This section is provided by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)
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 unbiased news, and information about America and the world to foreign audiences. Since September 11, this mission has become more critical among Muslim audiences and BBG programming has expanded accordingly. The result of BBG efforts, detailed below, has been to boost weekly audiences in Muslim-majority countries or regions from under 15 million a week five years ago to over 70 million 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 Muslim audiences in Indonesia, Thailand, Russia, and Russian-speaking Central Asia, BBG programs are serving Muslim audiences and promoting U.S. foreign policy goals.
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 Alhurra Television, are broadcast 24 hours a day in Arabic and reach audiences in 22 countries in the Middle East and Europe. In 2008, Persian News Network broadcast 24 hours per day into Iran, up from only eight daily broadcast hours in 2006. RFE/RL’s Radio Farda also broadcasts 24/7, targeting a younger Iranian audience with a mix of music and information programs. The BBG’s Arabic and Persian 24/7 broadcast products 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’s broadcast resources have 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 reduced its broadcasts to Europe, strengthening 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 broadcasts to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan; as well as the majority Muslim populations of 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. Telephone surveys conducted in Iran indicate that the BBG’s Persian language programming reached 29 percent of Iranians on a weekly basis.
Programming in other key areas with large Muslim populations provides relevant news and information to audiences who otherwise might not have access to unbiased reporting on key U.S. government 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. RFE/RL is the most popular radio station for news in Afghanistan; over 56% of Afghan adults now listen to or watch one or more of BBG’s various broadcasts for that country at least once a week.
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 and are crucial to this strategy. BBG broadcasters provide unbiased comprehensive news and information as mandated under the U.S. International Broadcasting Act.
During the past year, the agency’s extensive journalistic resources reported on the regional political, military, and economic issues facing our listeners, as well as U.S. and international news. The U.S. elections provided a unique opportunity to showcase the democratic process in action, as well as the smooth transition of power from the Bush to the Obama Administration. BBG correspondents in the United States and around the world contributed to coverage available in 60 languages, providing program perspectives that were often lacking in media outlets abroad. Live, simultaneous interpretation of Congressional hearings, election debates, and Presidential speeches, such as the State of the Union, allowed Muslim audiences to hear our nation’s official policies, as well as the deliberations that led to the adoption of those policies.
To deliver program content, the agency continued to make aggressive strides in using new technologies, both to combat jamming and to capture new audiences through web and other communications tools. Comprehensive Internet sites are vital tools for each BBG language service, and the use of webchats, blogsites, and other attractive Internet applications have been expanded as the Internet becomes an increasingly viable information medium in both open and closed societies. 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’s enhanced website has improved the flow of information to viewers and increased opportunities for interactivity with audiences.
In 2008, traffic to VOANews.com increased 47 percent from a year earlier to nearly 117 million visits. At least 25 percent of this traffic originated in Iran, while significant segments also came from China, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Turkey, and Russia.
In addition, the BBG’s use of social media to distribute news and information and to engage audiences in dialogue bodes well for the future. Blogs on Iranian issues, Russian politics, U.S. politics, and African music attracted visitors to VOA content, both on VOANews.com and on other sites. New, branded pages on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter offered another means for audiences to find VOA content. On YouTube alone, there have been more than two million views of VOA videos; much of this content was posted by VOA services targeting Muslim audiences. VOA also offers podcasts of audio and video programs on i-tunes.
VOA created a special U.S. election site that attracted traffic from more than 200 countries and resulted in many users joining an online VOA community, where they shared photos, asked questions and provided comments. Large numbers of users originated from China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt, and Afghanistan.
For Arab audiences, Radio Sawa has an all-news Arabic-language website that communicated with the youthful technologically-savvy population in the Middle East. RadioSawa.com has shown tremendous growth since its inception in 2003. Some of the unique features on the website included live streaming, recorded audio programs, news update features, and continuous breaking news. Other unique features include daily interviews with important newsmakers and Sawa Magazine, a variety journal featuring technology, science, health, movies, and unusual events. In 2008, Alhurra increased its web presence, by streaming its programming at www.alhurra.com. In addition, Alhurra archives two months of programming on the website.
As the BBG’s various Internet platforms continued to grow in popularity, however, hackers sought opportunities to exploit infrastructure and security vulnerabilities. In April, RFE/RL Internet sites in Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Belarus were targeted by a massive distributed denial of service attack (DDOS).
