’s Persian language programming reaches 25 percent of Iranians on a weekly basis. Research indicates that these new programs have gained respect and trust since their relatively recent inception.
Programming in other key areas of the Muslim world continues to provide relevant news and information to populations who otherwise might not have access to unbiased reporting on key USG policy statements and reporting on local or international news. VOA’s Urdu language service has expanded its broadcasts to Pakistan, and Pashto language broadcasts target the Waziristan region. Both VOA and RFE/RL provide blanket news and information coverage to Afghanistan in the Dari and Pashto languages. Listener rates are up to 69 percent weekly.
New technologies aid the transmission of programming to key audiences, and comprehensive Internet sites are vital to each language service. The Internet offers an exciting transmission opportunity to countries such as Iran, where the BBG’s traditional broadcast technologies are jammed or blocked. Through the use of proxy sites and daily emails of news summaries, VOA Persian and Radio Farda bypass the Iranian government’s censorship tools. Radio Farda has enhanced its website to improve the flow of information to viewers and to increase opportunities for interactivity.
Where Internet access is unfettered, BBG broadcasters are using the web to access audiences that increasingly use the Internet as their information lifeline. VOA’s central English-language Internet site, VOANews.com, routinely carries news reports and special coverage of events relevant to Muslim viewers. For example, the site offered a special report entitled “Exploring Ramadan,” which examined ways that Muslims around the world celebrate Islam’s holiest month, as well as news reports and features from VOA correspondents around the world, audio and video reports focusing on Muslims in America, links to President Bush’s Ramadan greeting, and special reports relevant to Muslims in Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan.
The agency’s broadcast strategy focuses on building program reach and impact within the Islamic world with thematic content, which includes facilitating citizen discourse, engaging the world in conversations about America, and helping audiences understand the principles of democratic societies. Technical aspects emphasize enhanced program delivery and employ modern communication techniques. The rigorous use of research about audience and broadcast environments, more frequent program review and oversight, and more compelling broadcast formats that will resonate in competitive but critical international markets remain crucial to this strategy. Underlying these techniques, the journalistic product and integrity remain the same. BBG broadcasters provide accurate, objective, and comprehensive news and information as mandated under the U.S. International Broadcasting Act. Through the combined skills of its broadcasters, the BBG is securing a public diplomacy strategy that mirrors U.S. national security priorities and focuses on nations that may suffer from, or contribute to, the growth of terrorism.
During the past year, the agency’s extensive journalistic resources reported on issues such as the Annapolis Peace Conference and the upcoming U.S. elections to provide a program perspective that is often lacking in media outlets abroad. BBG correspondents in the United States and around the world contribute to coverage available in 60 languages. Live, simultaneous interpretation of Congressional hearings and of Presidential speeches, such as the State of the Union, allow Muslim audiences to hear both the President's message and the opposing party’s response.
Arabic Broadcasting. To effectively communicate with the large, predominantly young audiences in the Middle East, the BBG launched Radio Sawa, a 24/7 network of stations specifically designed to reach the large segment of the Arabic-speaking population under the age of 35. Radio Sawa went on the air in March 2002, quickly attracting and sustaining a loyal audience throughout the Middle East as new transmission sites were added throughout the region. In 2007, Radio Sawa continued to broadcast accurate, authoritative, comprehensive, and timely news about the Middle East, the United States, and the world. In addition to 325 newscasts per week, Radio Sawa offers discussion and informational programs such as the popular "Sawa Chat" interactive feature and the "Free Zone," a weekly review and discussion of democracy and freedom as they relate specifically to the Middle East. Feature programs encouraged discussion of key social and political issues in a manner very different from indigenous Arab media.
Radio Sawa broadcasts on FM in Morocco (Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Meknes, Marrakesh, Agadir, and Fes), Jordan (Amman and Ajlun), the Palestinian Territories (Ramallah and Jenin), Kuwait (Kuwait City), Bahrain (Manama), Qatar (Doha), U.A.E. (Abu Dhabi and Dubai), Iraq (Baghdad, Nasiriya, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Sulimaniya, Amara, Najaf, Samawa, and Erbil), Lebanon (Beirut, North Lebanon, South Lebanon, and Bekaa Valley), and Djibouti.
Radio Sawa expanded its FM coverage in 2007 by adding its first FM transmitter in Khartoum, and plans to further expand its FM coverage throughout Sudan. Radio Sawa broadcasts on medium wave to Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and throughout Sudan.
Building on the success of Radio Sawa, the BBG launched Al Hurra Television on February 14, 2004, covering 22 countries in the Middle East via the same satellites used by major indigenous Arabic channels. In the four years Al Hurra has been broadcasting 24/7, it has provided in-depth coverage of historic events, such as the elections in Morocco and the renewed efforts to begin the Middle East peace process. Al Hurra was a consistent leader analyzing and reporting on democratic trends in the Middle East. Through objective and accurate reporting, Al Hurra has been an example of a free press to the region and has become a trusted source of news for its estimated 20 million weekly viewers.
Al Hurra also gives its audience insights into life in America and the American system of government. During both the United States midterm elections in 2006 and the road to the 2008 presidential elections, Al Hurra has provided daily coverage of the candidates and the issues that impact United States elections. Broad election coverage provided an opportunity to showcase the political institutions of the United States.
