BBG Responds to Crisis in the Central African Republic

At PK12 thousands of Muslim residents from Bangui and Mbaiki flee the Central African Republic Bangui in a mass exodus using cars, pickups, trucks, lorries and motorcycles, escorted by Chadian troops on Friday Feb. 7, 2014. Tit-for-tat violence killed more than 1,000 people in Bangui alone in a matter of days in December. An untold number have died in the weeks that followed, with most of the attacks in Bangui targeting Muslims.

Thousands of residents flee the Central African Republic in a mass exodus, Friday Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

WASHINGTON- As the crisis in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) intensifies, so have the efforts of the BBG to bring much-needed news and vital information to residents fleeing the violence. The agency’s interdepartmental response includes developing and producing additional content, augmenting methods to reach audiences, and enhancing distribution technologies.

Since the crisis erupted, Voice of America’s French-to-Africa Service has taken the lead on news coverage of CAR. The current French language programming stream heard on a VOA transmitter in the capital, Bangui, broadcasts the daily news program Le Monde Aujourd’hui (The World Today). VOA is ramping up the number of news bulletins in the coming weeks so residents in the capital will hear hourly updates morning to evening. Both the French and Central News services have been reporting from CAR continuously since mid-December, and plans are underway to enhance capabilities to reach the growing displaced population.

VOA will also boost audience engagement through a “Vox Pop” feature that will let residents in the capital speak out about their lives, their concerns and their hopes for reconciliation and a peaceful future in CAR.

The Office of Policy has worked closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development and NGOs such as the International Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), as well as UNICEF and other UN programs to develop and air public service announcements on topics including health and relief services and non-violence efforts.  The twice-hourly PSAs provide vital information such as where to find food distribution centers, vaccination programs and other relief services.

The team in charge of distributing the content from the BBG networks, the Office of Technology, Services & Innovation (TSI), has answered the need for enhanced dissemination capacities by redeploying a custom stream to the Bangui FM signal (107.5), and in the course of 24 hours was able to make that stream available on a low-bandwidth, mobile-friendly website.

The Office of Digital and Design Innovation is responding to the crisis by enhancing its text messaging and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) services to the region. It has also developed a Symbian-based mobile app, featuring multimedia news, photo, text and video content. Symbian is one of the top four operating systems in the region and will be key to reaching this audience.

The BBG will continue to closely monitor the situation for its listeners in CAR and remain ready to make adjustments to content and dissemination strategies as needed.

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