The Middle East
Arabic Broadcasting. To effectively communicate with the large, predominantly young audiences in the Middle East, the BBG launched Radio Sawa in 2002, a 24/7 network of stations specifically designed to reach the large segment of the Arabic-speaking population under the age of 35. In 2008, Radio Sawa continued to broadcast objective, authoritative, comprehensive, and timely news about the Middle East, the United States, and the world. In addition to 325 newscasts per week, Radio Sawa offered 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:
Radio Sawa expanded its FM coverage in Iraq by adding FM transmitters in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit. Radio Sawa also broadcasts on medium wave to Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and throughout Sudan, and is available on Arabsat, Nilesat, and Eutelsat satellite systems.
Building on the success of Radio Sawa, the BBG launched Alhurra Television in 2004, covering 22 countries in the Middle East via the same satellites used by major indigenous Arabic channels. In the five years Alhurra has been broadcasting, it has provided in-depth coverage of historic events, such as elections in the U.S. and the Middle East and continuing developments in the Middle East peace process. Alhurra is a consistent leader in its reporting and analysis on democratic trends in the Middle East, garnering a reputation for comprehensive coverage.
In December 2008, when fighting broke out in Gaza, Alhurra broadcast live reports from correspondents in Israel and Gaza. Extensive breaking news coverage and expert analysis from Washington provided an American perspective. Through objective and accurate reporting, Alhurra has been an example of a free press to the region and has become a trusted source of news for its estimated 26 million weekly viewers.
Alhurra provided insights into life in America and the American system of government. It is the only Arabic-language network to have dedicated correspondents at the White House, State Department, Congress, and the Pentagon. During the presidential elections, Alhurra provided daily coverage of the candidates and the issues that impacted the U.S. election process, presenting a compelling platform for showcasing the political institutions of the United States.
Alhurra carried extensive live news coverage of events and speeches by U.S. senior officials. The network augments its regular news coverage of the U.S. through its current affairs programs, such as Inside Washington, which takes viewers behind the scenes of the political process in Washington with guests such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Secretary Margaret Spellings, and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Alhurra’s program on women’s rights, Musawat (Equality), came to America to profile five influential and successful women including former Secretary Donna Shalala, American Red Cross Chairman Bonnie McElveen Hunter, and former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina.
Alhurra also produces programs that provide a forum for discussion on sensitive issues such as women’s rights and human rights. Current affairs programs, such as Women’s Views, are unique in the region's media. Hosted by four women from different backgrounds, the program airs free discussion on social and political issues that are largely regarded as taboo in the region. Alhurra’s Eye on Democracy focuses on democratic efforts and human rights concerns throughout the Middle East.
Throughout its five-year history, Alhurra has provided a forum for discussion of important topics by a wide variety of experts and voices of moderation. Its talk shows, roundtables, and documentaries have routinely tackled vital topics that are not addressed 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 Alhurra Television now reach a total audience of 35 million adults 15 and older, according to international research firms such as ACNielsen. The surveys show that despite high levels of anti-American sentiment throughout the region, both Alhurra and Radio Sawa are regarded as credible sources of news and information by their audiences.
In September, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks began broadcasting a new all-news and information program to Darfur, Afia Darfur. The daily 30-minute program focuses on the latest news from Sudan and the plight of displaced people in Darfur and eastern Chad. Broadcasting on shortwave radio, the program includes interviews with American officials, human rights experts, Sudanese experts, and NGO representatives. Afia Darfur also incorporates interviews with internally displaced people living in Darfur, providing them with an opportunity to speak out about the humanitarian crisis. Additionally, the program addresses how the Western press is covering Darfur; as well as examining its rich history and cultural background.
Arabic in Europe. Since August 2006, Alhurra Europe has brought the best programs of Alhurra and Alhurra-Iraq to the Arabic-speaking population in Europe. Alhurra Europe can be seen on the Hotbird satellite system that reaches all of Europe.
Alhurra Iraq, a dedicated television stream to Iraq containing more concentrated news and information to and about Iraq, began broadcasting in April 2004. Through satellite and terrestrial transmission, Alhurra has gained a strong foothold in one of the most competitive TV marketplaces in the world. In 2008, Alhurra-Iraq added another terrestrial channel in Tikrit (channel 33) bringing the total number of terrestrial channels in Iraq to four (including Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul.) Alhurra’s goal is to help its viewers make educated and informed decisions about political, social, and economic events.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) continued 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.” 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.