Al Hurra carried extensive live news coverage of events and speeches by President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, and members of Congress. Additionally, Al Hurra has reporters that cover the White House, Congress, State Department, and the Pentagon. Al Hurra's current affairs programs, such as Inside Washington, take viewers behind the scenes of the political process in Washington with guests such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and Representatives Howard Berman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Peter Hoekstra. The network also included a series of reports within its newscasts examining Islam in America.
Al Hurra produces programs to provide a forum for discussion on sensitive issues such as women’s rights and human rights. Current affairs programs, such as Equality, are unique in the region's media. Hosted by Saudi journalist Nadine Al-Bdair, the program addresses women’s rights and tackles subjects such as young girls being forced into marriage. There has been positive feedback on this program and others, praising the programs’ courageousness, while others condemn Al Hurra for raising these topics.
In 2007, Al Hurra launched a new program bringing together four women to discuss social and political issues that are largely regarded as taboo in the region. Each of the hosts brings a different perspective when they address issues such as sexual harassment, women in prison, discrimination of women, the psychological impact on women who marry at an early age, and domestic violence against women. Al Hurra also broadcasts Eye on Democracy, which focuses on democratic efforts throughout the Middle East.
Throughout its four-year history, Al Hurra has provided a forum for discussion of important topics by a wide variety of experts including the all-important voices of moderation. Al Hurra's talk shows, roundtables, and documentaries have routinely tackled vital topics that are taboo on many other stations in the region, including the struggle for human rights, the position of women in Arab society, religious freedom, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression.
Radio Sawa and Al Hurra Television now reach a total audience of 35 million adults 15 and older, according to international research firms such as ACNielsen and Ipsos. The surveys show that despite high levels of anti-American sentiment throughout the region, both Al Hurra and Radio Sawa are regarded as credible sources of news and information by their audiences.
Al Hurra Iraq, a special television stream containing more concentrated news and information to and about Iraq, began broadcasting in April 2004. Through satellite and terrestrial broadcasting in Iraq, Al Hurra has gained a foothold in one of the most competitive TV marketplaces in the world. Al Hurra's goal is to help its viewers make educated and informed decisions about political, social, and economic events affecting their lives. During the historic elections in Iraq, Al Hurra produced and broadcast the first televised electoral debate in Iraq's history, featuring six candidates representing the major political parties. This historic debate brought about a candid discussion among the candidates and provided a forum for viewers to compare the various candidates.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) continues to provide the Iraqi people with breaking news and in-depth coverage of developments in Iraq and the Middle East. Because RFI is a surrogate broadcaster, the Iraqi people see it as “their radio” but with the reliability and reputation of a top-notch western operation. RFI appeals to a wide spectrum of listeners in Iraq by covering the most significant political issues in the country, including daily coverage of the activities of the Iraqi Cabinet and Parliament. RFI’s extensive network of freelance reporters, based in the Baghdad bureau, risk their lives to bring objective news to their compatriots. Two Radio Free Iraq correspondents, Khamail Khalaf and Nazar Abdulwahid Al-Radhi, were slain; a third, Jumana Al-Obaidi, was kidnapped and held for nearly two weeks before being released (her driver was shot and killed during the kidnapping). A September survey showed listening rates for RFI at a weekly level of 16.6 percent and revealed widespread appreciation of RFI’s distinctly Iraqi sound.
This past year, Radio Free Iraq focused on subjects such as the campaign by Iraqi and coalition forces to make the city of Baghdad more secure, the mortar attack on the joint press conference by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Baghdad, and the December 16 Turkish military raid on KGK/PKK targets in Northern Iraq. RFI also broadcast interviews with a host of high-profile figures, including U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubay’i, and Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashadani.
In June, RFE/RL analysts Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo released Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War of Images and Ideas, a 78-page report that provided an in-depth analysis of the media efforts of Sunni insurgents who are responsible for the majority of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq. On June 12, Kimmage testified before an open hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the findings of the report.
Arabic in Europe. Since August 2006, Al Hurra Europe has brought the best programs of Al Hurra and Al Hurra-Iraq to the Arabic-speaking population in Europe. Al Hurra Europe can be seen on the Hotbird satellite system that reaches all of Europe.
Kurdish. Broadcasting four hours of daily radio programming, VOA's Kurdish Service remains highly popular among Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. According to surveys conducted by InterMedia Research, VOA occupies a unique position among Iraqi Kurds. It is the only major international broadcaster offering programs in the Kurdish language. VOA Kurdish focuses on the Iraqi scene through a network of stringers, with special programs and call-in shows devoted to combating extremism inside the country and the surrounding region. Special coverage highlighted the debate among Kurds on the role of Islam in the regional and national constitutions of Iraq. Some of the topics discussed in special programming by VOA Kurdish during the last year included the observance of Muslim holidays in the United States, Muslim students in U.S. colleges, and the role of religion in U.S. politics.
Iran. As noted above, broadcasting to Iran remains a key BBG priority. In 2007, VOA’s Persian Service, once part of VOA’s West and South Asia Division, became a separate unit and changed its name to the “Persian News Network” (PNN) to reflect this priority.
