From its Washington headquarters, VOA produces more than 70 television shows, and more than 200 radio programs. VOA’s digital TV master control sends signals to multiple direct-to-home satellite networks simultaneously, and shortwave, FM and AM transmitters beam VOA to hot spots around the world. Individual language services each maintain their own websites, mobile platforms and social media sites.
VOA reaches a significant part of its audience on affiliate stations that rebroadcast its programs or receive live updates from VOA reporters. This affiliate network now includes more than 2,350 individual stations, which air a wide variety programs. In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, more than 300 affiliates carry VOA programs. And VOA now reaches more than 26 million adults in Latin America, thanks to an ever-expanding affiliate network that stretches from Mexico to Chile.
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- Budget: $196.4 million in FY 2013
- Employees: 1,121
- Languages: 45
- Mobile Apps: available in 43 versions on Apple iOS, Android and Symbian
The following highlights are a sampling from 2013 of VOA’s engagement with audiences in countries of strategic importance.
VOA Tibetan produced the critically acclaimed documentary Fire in the Land of Snow: Self-immolations in Tibet, which broadcast around the world in Mandarin, Tibetan, and English on satellite, affiliate stations, and VOA websites. The documentary was an important and necessary response to Chinese state media’s coverage of self-immolations, and provided viewers with an honest and balanced look at one of the most politically sensitive issues in China today.
VOA’s Vietnamese Service provided in-depth coverage of attacks by security forces in Hanoi and two other large cities in Vietnam on human rights activists. The attacks came after the activists tried to hold what they called “human rights picnics.” Service coverage included interviews with activists, police, and representatives from international human rights groups, as well as legal scholars in the United States.
VOA Khmer provided extensive coverage of July’s national election in Cambodia, including interviews with ruling and opposition leaders and on-the-ground reporting from six stringers in Cambodia’s major provinces. There was never any let-up in the VOA coverage despite early warnings from the government that all international broadcasts in the Khmer language would be banned in the 31 days preceding the vote. The government rolled back the comprehensive ban on election coverage following a public outcry by VOA, other international media organizations and human rights groups. Despite the lifting of the 30 day ban on all election coverage, the government did impose media restrictions in the last 48 hours of the campaign, which resulted in some VOA broadcasts being pulled from affiliate stations. VOA Khmer programming continued throughout the election and its aftermath on MW and SW and on its websites. After the restrictions were fully lifted, VOA was back on local affiliate stations with news of the continuing controversy about the election.
The Horn of Africa Service had some groundbreaking reporting on the vocal protests by Ethiopian Muslims against what they perceive as government attempts to interfere in Islamic affairs. And the Horn’s coverage has not escaped the notice of the Addis Ababa government: On February 26 it resumed jamming some service broadcasts. In the past, the jamming was focused almost exclusively on Amharic programs, but this time Afan Oromo is targeted, apparently because its biggest audience is in the Oromia region, which has a majority Muslim population.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Information notified VOA in December 2013 that permission has been granted to open an official accredited news bureau in Rangoon. This marks another milestone for VOA as the Myanmar government continues its rapid pace of change from one of the world’s most repressive media minders to a government more accepting of the freedom of information. In the last year, VOA Burmese TV programming has appeared on the Burmese cable channel SkyNet, and VOA English Learning products have aired on Burmese state radio.
In early 2013, VOA Director David Ensor traveled to Mali for the launch of a new FM transmitter in Bamako, Mali’s capital, which allows 24/7 broadcasting of targeted news and information in French. VOA this year also launched programming in Songhai and Bambara languages. The 30-minute Bambara program Mali Kura (Mali News) focuses in politics, regional and local developments, health, and culture. VOA also launched a mobile broadcast in the Songhai language, which is spoken mainly in the north of Mali, where French military forces intervened in early 2013 to help push out Islamic extremists who seized control of key cities last year.
VOA continued its tri-lingual approach during Mali’s July 2013 elections, with extended election-day broadcasts, reports from polling stations around the country, and in-studio interviews with analysts and candidates. The elections, which were postponed for over a year after the March 2012 military coup, represented a critical rebuilding stage. VOA was there to give audiences up-to-the-minute news on the election as it unfolded, as well as practical information on voting and the electoral process.
VOA Deewa extended its normal broadcasts by six hours on May 10 and 11 to cover Pakistan’s general elections for the central parliament and four provincial assemblies. The service focused in depth on the threat of attacks on political leaders, the participation of youth and women, and the impact of the Taliban. Deewa also provided U.S. perspective on the elections through interviews with experts on Pakistan, and a special “Deewa Election Blog” was created on the service’s website. The extra effort did not go unnoticed. In one of the messages of praise to the service, Ms. Shad Begum, a 2012 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award, said, “It was due to VOA Deewa that Pashtun women in the far-flung areas came out to vote. We are thankful to Deewa Radio for mobilizing the otherwise ignored communities …”
In May, Thein Sein became the first Burmese leader to visit Washington in 47 years. He came to VOA, and, in front of a studio audience that included representatives of U.S.-based Burmese groups, answered questions posed to him by the chief of VOA’s Burmese Service and members of the audience. The question-and-answer session lasted nearly an hour, and much of it was devoted to the human rights situation in Burma. The Burmese leader acknowledged some “heavy-handed” actions by police in their efforts to control political dissent in the country, and said both protesters and police must understand their responsibilities as democracy takes hold.