This past year, Radio Free Iraq focused on subjects such as efforts to secure and restore order in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city; the role of U.S. forces in Iraq; relations with Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran, and the U.S. presidential election and its meaning for Iraqis. RFI gave ample coverage to the Iraqi political agenda, including reform of the Al-Maliki Cabinet, the relationship between the central government and Kurdistan's Regional Government, debates on Iraqi sovereignty, reform of political institutions, and preparations in the run up to the provincial and local elections. The Service also followed Iraqi cooperation with Turkey to curb PKK activities against the Turkish military from Iraqi territory. RFI spotlighted various human rights issues such as women’s rights, the fate of Iraqi prisoners in neighboring countries, and the rights of journalists. RFI broadcast interviews with numerous top Iraqi officials and politicians, including Interior Ministry Spokesman Abdel Karim Khalaf and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
In April, RFE/RL analyst Daniel Kimmage released The Al-Qa’ida Media Nexus, a study on the nexus of ties and coordination between the global network of al-Qa’ida (AQ) affiliates, arguing that the marketing techniques that catapulted AQ to worldwide fame are quickly becoming obsolete as user-created content sweeps the Web. The study provided an overview of the hidden structures that disseminate AQ's claims and ideas, giving readers a conceptual vocabulary to describe this guerilla media network in order to clarify discussion on how best to counteract its influence. “Fight Terror with YouTube”, an op-ed by Kimmage also appeared in The New York Times on June 26.
VOA’s Kurdish Service. Broadcasting four hours of daily radio programming, VOA's Kurdish Service remained highly popular among Kurds in Iraq. According to surveys conducted by InterMedia Research, VOA occupied a unique position among Iraqi Kurds. It is the only major international broadcaster offering programs in the two main Kurdish dialects, Kurmanji and Sorani. VOA Kurdish focused on the Iraqi scene through a network of stringers, and with special programs and call-in shows devoted to combating extremism inside the country and in 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 VOA Kurdish special programming 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.
VOA’s Persian News Network. As noted above, broadcasting to Iran remained a key BBG priority. VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN) has seen large audience growth, with one in four adults watching the broadcasts weekly. The seven-hour television program block opens with Today in Washington, a brief look at the latest news developments in Washington. Other original programming includes:
PNN’s achievements during 2008 included numerous high-value interviews, extensive on-the-scene coverage of the U.S. Presidential election, and an aggressive, expanding use of the PNN website to engage Iranian audiences. Key guests included U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, General David Petraeus, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, and exiled Iranian student movement leader and human rights activist Ahmad Batebi.
PNN’s reporters deployed to the sites of the U.S. Presidential debates, the Democratic and Republican conventions and to the election night camps of both the Obama and McCain campaigns in Chicago and Phoenix to provide immediate and close perspectives on the race to the White House. Following the election, PNN invited its audience to email its messages for the new President-elect. The hundreds of messages received were posted on PNN’s website and shared with the new Transition Team.
Radio Farda. As of July 7, 2008, RFE/RL assumed sole managerial oversight of Radio Farda, continuing 24-hours a day broadcasting to Iran. RFE/RL and the Voice of America had jointly operated Radio Farda since its inception in December 2002. With increased funding, Radio Fardo has supported the addition of larger blocks of news and information in its tradition as a "surrogate" broadcaster, presenting news about the country to which it broadcasts. Current broadcasts include over eight hours of daily news and information programming. Radio Farda finds direct sources of information within Iran in spite of the challenging environment for journalism.
Iranians turned to Radio Farda and its website for round-the-clock breaking news on stories of global interest, such as Iran’s nuclear program; Iran’s economic climate and unemployment; and human rights abuses. Radio Farda devoted substantial coverage to the March 14 parliamentary elections in Iran. Before the vote, Farda broadcast a weekly program entitled Elections Under the Magnifying Glass. A separate program, Fresh Glance, provided Iranian youth with a forum to discuss the elections.
To enhance its program offerings, Radio Farda launched a new roundtable program called Your Voice is Farda's Voice. The program invited listeners to discuss a variety of social and political issues, with the goal of increasing interactivity by giving listeners a platform to freely express their views. During the first program, listeners from Tehran, Shiraz, and Kurdistan discussed sanctions and criticized the Iranian government for mismanaging the economy. In summer 2008, Radio Farda launched a new program devoted exclusively to women’s issues. The weekly journal The Other Voice, investigated women’s issues from theoretical and historical points of view, and analyzed current events related to women.
Radio Farda reaches significant audiences in Iran, in spite of the government’s consistent jamming. Radio Farda has the highest weekly reach rate, 4.3 percent according to the January 2008 national telephone survey of Iran, of any international radio broadcaster, double that of the BBC’s Persian service.