PNN’s seven-hour program block opens with Today in Washington, a brief look at the latest news developments in Washington, as well as the content of PNN’s upcoming programs. Other original programming includes:
· Today’s Woman, PNN’s newest program made its debut on September 27. The one-hour program features influential women from around the world discussing such topics as social issues, medical themes, human rights, the law, sports, and business.
· News and Views, PNN’s flagship news program, is now two hours in length, and features live interviews and news coverage of the latest headlines from Washington, DC, Iran, and across the globe.
· Roundtable with You is a talk show with expert guests who discuss current events, politics, popular culture, and global health. Viewers and listeners from Iran and around the world participate in the show via phone calls and e-mails.
· Late Edition begins with a close look at the day’s top story. This program is targeted to a younger demographic and features segments on Iran’s student movement, health, technology, sports, entertainment, and culture.
· NewsTalk is a new journalists’ roundtable discussion program that features an examination of the day’s top stories and an in-depth look at issues relating to Iran.
This year, Persian television featured an impressive array of prominent guests including former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor James Jeffrey, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilizad, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, several U.S. senators and representatives, and Christine Levinson, wife of ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since March 2007.
Other programs included annual live coverage of the President’s State of the Union address with simultaneous Farsi translation and post speech analysis, live coverage of the opening of the UN General Assembly in September, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN coupled with a special live hour of analysis and coverage, President Bush’s June visit to the Islamic Center of Washington in commemoration of its 50th anniversary, live coverage from President Bush’s May trip to Latin America, live coverage of an IAEA meeting in Vienna on Iran’s nuclear program, and coverage of Commander of the Multinational Forces-Iraq, General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker during their September testimony to Congress. VOA’s Persian News Network has also covered Senate and House hearings on Iran and Iraq.
VOA devotes significant effort to hard-hitting topics on the role of religion in society, including the Iranian regime's abuse of Islam to solidify its control of power, to justify the oppression of women, and to limit free speech, free association, and freedom of religion. These stories generated considerable email response and other feedback from Iran, and from Persian-speaking populations in Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Europe, and the United States.
Radio Farda, a joint service of RFE/RL and VOA, continued to broadcast to Iran 24 hours a day in 2007. As Radio Farda has matured, and as funding has supported the addition of larger blocks of news and information, it has done so in its tradition as a "surrogate" broadcaster, presenting news about the country to which it broadcasts. Current broadcasts include over eight hours of news and information programming daily. Popular Persian and western music draws in the younger audience. Radio Farda finds direct sources of information within Iran in spite of the challenging environment for journalism.
The people of Iran turned to Radio Farda and its website for round-the-clock breaking news on stories of global interest, such as the ongoing standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, the seizure and release of several British sailors, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's trip to New York, the arrest of three Iranian-Americans visiting Iran and court proceedings against a fourth who worked as a Radio Farda reporter. Their stories included the arrest of a prominent union leader and several women’s rights activists; riots sparked by the imposition of gasoline rationing in May 2007; and the mistreatment of Azeri, Kurdish, Ahvazi Arab, and other ethnic minority populations of Iran. To enhance its coverage, Radio Farda has doubled the length of its main evening newscast to one hour and launched a revamped, news-oriented website.
Radio Farda reaches significant audiences in Iran, in spite of the government’s consistent jamming. According to the last InterMedia survey conducted in November 2006, Radio Farda’s weekly reach measured 10.3 percent – the highest weekly reach rate of any international radio broadcaster, and more than double that of the BBC's Persian service. Among a key target group, youth under 30, Farda's weekly reach was 14.8 percent.
Utilizing new resources provided by the Congress, Radio Farda augmented its website to expand its content, providing more stories to read, more images to view, and more opportunities to comment on news and information. It now receives over five million page views each month, despite the Iranian government’s efforts to block it. Radio Farda's website is highly interactive, with features such as "Most Popular and Most Emailed Stories" and "Farda Club” for moderated discussions and blogsites.
Afghanistan. After September 11, 2001, the BBG increased radio broadcasting to Afghanistan pursuant to the Radio Free Afghanistan Act, signed into law in March 2002. Together, RFE/RL and VOA provide a 24-hour daily radio stream in the Dari and Pashto languages that has a vast audience reach in Afghanistan.
VOA’s Radio Ashna (Friend) continued to build on its reputation as a source of accurate and credible news for listeners in Afghanistan. The seamless daily 12-hour program includes daily call-in shows and in-country reporting from approximately 30 stringers. Program topics include reconstruction, security, continuing violence, disarmament, international counterterrorism efforts, drug trafficking, and human rights.
VOA continues to rank as one of the top three international broadcasters in Afghanistan. The most recent survey shows that VOA’s one-hour daily TV Ashna program in Dari and Pashto has become widely popular. The viewership rate increased from 9 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in 2007.
VOA’s TV Ashna has taken advantage of Washington’s large Islamic community to produce a number of original reports for Afghanistan and other Services in the South Asian Division. For example, the program followed Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim-American member of Congress, taking the oath of office using a Koran owned by Thomas Jefferson, and his activities during his first year in the House of Representatives. It also covered the opening of a new Islamic Center in Prince William County in Virginia, and obtained interviews with Governor Tim Kaine, Senators John Warner and Jim Webb, and Representative Tom Davis, who attended the center’s ribbon cutting. Viewers were taken inside an Islamic Academy in Virginia to view how education and Muslim tradition coexist in the United States. Other coverage included an exclusive interview with President Karzai of Afghanistan.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan has a weekly reach of 64.3 percent in the country, according to preliminary data from an August InterMedia survey. Afghanistan is the only country in the RFE/RL broadcast region where a USG-funded broadcaster is the dominant media outlet.