VOA’s Afghan Service and Channel One TV (1TV) in Afghanistan have teamed up on a high-tech television program called Pivot Line, which links studios in Washington and Kabul to address critical issues in U.S.-Afghan relations. Guest panelists and hosts in both studios take questions from a live studio audience in Kabul, as well as questions posted on Pivot Line’s Facebook page.
VOA Persian aired a full day of live coverage and analysis of the United Nations General Assembly Session in New York today (Tuesday), including long-anticipated speeches by President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The TV special, running from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. EST, was broadcast to Iran on direct-to-home satellite, social media sites, streamed on the Internet and on proxy servers designed to circumvent Iranian Internet blocking.
In August, VOA unveiled out its new mobile app with news in 43 languages. The app is compatible with iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, and includes region-by-region content as well as special sections on health, science, and technology. The new app also gives citizen journalists the chance to share photos, audio, text or video with VOA editors in Washington directly. The app also has integrated functionality with proxy servers, so users may still access unfiltered VOA news in countries where the Internet is heavily censored by the government.
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheik Mohamud headlined a town hall meeting in London, sponsored by VOA’s Somali Service. About 80 young Somali exiles attended the early May event, moderated by Somali Service staffer Harun Maruf. The exiles asked blunt questions and President Mohamud answered just as bluntly. President Mohamud was in London at the time for a conference on rebuilding Somalia, and the Somali Service broadcast the meeting in its entirety on the service’s youth show, Your Call, and excerpts aired on the service’s website.
The Creole Service, working with the US Embassy in Port-Au-Prince, conducted a one-week training seminar in Washington for 15 Haitian journalists in mid-July. The seminar included sessions on the role of the press in a democracy and explanations of how the U.S. system of government works, with visits to the White House, State Department and Congress, where the journalists met with Democratic Congressman John Conyers. The seminar also featured sessions on social media, writing headlines, editorial guidelines, interview techniques and television anchoring.
VOA Russian, which typically focuses its efforts on an online audience, put together a special TV package on the New York mayoral race in November, at the request of REN TV, one of the largest private channels in Russia. The package focused on Bill de Blasio and what the election results said about New York. REN broadcast the VOA Russian feature several times, including on its 7 p.m. prime time newscast.
The Russian Service also expanded its affiliation with the Russian Business Channel (RBC) by adding two weekly live interactives from VOA’s Washington studio. Since December, the service has been providing RBC with four weekly reports from the New York Stock Exchange. The interactives from Washington are aired in RBC’s prime time newscast.
Late in May, Turks reacted with outrage to the eviction of demonstrators protesting the planned demolition of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The eviction sparked anti-government protests that continued through June. VOA Central News, Turkish and Kurdish reporters provided on-scene reports from Istanbul and other cities. In addition, the Turkish Service, on its website, and in its reports to its affiliate, TGRT, carried U.S. statements on the protests, including those from the White House, the National Security Council, and the State Department. Through interviews with Turkish officials in Washington, the service obtained the government’s response to the protests.
VOA Urdu’s new TV show Kahani Pakistani airs twice weekly on Pakistan’s Aaj News. The 30-minute show explores the intersection between American life and Pakistani culture, with host Ayesha Gilani. The program also features stories from Pakistanis and other South Asians provide multifaceted perspective on life in America.
VOA Somali launched its first-ever TV program, supporting a medium that is becoming more and more popular in Somalia. Qubanaha(Variety) provides objective and comprehensive news on topics critical to audiences in Somalia as well as diaspora members, including reports from VOA’s network of stringers in the country.
VOA Hausa’s mobile site has become a go-to source for breaking news for audiences throughout Nigeria and West Africa. The Hausa-language site now receives more than 2 million page views a month. The mobile site includes a special sectiondedicated to the latest news on the three states in Northern Nigeria that have been under a state of emergency since May 14, 2013, with coverage of human rights abuses and incidents of torture that would otherwise go unreported.
VOA Zimbabwe, popularly known as Studio 7, covered the July presidential election with coverage from every province in Zimbabwe, and much of the coverage was highly interactive. On July 18, the service broadcast an in-house panel discussion called “Zimbabwe: Elections and Beyond.” The event was streamed live online, making it the Zimbabwe Service’s first video event. Panelists engaged in an hour-long discussion about challenges facing the country and answered questions from Studio 7 listeners that arrived in a variety of ways: e-mail, the WhatsApp smartphone app, as well as from the live audience at VOA headquarters. Among the web tools the service created for the elections was a candidate map that offered profiles of the presidential candidates, as well as profiles of some of the candidates in local elections. The map had pop-ups with links to interviews and stories about the candidates. Another web tool the service provided was a crowdsource map called “Zimbabwe Election 2013: What Are You Seeing?” It invited visitors to post, before, during, and after the elections, what they witnessed.