Radio Farda’s website continued to show growth. The website has a variety of interactive features including “Question of the Week”, most popular and most emailed stories, “Listeners Views”, and "Farda Club” for moderated discussions and blogs. It averaged close to 3 million page views each month, despite the Iranian government’s efforts to block it. The regular use of online forums sparked lively discussion. Depending on the question of the week, the number of comments has exceeded 300. One of the more popular topics eliciting strong audience reaction and debate was Dutch producer Geert Wilders’ disputed movie Fitna which is critical of Islam and the Koran. Farda received 420 audience comments in one week, mostly from inside Iran.
This year Farda also expanded its selection of popular Persian and western music, which draws in the younger audience. On a daily basis, Radio Farda receives anywhere from 50-500 messages. Many are listener comments on recent changes to Farda’s music offering; some are listener comments with respect to a particular topic; and others are complaints about reception.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan has a weekly reach of 45.7 percent in the country, according to the most recent national survey conducted in August 2008, making it the number one radio station for news in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the only country in the RFE/RL broadcast region where a U.S. government-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 2008, Radio Free Afghanistan covered an array of domestic, regional, and international news items, including corruption, capital punishment, increased kidnappings, ongoing reconstruction efforts, female education, the Beijing Olympics where an Afghan won the country’s first Olympic medal (a bronze in Taekwondo), media freedom and government censorship; and the U.S. Presidential election and its meaning for Afghanistan.
Radio Free Afghanistan provided extensive coverage of the August 22 air strike by forces of the U.S.-led coalition in which more than 90 people in Herat province were allegedly killed. Radio Free Afghanistan was the first media outlet in the country to interview an eyewitness to the attack. Throughout October, Radio Free Afghanistan continued to cover the saga of journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambaksh, who was sentenced to death months ago for distributing an Internet article that questioned Islam’s treatment of women.1 In November, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on an epidemic of kidnappings in the country. Taliban militants and unaffiliated armed gangs have kidnapped dozens of foreigners (as well as hundreds of Afghans) in the past five years. RFA also gained an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Radio Free Afghanistan not only maintained a close relationship and dialogue with its listeners, but it has had an impact on the country, reuniting families, providing basic health and hygiene information, and promoting change. It used the hundreds of letters it received from listeners to find stories that deserved attention.
Unfortunately, Radio Free Afghanistan faces an increasingly challenging security environment. Throughout the year, RFA journalists came under growing pressure and threats from elements most often associated with the Taliban. In fall 2008, two journalists were threatened with death and a third was kidnapped and then released.
VOA continued to rank as one of the top three international broadcasters in Afghanistan. As of September 2008, research indicated that 30.5 percent of Afghan adults were listening to or watching VOA programs at least once a week.
VOA's Afghanistan TV Broadcast Ashna devoted a portion of its presidential election coverage issues affecting Muslim American voters, such as the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tensions in the Middle East. Correspondents interviewed Muslims at political rallies, and followed Afghan-Americans who volunteered for the Barack Obama campaign. The program also included interviews with prominent Muslim-American voices, including Representative Keith Ellison, and a profile of an Afghan-American family voting for the first time. The program also included an interview with First Lady Laura Bush on Afghanistan, and aired an original documentary on the Afghan drug trade.
VOA’s Afghanistan radio focused on issues relating to Islam and human rights. Participants in live talk shows included Mawlawi Abdul Qadir and Aminudin Saeedi, leading Afghan Islamic scholars. VOA’s radio programs also examined the Taliban policy of burning of schools and text books, focusing on the issue with leading Islamic scholars and Afghan analysts. Highlighted in the series were Dr. Alam Payind, head of the Middle East Department of the Ohio University and Raj Wali Khatak, a well-known Afghan author.
Media restrictions imposed by Musharraf in 2007 were eased and VOA Urdu Television went back on the air in April with its two private affiliates: GEO and Aaj. VOA’s TV presence was further advanced when the Urdu Service joined with Pakistan’s state broadcaster PTV, available to 90 percent of the population, for special live coverage of the three U.S. presidential debates.
VOA Urdu’s 12/7 Radio Aap ki Dunyaa (Your World) daily program doubled its reach to Pakistan with a new, faster-paced news format. VOA also doubled traffic to the website: www. Urduvoa.com, which includes a polling function and runs contests to attract younger audiences.