Radio Free Afghanistan delivers breaking news, in-depth reporting, and analysis to the people of Afghanistan on the struggles their young democracy faces, including a resurgent Taliban. With its dual-language programming and its tone of moderation, Radio Free Afghanistan works to promote national unity and religious tolerance. In January, a would-be suicide bomber credited a Radio Free Afghanistan series on suicide bombings with changing his mind about carrying out his deadly mission.
Reports from Washington, Prague, and Kabul, exclusive interviews and roundtables, and ongoing coverage of the efforts by Coalition Forces to subdue the insurgency made up the program offerings. In 2007, Radio Free Afghanistan celebrated its fifth anniversary. Throughout the year it provided its listeners with coverage of important stories such as the Taliban’s execution of journalist Adjmal Naqshbandi, the accidental killing of 25 civilians by NATO air strikes in June, the Taliban’s seizure of 23 Korean hostages and the negotiated release of the 21 who survived, the death of former Afghan king Mohammad Zahir Shah, the lives of Afghan expatriates living in Saudi Arabia, the massive bomb attack that took place in Baghlan province on November 6, the assassination of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, and the recapture by NATO and Afghan forces of the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan. In addition, Radio Free Afghanistan uses the hundreds of letters it receives from listeners to find stories that deserve attention and to spur the government to act on them.
Pakistan. The Pakistani government’s “state of emergency” crackdown on private media on November 3, 2007 darkened two VOA television affiliates in the country, foremost among them the privately-owned cable news operation GEO TV, which had carried VOA’s 30-minute news and information Urdu-language, Beyond the Headlines. In response, VOA immediately stepped up its radio news and information programming in Urdu by shifting its TV staff to expand live daily radio news programming from five to 12.5 hours. Domestic TV stations currently face restrictions on the use of foreign broadcast material. However, VOA is aggressively working to regain access to the Pakistani TV Market with affiliates GEO and Aaj.
In covering the crisis, and U.S. and world reaction, the Urdu Service engaged its network of stringers in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi, and Lahore, and interviewed government officials and Pakistani opposition figures, such as former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. The Service also provided timely, in-depth coverage of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, with stringers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad providing live coverage of events. One stringer in Islamabad was among a group of journalists who spoke with Benazir Bhutto just hours before her assassination, between her meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and her final campaign rally.
Since VOA introduced its youth-oriented, 12/7 radio station called Radio Aap ki Dunyaa (Your World) in 2004, the station has continued to attract a growing number of listeners with its contemporary format that includes news, information, roundtable discussions, call-in shows, interviews, features, and music. The programs target Pakistani listeners between the ages of 15 and 39, which account for some 60 million of Pakistan's 150 million residents, as well as millions more potential listeners in India, the Gulf, and the Diaspora. To increase Radio Aap ki Dunyaa's reach, VOA introduced a bilingual web page that offers live audio streaming of news and entertainment programming.
The Pakistan/Afghanistan Border Region. VOA’s Deewa Radio broadcasts reports, interviews, and call-in shows on events and issues about political Islam in and outside of the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to Muslim audiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Scholars and leaders of religious parties in Pakistan participate in call-in shows to answer questions from listeners on their role in the local political scene.
Deewa Radio presented American views to people living in the target broadcast region. After the assassination of Pakistan’s opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the worsening political crisis, the Service obtained reactions from former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin, CSIS Director of South Asia Programs Teresita Schaffer, UNHR representative Hina Jilani, U.S.-based Pakistani analyst Michael Shank, and other prominent analysts.
Through interviews with religious and secular leaders, the station addressed critical issues such as terrorism, suicide attacks, religious extremism, the madrassa and its syllabus, the role of women in society, and the political future of the region. Noted personalities interviewed by Deewa included former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan (leader of Tehrik Insaf party), Asfandyar wali Khan (Pashtun nationalist), Mehmood Khan Achakzai (nationalist leader), Farooq Laghari (former Pakistan president), sitting and former federal ministers Aftab Sherpao, Iftikhar Gilani, Mohammad Ali Durrani, Amir Muqam Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and Saleem Saifullah; as well as a number of provincial ministers in NWFP and Balochistan province.
India. With a Muslim population numbering close to 150 million, India has the second largest Muslim population after Indonesia. VOA’s Hindi Service reaches this audience, with discussions about events in Pakistan and Kashmir, the recent India-Pakistan peace initiatives, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, developments in Afghanistan, and the Iraq war. Hindi also offered exclusive TV interviews with USG senior officials, dozens of U.S. senators and representatives, the late Benazir Bhutto, and Muslim-American leaders and scholars. Topics addressed included developments in the region and India's relations with Iran, Pakistan, and the United States.
