WASHINGTON: The US General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report late last month praising recent advances in US diplomatic broadcasting efforts overseas, but stressed the need for clearer objectives and better measurement of their impact.
Unfortunately, the ability to accurately measure impact - already a sticking point in almost any PR campaign - is made considerably harder by the hostility in some of the regions where such impact is sought, says the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees all US broadcasts overseas.
"We can't do research in Iran. We can't do research in North Korea. We can't do credible research in Cuba," said a BBG official who asked not to be identified.
"We do have large research contracts, and are very effective at measuring audiences when we can get into a country," explained BBG communications coordinator Joan Mower. "But our mission is to target areas where freedom and democracy are lacking. We can't do the kind of research we'd like to in a police state where people can go to jail for talking to a pollster."
The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress. It worked closely with the BBG for over a year to formulate the report, which was requested by the House Committee on International Relations.
The new US broadcasting initiatives studied for the report included Radio Sawa, a popular Middle East network that mixes regional and American popular music with US-produced news; Radio Farda, a youth-targeted network broadcast in Iran; and the Afghanistan Radio Network, which launched in 2002 and targets a general Afghan audience.
All these efforts represent what the report calls the BBG's "new strategic approach to international broadcasting," which aims to increase listener-ship by mixing news with
popular music and a more youth-oriented format. The report largely praised the
The BBG response to the report was largely favorable, but chairman Kenneth Tomlinson pointed out that trying to determine the "impact" of efforts such as Radio Sawa would be inappropriate, as the BBG is an independent, journalistic arm of the government - not an advocacy organization.
"Ours is a journalistic organization," he writes. "We believe in the power of clear speaking, and that is what the BBG Strategic Plan does."
Among the changes BBG is considering are the addition of a CEO or COO for broadcasting, and consolidating the various operations for a more streamlined approach.