VOA Urdu and PTV broadcast 14 hours of live TV coverage in Urdu and English on Election Night 2008, covering the historic election of Barack Obama as President. The PTV Chairman at the time said these broadcasts helped PTV dominate coverage among other private broadcasters and were well received in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
A new programming venture was a new half-hour weekly television and web-based show, Muslims’ America. The weekly 30-minute show, in English and Urdu, profiled American Muslims in all walks of life, tackled myths and realities of American life, and focused on the subjects’ positive contributions. Comments from viewers in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world were overwhelmingly positive about the first 12 episodes, which appeared on Pakistan’s number one rated private cable news channel, Geo, as well as Aaj TV, VOA’s Urdu website, YouTube, and Facebook.
In 2008, VOA Urdu attracted new audiences by creating an Urdu Service YouTube channel, providing content on Facebook, Veoh, and a blog for university-aged students in Pakistan. The blog is linked to a popular VOA Urdu TV segment called Campus, which follows the experience of four VOA Urdu reporters who are also attending college in the United States.
The Pakistan/Afghanistan Border Region
VOA’s Deewa Radio (Light), a broadcast stream aimed at the more than 40 million Pashto-speaking people living in the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, offered local, regional, U.S., and international news, as well as features on politics, illegal drug and narcotics trafficking, the economy, health, education, and sports. With a network of more than 20 stringers in the target region, the service covered the fast-moving developments on the ground, including recent military operations in the volatile Swat region and in North and South Waziristan.
Radio Deewa’s two daily, live call-in shows attract about 300 calls a day, scores of e-mails, and voice messages. Program topics included suicide bombings, school burnings, and discussions of religious moderation. In addition, Deewa has interviewed current federal ministers, provincial ministers, NWFP officials, party leaders, members of parliament, and experts on regional politics such as Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister. Deewa’s audiences benefited from wide-ranging interviews with Islamic scholars, human rights activists, members of the U.S. Congress, State Department officials, and regional experts.
India. VOA Hindi TV, with a broadcast affiliation with India’s Zee TV, reached the country’s large Muslim population of nearly 150 million. The Hindi Service presented discussions about events in Pakistan and Kashmir, India-Pakistan peace initiatives, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, developments in Afghanistan, and the Iraq war. Hindi TV broadcast five days a week via Zee TV, offering exclusive interviews with U.S. government senior officials, Muslim-American leaders and scholars, and provided extensive coverage of the Mumbai attacks, other major developments in the region, and India's relations with Iran, Pakistan, and the United States. VOA’s Hindi radio broadcasts ended on September 30, 2008.
Bangladesh. Bangladesh has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. During the past year, VOA Bangla produced numerous radio and television features on Muslim youth, Islamic centers in the United States, and other topics of interest. In addition, the Service broadcast call-in shows on Muslim celebrations in the U.S at the end of the fast of Ramadan. VOA Bangla Service also conducted many interviews with U.S. officials and experts, and provided comprehensive coverage of elections in the U.S. and Bangladesh.
Turkish. Throughout 2008, VOA’s Turkish Service focused on the role of Islam in politics under the strictly secular Turkish constitution. Coverage included Turkey’s mediation efforts between Syria and Israel and relations with the United States and Iran. Interviews included U.S. and Turkish officials, President Abdullah Gul, members of the United States Congress, and other experts. In addition to its extensive multimedia coverage of the U.S. presidential elections, VOA Turkish prepared programs and reports on the role of religion in the U.S. for radio, television, and the Internet.
This year, VOA Turkish expanded its TV affiliation in Turkey by launching daily, live webcam reports for the TGRT News TV network. 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, carried a live 15-minute VOA Turkish news and current affairs program three times a week, in addition to a weekly VOA 30-minute news and magazine program. At the request of TGRT, VOA also produced a number of live and special programs on the U.S. presidential elections.
Indonesia. VOA’s weekly audience in Indonesia increased in 2008 to 17.5 percent, or more than 25 million people, because of the placement of short program segments on popular local television stations. VOA Indonesian TV products can now be regularly seen on seven of Indonesia’s 11 national TV stations, in addition to more than 20 local and regional stations. During the fasting month of Ramadan, VOA produced a special series of 12 stories on Islam in the United States, which were carried by national stations. VOA Indonesian also produced eight hours daily of original radio programming for a network of more than 230 affiliate FM and medium wave stations across the country. Radio programming included five-minute Headline News reports, which were aired 32 times a day, seven days a week.
BBG’s programming to Central Asia–RFE/RL to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan; VOA to Uzbekistan–continued despite increased harassment and repression against its correspondents and editors and new challenges to delivering programs to audiences.
Uzbekistan. Uzbek authorities stepped up its attacks on RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service in June when state-owned television accused RFE/RL journalists of "anti-state activities" and broadcast personal information about them, including the names of their children and other family members, photographs, passport information, addresses, and places of work. Operating in conditions reminiscent of the Soviet era, RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service continued to provide news coverage and democracy promotion.