Bangladesh. Bangladesh has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. During the past year, VOA Bangla Radio and Television produced numerous features on Muslim youth, including a piece on Hasan Askari, a 20-year old Muslim student from Bangladesh who was honored by the Governor of New York for saving a Jewish youth from a beating during the holiday season in December. VOA Bangla also produced features on Islamic centers in the United States, Ramadan observances, and Eid festivals. Following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Bangla Service interviewed diplomats, scholars, and political analysts in the United States and abroad.
Turkish. As part of the special coverage of the general election in Turkey, VOA’s Turkish Service focused on the role of Islam in Turkish politics under the strictly secular Turkish constitution. Coverage included interviews with U.S. and Turkish officials, members of the U.S Congress, and other experts. VOA Turkish provided extensive coverage in radio and television programs and on the VOA Turkish website on the role of religion in U.S. society.
This year, VOA Turkish also expanded its TV affiliation in Turkey by launching daily live reports for TGRT News TV network, broadcast via web cam. TGRT News, a 24-hour nationwide news network with a weekly audience share of over 30 percent of Turkey's estimated 25 million regular viewers, carries twice-weekly a live, 15-minute news and current affairs program and a weekly 30-minute news and magazine program produced by the VOA Turkish Service. At the request of TGRT, VOA has produced a number of live or pre-recorded special programs on developments in U.S.-Turkish relations and on the U.S. image in the world.
Indonesia. This year, the Indonesian Service produced nearly nine hours of original radio programming per day for over 200 affiliates throughout Indonesia. A new program called Executive Lounge is a daily 30-minute prime-time radio program for Indonesia’s growing numbers of young professionals, and is aired on a new affiliate network, the Trijaya Radio Network. The new lifestyle program Pop Notes is a weekly 60-minute culture program for JakTV (Jakarta) and other regional TV stations. Warung VOA (Café VOA), a weekly 30-minute talk show, airs on JTV (East Java). The Service also developed four new regular short feature segments for Indonesian national TV stations. VOA Indonesian TV programming can now be seen regularly on five of the 11 national stations. In addition, the VOA Indonesian Service produced six special series and special events programs, including reports on the Virginia Tech shootings that claimed one Indonesian victim, reports on illegal arms exports, Indonesian immigrants in the United States, and U.S.-Indonesian military relations, as well as special serial programming for Indonesian Independence Day and Ramadan. The Service continued to develop its website, and sent out both a daily email with headline news and a weekly email-newsletter. VOA Headlines are also available for text message transmission to mobile phones.
Uzbekistan. VOA's daily 30-minute radio broadcasts are carried on short wave, medium wave from Tajikistan, and two FM frequencies in Osh and Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan. The Service’s Exploring America, is a weekly half-hour TV show placed on a satellite network targeting Uzbek-speakers in Afghanistan and all of Central Asia. Two local stations in the Uzbek-speaking areas of Kyrgyzstan carry it live. All broadcasts reach the Ferghana Valley. VOA Uzbek features interviews with various U.S. and international sources discussing critical issues, such as the War on Terror, religious extremism, and U.S.-Uzbek relations. Interviews with Members of Congress and key officials provide a unique perspective of U.S. policymaking. The Service also features reporting on Muslim life in the United States and serves as a window into religious tolerance and understanding in America.
RFE/RL's programming to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan continued despite various forms of harassment and even repression against its correspondents and editors. A former correspondent for, and frequent contributor to, the Uzbek Service was murdered in Kyrgyzstan in October 2007. RFE/RL's Tashkent Bureau remained closed by Uzbek government order, but the Uzbek Service continued to provide news coverage and democracy promotion under harsh conditions reminiscent of the Soviet era. In Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL was able to work with Kyrgyz National Television (KTR) to produce and air local television news.
Azerbaijan. VOA’s Azerbaijani Service provides extensive coverage on Muslims in America. In addition, the Service produces special programs on the occasion of Muslim holidays, featuring messages of congratulation by the President of the United States, administration officials, and Congressional leaders. Since the beginning of 2007, the Azerbaijani broadcasts of VOA and RFE/RL reached radio audiences in and around Baku, the capital, via a local 24/7 dedicated FM frequency. VOA has added two daily five-minute newscasts to its ongoing, daily 30-minute radio program. This programming also reached the Azerbaijani speaking audience in Iran via short wave frequencies. The Service also produces a 15-minute TV news program, which is rebroadcast by Azerbaijan TV network six days per week. VOA Azerbaijani maintains two websites, one in Persian-Arabic script to reach the large Azeri-speaking minority in Iran (estimated at more than 15 million). This year, the Service started to send out daily VOA newsletters in Latin and Arabic-Persian scripts to a number of subscribers via the Internet.
Following changes in rebroadcast partnerships, the weekly listenership of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service declined to 4.9 percent from 7.7 percent in 2006. In 2007, however, the RFE/RL Service and VOA Azerbaijani secured re-broadcasting on a new FM frequency in Baku. Programming remains a mix of newscasts and democracy-related programming on political issues and civil society such as human rights, media rights, minorities, judicial rights, religion, and elections. Social issues of health care, pensions, public welfare, unemployment, and drugs increasingly became programming themes.
