U.S. International Broadcasting:

New Strategic Approach Focuses on Reaching Large Audiences but Lacks Measurable Program Objectives

GAO-03-772: Published: Jul 15, 2003. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2003.

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Prompted by a desire to reverse declining audience trends and to support the war on terrorism, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the agency responsible for U.S. international broadcasting, began developing its new strategic approach to international broadcasting in July 2001. This approach emphasizes the need to reach mass audiences by applying modern broadcast techniques and strategically allocating resources to focus on high-priority markets. GAO was asked to examine (1) whether recent program initiatives have adhered to the Board's new strategic approach to broadcasting, (2) how the approach's effectiveness will be assessed, and (3) what critical challenges the Board faces in executing its strategy and how these challenges will be addressed.

Consistent with its new plan to dramatically increase the size of U.S. international broadcasting listening and viewing audiences in markets of U.S. strategic interest, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has launched several new projects, including Radio Sawa in the Middle East, Radio Farda in Iran, and the Afghanistan Radio Network. These projects adhere to the Board's core strategy of identifying a target audience and tailoring each broadcast product to market circumstances and audience needs. The Board's plan lacks measurable program objectives designed to gauge the success of its new approach to broadcasting, detailed implementation strategies, resource needs, and project time frames. A number of key effectiveness measures could provide a starting point for developing measurable program objectives and related performance goals and indicators under the Board's annual performance plan. These measures include audience size in specific markets, audience awareness, broadcaster credibility, and whether the Voice of America (VOA) effectively presents information about U.S. thought, institutions, and policies to target audiences. The Board has identified a number of market and internal challenges--such as technological innovation and better coordination of its seven separate broadcast entities--that must be addressed to make U.S. international broadcasting more competitive. It has also developed a number of solutions to address these challenges. However, the Board has not addressed how many language services it can carry effectively (with the number rising nearly 20 percent over the past 10 years) and what level of overlap and duplication in VOA and surrogate broadcast services would be appropriate under its new approach to broadcasting. Resolving these questions will have significant resource implications for the Board and its ability to reach larger audiences in high-priority markets.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The BBG amended its strategic plan to include one overarching, measurable goal relating to reaching large audiences in areas of strategic interest to the United States. The Board's performance plan was revised to reflect this focus.

    Recommendation: To improve overall management of U.S. international broadcast operations and maximize their impact on U.S. public diplomacy efforts, the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors should revise the BBG's annual performance plan to include performance goals and indicators that track the Board's progress in implementing the multiyear program objectives established in the Board's revised strategic plan.

    Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has amended its 5-year strategic plan to include a new mission statement that includes the measureable strategic goals of "enhancing understanding", "reaching audiences", and "maintaining credibility". These goals are supported by a number of performance indicators (at the broadcaster and language service level). These measures are designed to measure the reach of U.S. international broadcasting efforts, whether programming is delivered in the most effective and credible manner possible, and to what extent the programming has enhanced the understanding of the listeners/viewers.

    Recommendation: To improve overall management of U.S. international broadcast operations and maximize their impact on U.S. public diplomacy efforts, the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors should include audience size, audience awareness, broadcaster credibility, and Voice of America (VOA) mission effectiveness as measurable program objectives in the strategic plan.

    Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The BBG revised its performance management and reporting system to include one overarching, measurable goal relating to reaching large audiences in areas of strategic interest to the United States. While the Board's strategic plan does not include details on implementation strategies, resource requirements, and project timeframes, the annual language service review process does provide an effective forum for considering these issues.

    Recommendation: To improve overall management of U.S. international broadcast operations and maximize their impact on U.S. diplomacy efforts, the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors should revise the BBG's 5-year strategic plan to include measurable program objectives, implementation strategies, resource requirements, and project time frames.

    Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The BBG's 5-year strategic plan is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year, and our recommendation has been substantially implemented in the draft version of the new strategic plan that will be released for FY 2008. For example, the current draft strategic plan includes a separate implementation strategy for "rationalizing the broadcasting enterprise" that sets out to, among other things, streamline the BBG organizational structure. As part of the FY 2008 budget submission and language review process, the Board has identified and proposed a large number of services that could be closed or reduced in order to redirect funds to higher priority broadcasting needs. For example, the BBG has requested the elimination of the VOA Thai, Georgian, Greek, Croatian, Macedonian, Albanian, Bosnian, Serbian, Russian, and Hindi radio broadcasts and RFE/RL Macedonian and Romanian to Romania radio broadcasts. In addition, VOA is proposing closing its VOA and RFE/RL Cantonese Services and VOA Uzbek service. There are also reductions requested for VOA and RFE/RL Ukrainian, VOA and RFA Tibetan, VOA Portuguese to Africa, RFE/RL Kazakh, and RFE/RL S. Slavic/Albanian.

    Recommendation: To improve overall management of U.S. international broadcast operations and maximize their impact on U.S. public diplomacy efforts, the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors should revise the Board's strategic plan to include a clear vision of the Board's intended scope-of-operations and the appropriate level of overlap and duplication between VOA and surrogate language services.

    Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

 

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