VOA's daily 30-minute radio broadcasts were carried on shortwave and medium wave from Tajikistan. In 2008, under pressure from the government of Uzbekistan, the Kyrgyz government banned two FM stations in Osh and Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan, from rebroadcasting VOA Uzbek programs. Under similar pressures, Ayna TV, the VOA Uzbek affiliate in neighboring Afghanistan stopped broadcasting the weekly VOA Uzbek TV program, Exploring America. Currently, this program is carried by Keremet TV in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, where a large ethnic Uzbek community lives. Some viewers in Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley region were able to watch this broadcast. VOA Uzbek featured interviews with various U.S. and international sources discussing critical issues, such as the fight against terrorism, religious extremism, and U.S.-Uzbek relations. Interviews with Members of Congress and key officials provided a unique perspective on U.S. policymaking. The Service also featured reporting on Muslim life in the United States and served as a window into religious tolerance and understanding in America. In order to expand VOA’s reach, the Uzbek Service launched uzmobil.com, distributing VOA news to mobile phone subscribers in Uzbekistan, the largest Muslim country in former Soviet Central Asia.
Tajikistan. In Tajikistan, RFE/RL’s Tajik-language Service “Radio Ozodi” is the largest independent media outlet in the country and top international broadcaster. The Tajik government has repeatedly expressed its dissatisfaction with RFE/RL’s coverage of local political, economic, and social issues. The Service’s website has become one of the best content-oriented Tajik-language sites. Ozodi forum and Ozodi polling were popular among users and attracted hundreds of comments.
Kyrgyzstan. RFE/RL’s popular Kyrgyz-language Service was dealt a major setback when state authorities pulled the plug on RFE/RL radio and TV programming in October 2008. Kyrgyz authorities have stated that RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service will not be restored to the airwaves unless its programs are submitted to the government for prior approval. According to the most recent national survey, the Service’s unduplicated weekly reach on radio and TV was 33.8% of the population.
Kazakhstan. As of September 1, 2008, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service transitioned to an Internet platform, continuing radio programming for one hour in the evening and one hour repeat in the morning. The Kazakh Service launched a bilingual (Kazakh and Russian) site in summer 2008. Within the first month, visits increased by 270 %; page views were up by 540% and average time spent on site grew by almost 300%. The Service received two national Internet awards from Award.kz for best Kazakh-language site and best new media site. The competition was independent and involved over 1,000 websites.
Turkmenistan. RFE/RL, which is barred from having a bureau and accredited domestic correspondents, reported on government harassment of civil society and independent journalists in the run up to the country’s Parliamentary election.
Balkans and Caucasus
Bosnia and Herzegovina. VOA broadcasts to Bosnia and Herzegovina included programming targeted to the half of the population that are Bosnian Muslims. VOA’s Bosnian Service broadcasts a 30-minute live, daily news and current affairs television show, which is tailored to address concerns of the Muslim population in Bosnia and provides exclusive interviews with Bosnian politicians and moderate Muslim religious leaders. VOA Bosnian programs explain U.S. policy on topics such as counterterrorism, and focus on a variety of Bosnian issues, including the dangers radical Islamic groups pose to the country. In addition, the Service produces a weekly interactive TV program that airs Sundays during a prime time news program on BHT1, Bosnia’s public broadcaster. 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. VOA’s programs are also aired by 15 television affiliate stations throughout Bosnia, and are available via satellite. The Bosnian Service is also working to significantly enhance the content, functionality, and design of its website to complement its popular TV broadcasts.
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 Belgrade and Pristina, the Service provided extensive coverage of events and analysis surrounding Kosovo independence and its impact in the region and beyond. Programming stressing the bonds among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia regularly reached Muslim listeners in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Service broadcast two popular thirty-minute television programs in Bosnia, TV Liberty and Open Parliament.
Azerbaijan. VOA’s Azerbaijani Service provided extensive coverage on Muslims in America, including special programs on the occasion of Muslim holidays, with messages of congratulation by the President of the United States, Administration officials, and Congressional leaders. 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.
The Russian Federation
Tatarstan/Bashkortostan. RFE/RL’s Radio Azatliq is the only major international broadcaster in the Tatar and Bashkir languages, providing listeners with objective news and information not available from Russian media. The Service’s newly designed website, launched in November 2007, has shown steady growth. Since May 2008, page views increased by 70 percent.