Nigeria. VOA reaches a large percentage of the almost 250 million Muslims in Sub-Saharan Africa. One in every five Muslims in the world lives in Africa, and roughly one-third of Sub-Saharan Africa's population is Muslim. VOA’s biggest audience is in Nigeria, with a weekly audience of more than 21 million adults tuning in to its Hausa or English-to-Africa broadcasts – up from 19 million in 2006. Among the primarily Muslim Hausa-speaking population of Nigeria, over 43 percent listen to VOA at least once a week.
In April, VOA’s Central News, Hausa, and English-to-Africa provided on-the-ground coverage of the Nigerian presidential, gubernatorial, national and state assembly elections. VOA Hausa and English-to-Africa broadcasts included live hookups with VOA’s three reporting centers in Nigeria, discussions with reporters and stringers on the scene, and interviews with leading political and election officials. VOA’s Hausa reporter secured an exclusive interview with the winner of the controversial presidential election, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, of the ruling People's Democratic Party, and with opposition candidates. Prior to the elections, VOA Hausa organized two town hall meetings, featuring live panel discussions with politicians, government officials, and leaders of civil society in Kano and in Abuja. Using staff correspondents and 14 stringers throughout Nigeria, Hausa and English-to-Africa Services covered the aftermath of the elections, including violence and complaints of vote rigging.
Somalia and the Horn of Africa. VOA established its Somali Service on February 12, 2007, with an on-air promise to listeners that they would hear the voices of Somalis from all political persuasions and walks of life. What started as a 30-minute broadcast expanded to 60 minutes in July and to two hours in early December. One hour is also repeated for VOA’s FM Horn Afrik affiliate in Mogadishu. Through its shortwave and medium wave transmissions and its network of 12 affiliate FM stations, the Somali Service reaches a large Muslim population in this critical region. VOA’s Somali program is available through rebroadcast by some of the most widely listened-to FM stations in Somalia and the region, including HornAfrik, the network of stations run by Radio Daljir, the SBC in Puntland, and a VOA-leased FM station in Djibouti. HornAfrik’s satellite service also broadcasts VOA Somali programs to the Diaspora throughout Europe. Somali websites worldwide provide links to the VOA Somali Service website.
The expanded VOA Somali broadcast has allowed for more interaction with listeners, more in-depth discussion segments, and more regular features on such topics as reconciliation, democratic ideals, development, health, youth, women’s issues, American life, and Somali culture. After his recent appointment, Transitional Federal Government Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein gave his first broadcast interview to the VOA Somali Service. The Service has also conducted interviews with transitional government President Abdulahi Yusuf and opposition figures such as Islamic Courts leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
VOA’s Amharic Service also covers news developments in Somalia as well as in Ethiopia and the sub-region. The service offers interviews with Horn of Africa newsmakers and U.S. policymakers and experts, as well as interviews with members of the Somali Diaspora, analysis, cultural features, and music.
Bosnia and Herzegovina. VOA broadcasts to Bosnia and Herzegovina include programming targeted to the 49 percent of the population that are Bosnian Muslims. VOA’s Bosnian Service has a 15-minute daily live radio show; a half hour daily live television show (news and current affairs); and a variety of short programs aired by the best rated Bosnian television station, BHT1.
In October 2006, VOA Bosnian launched its interactive program segment in partnership with BHT1, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s public broadcaster. The segment airs each Sunday during BHT1’s primetime news program. Topics range from official Washington policy on Bosnian issues to medicine and technology reports. The Sarajevo-based BHT1 network is internationally funded and is the only station that reaches audiences in both the Bosnian-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska. Programs are also aired by 15 television and 15 radio affiliate stations throughout Bosnia, and are available via satellite.
The Service has worked to promote reconciliation between the three ethnic groups in Bosnia. VOA's news and current affairs programs are tailored to address concerns of the Muslim population in Bosnia, and provide exclusive interviews with Bosnian political and religious leaders.
RFE/RL’s South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service continued to fulfill a unique role in the Balkans with its regional programming. With bureaus in Sarajevo and Pristina, the Service reached Muslim listeners in Kosovo and in Bosnia and Herzegovina with programs that stressed the bonds among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. The Service broadcasts two popular thirty-minute television programs in Bosnia, TV Liberty and Open Parliament.
China. Radio Free Asia (RFA) provides service to Muslim audiences through its Uighur language service launched in December 1998. It is the only international radio service providing impartial news and information in the Uighur language to the potential audience of more than 16 million Uighur Muslims in Western China and Central Eurasia. The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) alone comprises roughly one-sixth of China's territory and is estimated to have more than 10 million Uighur speakers.
Consistent with RFA's mandate, the Uighur service acts as a substitute for indigenous media reporting on local events in the region. The service broadcasts two hours daily, seven days a week, often breaking stories that go unreported by China's state-run media or foreign news organizations. RFA provides a forum for a variety of opinions and voices from within the XUAR with its programs, that include breaking news, analysis, interviews, commentary, a hotline call-in show, a weekly news review, and feature stories.
The Uighur Service news and stories feature important interviews with various U.S. and international sources, including officials, scholars, scientists, artists, historians, educators, and human rights activists, as well as Chinese and Uighur dissidents from all over the world. Programs address pressing issues like China’s relationship with Central Asian countries, democratic development in Central Asia, Uighur history, literature, the arts, human rights, religious freedom, labor issues, official corruption, the environment, Internet control in China, and AIDS and other health issues. Additionally, RFA brings U.S. policy, debate, and Congressional resolutions on China to its listeners via interviews with members of Congress and other policymakers.
