Deceptive USAGM numbers hide the lack of relevance and effectiveness of the $800 million federal U.S. Agency for Global Media.
By The Federalist
In a November 16, 2021 press release, the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) announced:
Voice of America’s journalism now reaches 311.8 million people per week across broadcast and digital platforms, according to the latest research from the U.S. Agency for Global Media. The new number represents an increase of more than 33 million from the previous year.
Here we go again: Deceptive USAGM numbers.
In true government propaganda fashion: you say it repeatedly and embellish it to the point that people actually believe it.
There are aspects of deceptive USAGM numbers that lay below the surface. We will get to that in a moment but first, this note: even a former, longtime USAGM audience research expert with a PhD, who otherwise defends the agency, has questioned in a closed online forum the methodology behind the latest USAGM numbers. He was especially skeptical of the claim of millions of new consumers of USAGM programs.
Let us take the numbers at face value: 311.8 million people. Sounds like a lot, but for an agency charged with reaching global publics, it is not particularly impressive. It is not at all impressive when speaking about online audiences.
The elephant in the room for USAGM is a global population of 7 BILLION.
That dilutes the 311.8 million people in a hurry. Consider that in China alone, you have a population close to 2 BILLION. Not all of them are consumers of international media, but a whole lot of them potentially are and that number would likely eclipse the USAGM claim and make it paltry.
Keep in mind that the 311.8 million figure is less than the total known population of the United States (probably not accounting for an influx of individuals crossing the southern US border).
Does USAGM include Americans and U.S. residents in their estimate? USAGM was caught by former Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in the act of illegally targeting Americans with Facebook ads.
SEE: Ed Royce on USAGM Illegally Targeting Americans with Facebook Ads, The Federalist, January 30, 2019
Let us also consider that the agency broadcasts in over 40 languages. While you cannot evenly divide the actual audience numbers, it further dilutes the significance of 311.8 million people.
USAGM claims this figure to be representative “across all media platforms.”
But one should also note that USAGM’s visibility on social media is quite low. Numbers of views, likes, shares are so low as to be almost unnoticeable compared to other media outlets. Some pages on Facebook or channels on YouTube, even belonging to one private individual, can single-handedly get hundreds of thousands of views.
Accessible technology is another issue: not only in terms of technology but actions by governments to block USAGM content.
But the underlying issue is again: Deceptive USAGM numbers.
Where is the impact?
The simple answer is: There is not any, and certainly not in any meaningful way that manifests itself visibly.
What has just happened in Afghanistan?
USAGM and Voice of America executives were so clueless about what was coming that they failed to plan for a timely and orderly evacuation from Afghanistan of about 500 USAGM employees and immediate family members.
Just how effective was USAGM in Afghanistan during the last decade?
And this is critical because the lack of effectiveness represents a strategic failure for the agency.
Let us consider the claim by the agency that it is “in support of freedom and democracy.”
Well, that mission is not going too well in a lot of places, to which the agency targets its programs: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and most recently Afghanistan, among others.
In Myanmar, where the agency claims audience increases, the military is fully in control. Worse, it has imprisoned former democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi for what may be a long and indeterminate period, hobbling advocates for a return to civilian government.
There are other examples, not often topical in daily news, where “freedom and democracy” are diminished as a potent political force.
We return to a “60 Minutes” interview with former CIA and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who noted that effective political change comes from within not via some external source.
The entire Gates segment is informative. But this portion of the interview is particularly instructive when it comes to USAGM.
“In support of freedom and democracy” is a lofty American ideal.
But the execution of the ideal in the hands of USAGM is rubbish.
One could rhetorically ask the question, do agency officials really believe that they are supporting freedom and democracy, or is it a cover for something less lofty, such as preserving their jobs and an agency that has clearly lost its effectiveness. If it has anything at all to be gained, it is now only through self-promotion by agency bureaucrats rather than what is really needed:
Radical management reforms and a new USAGM and VOA leadership untainted by past scandals.
A failure of nation-building propaganda
As the saying goes, “All politics is local.” And that certainly applies to how nations evolve or devolve politically, socially, economically and culturally.
“Nation building,” which goes hand-in-hand with USAGM, has also shown itself to be a failed enterprise.
So now that we have demolished the agency and its overblown and misdirected claims, where do we go from here?
The agency needs new leadership. We are not talking about politically appointed ideological players with a long record of management scandals. The agency requires that rarest of individuals in a partisan-driven landscape who can return the agency to a significant measure of professionalism, not the rampant bias within USAGM, and the Voice of America–the USAGM’s largest federal entity.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. One can be certain the USAGM bureaucracy will rise up in hysteria claiming that the agency is being subverted, when in reality the only thing being undermined is their own partisan advocacy and propaganda conducted in violation of the VOA Charter.
You can be certain as well that agency officials will ally themselves with their partisan friends to undermine any attempt to rid the agency of its current “business as usual” model. These bureaucrats revel in savaging anyone who even remotely suggests that the agency is in desperate need of rehabilitation.
So, the effort is likely to be non-existent.
The rational model for international media continues to be the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It has maintained high standards for true journalism, objectively presented. That does not mean that the BBC is perfect or hasn’t hit potholes along the way in its storied history. But it is a far better presenter than anything being undertaken by USAGM under its current and recent leaders.
Put an end to the Cohen Building show of deceptive USAGM numbers by asking detailed questions about how these numbers are calculated. Demand a completely independent, outside audience research for the U.S. taxpayer-funded media entities. Ask about the relevance and impact of USAGM in Afghanistan, China, Iran, and Russia.