North Caucasus. The North Caucasus remained politically unstable. Thus, the media environments were limited, with few sources of independent news and information available in the region, regardless of language. RFE/RL remained the only international broadcaster providing content targeted at the region in three local languages, Avar, Chechen, and Circassian.
Nigeria. VOA has strong audiences in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with about 73 million Muslims. The Hausa and the English-to-Africa services have a weekly audience of 21 million. Some 47 percent of the Hausa-speaking population of Nigeria listen to VOA at least once a week. The Hausa service, aimed primarily at the country’s Northern region, covered violent clashes between Muslims and Christians in the northern state of Jos that broke out after local elections in late November 2008. VOA’s coverage included on-the-scene stringer reports, and interviews with witnesses, victims, and Nigerian government and security officials. The Service provided extensive analysis of the sectarian conflict, interviewed religious and ethnic leaders who appealed for calm, interviewed the governor, and organized a panel discussion with members of opposing factions.
In October 2008, VOA staff traveled to northern Nigeria to organize and cover Town Hall meetings in Kaduna and Bauch, which attracted more than 4,000 people. The meetings, which focused on health issues, were covered by, among others, the Nigerian Television Authority’s national network, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio France International, and four Nigerian national dailies.
Somalia. In its second year of broadcasting, VOA’s Somali Service covered the continuing conflict in Somalia and efforts to find a negotiated peace agreement between the transitional government and an Islamic insurgency. Research in 2008 showed that more than 66 percent of adults in Mogadishu listened to VOA. The service also covered the growing threat of piracy off the coast of Somalia. The VOA Somali Service spoke with all protagonists of a political crisis that resulted in the resignation of Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf on December 29. Interviews included Mr. Yusuf; Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, who had opposed the president over the naming of a cabinet; Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, head of the Somali opposition group Alliance of Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS); and House Speaker Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nur, Somalia’s current Acting President. The Service also spoke with Senator Russ Feingold, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, during the lawmaker’s visit to Djibouti on December 13.
Ethiopia and Eritrea. VOA’s Horn of Africa Service broadcasts 17 hours a week in the evenings in three languages: seven 60-minute broadcasts in Amharic, five 30-minute broadcasts in Tigrigna and five 30-minute broadcasts in Afan Oromo. These VOA broadcasts provided uncensored reporting of ethnic clashes and conflict resolution.
Swahili. VOA’s Swahili Service has strong listenership in Tanzania and Kenya. VOA’s audience is more than 23 percent of adults in Tanzania. On March 16, 2008, VOA Swahili expanded its broadcasts to two hours each weekday, and one hour on Saturdays and Sundays. In 2008, there was a huge demand for news and information about the U.S. election.
French to Africa. VOA’s French to Africa Service broadcasts 23 hours weekly on radio via shortwave and to an array of affiliates across the region to the 250 million French speakers in Africa, many of whom live in predominantly Muslim countries such as Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. It also broadcasts a 30-minute weekly television program.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) provided service to Muslim audiences through its Uyghur language service launched in December 1998. It is the only international radio service providing impartial news and information in the Uyghur language to the potential audience of more than 16 million Uyghur Muslims in Western China and Central Eurasia. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) alone comprises roughly one-sixth of China's territory and is estimated to have more than 10 million Uyghur speakers.
Consistent with RFA's mandate, the Uyghur 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 provided a forum for a variety of opinions and voices from within the XUAR with its programs that included breaking news, analysis, interviews, commentary, a hotline call-in show, a weekly news review, and feature stories.
The Uyghur Service news and stories featured 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 Uyghur dissidents from all over the world. Programs addressed pressing issues like China’s relationship with Central Asian countries, democratic development in Central Asia, Uyghur 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. This past year, the RFA Uyghur service was the first to report on the executions of two Uyghurs accused of terrorism, broke the news of an impending forced abortion in Gulja, and chronicled the systematic tightening of Uyghur political and religious activities in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. These stories, among many more, were picked up by the New York Times, Time Magazine, ABC News, AP, Reuters, and other international media outlets.
RFA's Uyghur service website, launched in September 2004, provides continuously updated news in all three writing systems used to convey the Uyghur language: Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic. RFA's site is the only non-Chinese Uyghur news website and the only Unicode Uyghur news website. The site streams the daily RFA broadcast in Uyghur 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 continued to be confronted with continuous 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, research indicates that Uyghur listeners and web users consider RFA a lifeline in a controlled media environment, a station offering unique content worth taking risks to access. The Uyghur Service received the 2005 Edward R. Murrow Regional Award for outstanding achievements in electronic journalism.