RFA's Uighur service website, launched in September 2004, provides continuously updated news in all three writing systems used to convey the Uighur language, Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic. RFA's site is the only non-Chinese Uighur news website and the only Unicode Uighur news website. The site streams the daily RFA broadcast in Uighur and offers ongoing coverage of events in the XUAR in text, image, and video. The archived audio files can be retrieved on a special page or downloaded via podcast. RSS feeds are also available, making it possible for people to automatically update their news readers or web pages with RFA news content.
RFA continues to be confronted with unrelenting jamming of broadcasts and blocking of its website. RFA confronts Chinese censorship by broadcasting on multiple short-wave frequencies and by regularly e-mailing instructions on accessing the banned www.rfa.org through proxy web servers. Despite Chinese censorship and the dangers involved, research indicates that Uighur listeners and web users consider RFA a lifeline in a controlled media environment – a station offering unique content worth taking risks to access.
Transmission. Since September 11, 2001, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has modernized its transmission capabilities, continuing its move from a predominantly shortwave environment to one that uses AM, FM, satellite, and Internet capabilities to reach its audience. By bolstering transmission capabilities to the Muslim world, BBG has improved opportunities to deliver news and information clearly, reliably, and effectively. New transmission capabilities have been added, and assets reallocated from regions of lesser geopolitical importance and from technologies of declining effectiveness.
The BBG has worked to ensure that programming is delivered in the media that are most effective in reaching local populations. In the past year, transmission facilities in Ismaning, Germany and Delano, California were closed to shift available resources to more effective delivery media. Asiasat 3 replaced Asiasat 2 to deliver BBG TV and radio programs to large audiences throughout Asia on this more popular satellite service. An emergency back-up power system was installed at the IBB Djibouti transmitting facility to overcome erratic local electricity supply problems and to ensure more reliable delivery of BBG medium wave programs to audiences in Sudan and Somalia. A new high power leased medium wave transmitting service from the UAE significantly improved VOA radio transmissions to Pakistan. Higher capacity, more flexible, and cost-effective fiber optic circuits replaced satellite channels between the Far East and Washington. These circuits will facilitate video newsgathering in Asia. In the past year, new BBG FM transmitters came on the air in Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and the West Bank/Gaza.
The BBG is currently supporting the construction of a number of additional FM transmitters in various locations and two high power medium wave radio transmitters that should come on the air in the coming year: one for Pashto programming in Afghanistan and one for Radio Farda programs to Iran. On the Internet, the recently launched VOA Daily Download provides a short, lively video feature of current information targeted toward a youthful audience. The use of webchats, blogsites, and other attractive Internet applications have also been expanded as the Internet becomes an increasingly viable information medium in both open and closed societies.
Presenting the United States Point of View through Indigenous Broadcast Media
At the Department of State, the Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Broadcast Services uses television and video products as strategic tools for bringing America's foreign policy message to Middle East and worldwide audiences. A state-of-the-art digital broadcast television facility enables the Department to deliver messages instantly, using the same technology as commercial broadcast television networks. Public Affairs facilitates live and taped interviews with the Secretary of State and other State Department principals to all the major Arab networks such as Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Al Arabiya, Al Iraqiya, Abu Dhabi TV, Dubai Television, Arab Radio and Television Network (ART), Al Hurra, Kuwait TV, Egyptian TV (ETV), and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC). This investment in people and technology was developed to give senior USG officials an opportunity to engage and inform the largest audiences possible about our foreign policy and public diplomacy objectives.
To enhance the capacity of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, the Department of State operates a television studio inside the Embassy. This fully-functioning studio allows senior USG officials to conduct live interviews via satellite with national and international media on a range of topics related to the current situation and future of Iraq, as well as America's role in the broader Middle East.
The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Press & Public Diplomacy Office, through its Arab and Regional Media Unit, has significantly expanded the Department’s outreach to Arab and regional media outlets (i.e. print, broadcast, and web) through a strategy of proactive engagement. Since its creation, it has recorded an ever-increasing number of interviews with Arab and regional media outlets. In 2007, the Arab and Regional Media Unit, together with NEA posts, gave over 1,200 interviews to Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew language media. Many of the broadcasts aired multiple times and were picked up by other regional media outlets and wire services. The Arab and Regional Media Unit has also inaugurated weekly web chats in an effort to utilize new media and reach Arab and regional audiences directly. The new Arabic language web chats allow Arab audiences to interact directly with USG policy makers on topics such as, “What is a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT),” “Muslims and Political Participation in the United States,” and “Solving the Western Sahara Dilemma.”
This capacity was further enhanced by the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs’ creation of Regional Media Hubs in London, Brussels, and Dubai. In these key media markets, spokesmen advocate U.S. policies and actively encourage and facilitate a growing number of USG officials to appear on important Arabic, European, and other international media. For example, between November 2006 and November 2007, the Dubai Hub Director participated in 242 on-air interviews, talk shows, and panel discussions (more than 230 of them in Arabic) with Arab broadcast media, including Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, MBC 1, LBC, Al Hurra, Sharqiyya, Nile TV, BBC Arabic, Radio Sawa, Sawt al Arab, and a number of smaller local and regional stations. The construction of a new broadcast studio at the Brussels Hub, combined with the existing studio used by the London Hub, enables Hub spokesmen and visiting USG officials to quickly reach media and audiences around the world. The London Hub also produces a weekday morning report on the pan-Arab media for readers throughout the USG, matched by the Brussels' Hub morning report on key European media.
A Rapid Response Unit (RRU) monitors and translates major world media in real-time, produces an early morning daily report on stories driving news around the world, and provides language to explain the U.S. position on these issues. It is distributed daily worldwide, to U.S. cabinet and sub-cabinet officials, U.S. ambassadors, public affairs officers, regional combatant commanders, and others across the USG.
Presenting the U.S. Point of View through Internet-based Media
The Department of State directly engages participants in online discussion forums on the Internet through the Digital Outreach Team. The Team participates in discussions of policy issues and related developments on websites in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. Openly representing the State Department, but using the more informal language of the discussion forums, the Team seeks to ensure that the U.S. perspective is heard in cyberspace, providing a counterpoint to extremist ideological arguments and misinformation. Other public diplomacy efforts of the Department of State and other agencies targeted at countering extremist use of the Internet are coordinated through the interagency Counterterrorism Communication Center, chaired by the Bureau of International Information Programs.
The Department has expanded its web presence via the State.gov website and the America.gov website in English, Arabic, Russian, Persian, French, and Spanish. The introduction of multimedia interactive products such as ads, videos, podcasts, web chats, blogging, and other interactive elements widen audience participation. Country-specific websites run by our Embassies overseas provide a wide range of information and advocate U.S. policies to foreign audiences.
In the absence of a U.S. embassy in Iran, the Bureau of International Information Programs manages a Persian-language website directing policy and general information into Iran. The website supports active engagement via web chats, webcasts, and listservs to connect U.S. policymakers and subject-matter experts with Iranian citizens. IIP’s Arabic-language website provides information about U.S. policies, society, and values directly to audiences in the Middle East.
Presenting the U.S. Point of View through U.S. Missions in the Field
The Strategic Speakers Initiative (SSI) identifies, recruits, and programs prominent U.S. experts to engage foreign opinion leaders on key strategic themes such as democracy and rule of law, terrorism and security, energy, the environment, and trade and development. A subset of this program is the Citizen Dialogue Program, in which Muslim-American citizens share their personal stories with fellow Muslim cohorts in strategically important countries, many of whom are not aware of the strength and diversity of Muslim life in America. Such speakers can be deployed rapidly to focus IIP resources where the need is greatest to address the most crucial U.S. policy priorities. Strategic Speaker participants are often part of a bigger public diplomacy package that includes web chats, DVCs, and other outreach.
IIP’s INFOCENTRAL website provides guidance and background information on U.S. policy priorities to U.S. embassies and military commands worldwide.
Major Themes of Biased or False Media Coverage of the United States in Foreign Countries and Actions Taken to Address this Type of Media Coverage.
The Department of State is taking a leading role to counter misinformation and falsehoods about the United States and its policies or intentions. The Department of State’s actions to address these false allegations include:
Potential incentives for and costs associated with encouraging U.S. broadcasters to dub or subtitle into Arabic and other relevant languages their news and public affairs programs broadcast in the Muslim world in order to present those programs to a much broader Muslim audience than is currently reached.
The single greatest incentive for U.S. broadcasters to dub or subtitle their news and public affairs programs would be evidence that there is adequate demand for the programming among the targeted foreign publics. The Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs is working with the Bureau of Public Affairs and other elements within the Department to explore avenues to demonstrate that a potentially profitable market exists for this programming. If data emerges that indicates that this translation makes sense from a business standpoint, we will present this data to broadcasters in an effort to encourage this activity.
Any recommendations the President may have for additional funding and legislation necessary to achieve the objectives of the strategy?
The President's budget request for FY-2009, the FY-2008 appropriation, and the FY-2007 and supplemental request include a number of initiatives that would aid the strategic objectives of U.S. international broadcasting. The FY-2007 supplemental contained $10 million for the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. As part of the Administration's strategy to counter violent extremism, Al Hurra television is launching a signature three-hour daily program to provide additional information about American policies, people, institutions, and perspectives to its audiences across 22 countries in the Middle East. This program capitalizes on Al Hurra's unique perspective in a growing market of over 200 channels, and would provide a format and information mix unavailable in the region today. Programming would focus on the news of the day, compelling social issues, investigative reporting, and a range of information not presented in the region's media.
The FY-2008 appropriation and FY-2009 request provides ongoing support for this new Al Hurra programming effort, increases Al Hurra's newscast capability to 24 hours a day (expanding from the current 16 hour capability), and allows Radio Sawa to grow as a news source in the region. The FY-2008 budget also continues VOA's Somalia program initiative, and maintains program strength in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The FY-2009 Administration budget request includes proposals to continue VOA Somali three-hour daily broadcasts and to launch a “RFE/RL Azerbaijani to Iran” program. Further, our pending legislative request to the Congress to permanently adopt the BBG's pilot program for personal services contracting (PSC) authority, up to a ceiling of 200 PSCs at any given time, would assure the agency the flexibility to meet staffing needs to respond quickly to broadcast requirements.