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, shortwave transmission facilities in Morocco were closed to shift available resources to more effective delivery media. An emergency back-up power system was installed at the Kabul medium wave transmitting facility to overcome erratic local electricity supply problems and to ensure more reliable delivery of BBG medium wave programs to audiences in Afghanistan. Backup generators were also being installed at BBG FM stations in Afghanistan. In the past year, a new BBG TV transmitter and two new BBG FM transmitter systems came on the air in cities in Iraq. Arrangements were being made to establish FM transmitters in Somalia at Hargeysa and on cell phone towers at other key locations in the country. Shortwave transmissions were added to support a new half hour news and information program in Arabic for audiences in Sudan. Arrangements were being made with the Government of Kuwait to share shortwave transmitters, and ongoing meetings with the Directors General of various other international broadcasters are leading to other economical arrangements to share transmission resources.
At year’s end, the BBG was 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 medium wave transmitter for Pashto programming in Afghanistan was nearing completion, and one for Radio Farda programs to Iran was under construction.
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 includes funding for a number of initiatives that support outreach to Muslim audiences. These initiatives include 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; increasing Alhurra’s newscast capability to 24 hours a day (from the current 16 hour capability), and enhancing Radio Sawa’s coverage of the region. The FY-2009 budget also continues VOA's Somalia three hour program stream, maintains program strength in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, launches a new RFE/RL Azerbaijani to Iran broadcast, and supports significant enhancement to Internet efforts in several key languages, including Russian and Persian. These initiatives are critical to the continued outreach to Muslim audiences.
Further, the BBG's current authority for personal services contracting (PSC) for up to 60 PSCs at any given time, has assisted the agency in staffing broadcast services experiencing a surge in broadcast requirements, or which are operated pursuant to a grant from USAID. This authority has been extended by the Congress on an annual basis.
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), Alhurra, 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.
The Bureau of Public Affairs Office of Broadcast Services also works with broadcast industry recognized, internet-based news clip service providers to extend the reach and placement of U.S. government officials. These vendors, thenewsmarket.com and Pathfire, have thousands of servers in newsrooms all over the world, that enable broadcasters to quickly receive and re-purpose video footage of State Department ceremonies and remarks by officials presenting foreign policy positions and representing democratic principles.
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 U.S. government 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 Middle Eastern Press Unit, has significantly expanded the Department’s outreach to Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian media outlets (print, broadcast, and Internet) 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 2008, the Middle Eastern Press Unit, together with NEA posts, gave over 1,500 interviews, up 25% from 2007. Many of the broadcasts aired multiple times and were picked up by other regional media outlets and wire services. The outreach to new media has also increased in an effort to reach regional audiences directly. The Arabic language web chats have continued allowing 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 2007 and November 2008, the Dubai Hub Director and Deputy Director participated in 273 on-air interviews, talk shows, and panel discussions (most 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. Major engagements included the Annapolis Conference on Middle East Peace in November 2007, where the Dubai Hub Director was live on-air all day with various pan-Arab outlets; the March 2008 fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, with USG officials conducting 49 interviews with Arab outlets that month on that topic; and the November 2008 U.S. elections, with 62 interviews by various USG officials on Arab outlets that month. The London Hub and domestic office have also increased efforts this year to reach Iranian audiences through increased engagement with BBC Persian, VOA Persian, and Radio Farda. The London Hub also continued to produce 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.
The State Department’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU) monitors all major stories in world media, with additional focus on Arabic electronic and internet media, in real time. It produces a daily, early morning report for internal U.S. government use that analyses opinion trends on foreign policy issues of key importance to the U.S. and provides appropriate messaging that explains U.S. positions on those issues. The report is delivered by LISTSERV to U.S. officials, including cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, heads of military commands, public affairs officers, and others. The RRU provides other analysis and regional media compilations for U.S. officials.
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 anti-U.S. rhetoric and misinformation. Other public diplomacy efforts of the Department of State and other agencies targeted at countering extremist use of the Internet are coordinated with the Global Strategic Engagement Center, an interagency organization that is staffed with personnel from the State Department, the Department of Defense, the National Counterterrorism Council, and the Intelligence Community and that is housed at the State Department in order to support the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs with interagency coordination and subject matter expertise.
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 Islam in America, democracy and Islam, rule of law, violent extremism and security, energy, the environment, and trade and development. The Citizen Dialogue Program, allows Muslim-American citizens from different fields to share their personal stories in strategically important countries. Many audiences are not aware of the strength and diversity of Islam in America. Strategic Speaker participants are often part of a bigger public diplomacy package that includes web chats, direct video conferences, 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 to Muslim communities 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.