Within hours of getting posted on QQ Weibo, one of China’s most popular Twitter-like services, a VOA Mandarin report on the dangerously polluted underground aquifers in Northern China was viewed tens of thousands of times and reposted by thousands of viewers. The report by Fred Wang, VOA Mandarin’s Beijing correspondent, included an interview with Chinese geologist Fan Xiao, who estimated that more than 20,000 factories in the country are discharging unprocessed waste water into waste wells, pits and ditches, and even underground storage sites. As a result, according to the geologist, there has been a spike in heavy metal and other toxicants in the country’s already depleted underground water supply. The report, which has full VOA branding, has been viewed by more than 1.3 million people. It is the latest example of VOA Mandarin’s success in circumventing Beijing’s firewall and getting widespread attention on Chinese social media.
In Burma, Shwe FM began airing VOA’s popular English-learning programs on FM stations across the country. American Idioms English has drawn praise even from government officials. The program introduces one popular expression in each episode, and explains the meaning in Burmese. Expanded episodes air each Friday morning on shortwave and medium wave radio, and introduce a series of thematically related idioms. In addition to Shwe FM, audiences can also listen to American Idioms English on the VOA Burmese website and on shortwave and AM frequencies.
In April, VOA’s English Division launched a revamped daily TV news magazine show, Africa 54, a 30-minute program that features special segments on social media trends, and targets a younger, more urban demographic. Hosts of the new program encourage audience engagement via Facebook and Twitter.
On Earth Day, the VOA Deewa Breakfast Show focused on a nationwide cleanliness campaign. After the program, fans posted pictures on Deewa’s Facebook page showing how their children got into the spirit of the day. …
VOA’s environmental documentary on the Midwest U.S. drought of 2012 provided a comprehensive look at the far-ranging impacts of the drought, which were felt worldwide. A Dry Season received awards and praise from international environmental journalism associations, for its balanced and comprehensive coverage of an important story.
With the al-Shabab rebels in retreat and a new government in place, a semblance of normal life is returning to Mogadishu and many other parts of Somalia. But the damage wrought by more than 20 years of civil war has left deep wounds, especially to the country’s health services. To help heal those wounds, the VOA Somali Service has begun offering a health series focused on eliminating child malnutrition. Aid organizations say there are about 236,000 malnourished children scattered throughout Somalia.
VOA reached a funding agreement in March 2013 with USAID and the U.S. embassy in Bujumbura that will extend the life of two Central Africa Service programs — Kira, a health show, and Tujahe, an entrepreneurship show — broadcast to Burundi. The agreement was reached in March and came 13 months after the launch of the two weekly half-hour programs in Kirundi, Burundi’s national language. Under the agreement, Kira will be extended for two years and Tujahe for one. Both programs are heard on VOA’s SW frequencies and on REMA FM, VOA’s Bujumbura-based affiliate.
VOA Persian covered the June 2013 Iranian elections extensively, with extended broadcasts, constant updates reported live through Twitter and Facebook, and a website dedicated to the election that featured a special file-sharing dropbox set up in “U-send-it” for Iranians to share photos, videos and voice messages with any VOA Persian Service program. The audience participation program Straight Talk featured a Skype interview with former Iranian President Abol Hassan Bani Sadr, who took audiences questions — some directly from Iran.
In the run-up to this year’s elections, VOA Persian’s irreverent satirical program OnTen, carried a special message of solidarity to people in Iran from lead U2 singer Bono. OnTen also aired photos and video blogs from the presidential candidates, with a mixture of humor, mockery, and news that provides viewers in Iran with comedic relief and a lighthearted look at serious issues.
In June, the Spanish Service started a live, daily interactive segment with the leading TV network in Peru, Andina Television. The 5-minute prime time segment deals with the top U.S. news stories of the day. The Spanish Service has also added more live reporting on U.S. developments for some of its affiliates in Mexico, Ecuador and Uruguay. The service also welcomed a new affiliate in Chile, Radio Agricultura, one of the top three radio stations in the country.
Innovative uses of online media garnered recognition for several Voice of America journalists. VOA’s Jessica Beinecke, host and creator of the online English-Chinese teaching program, OMG! Meiyu received the 2012 AIB Founders Award. Arash Sigarchi of VOA’s Persian Service received the Deutsche Welle International Blog Award, which highlights online writing that champions the open exchange of ideas and freedom of expression, for his personal blog, Window of Anguish. And VOA’s Middle East Voices, which combines traditional reporting, commentary, and the stories of people living through the Arab Spring, was honored with the Online Journalism Award for topical reporting.
The 2012 Clarion Award for a television feature story/segment went to VOA reporter Carolyn Presutti, photographer/editor Michael Burke, and photographer Mike Kornely, for their report, The Falling Man, based on one of the most controversial images from the 9/11 terror attack in New York.
And Elez Biberaj, the Director of VOA’s Eurasia Division and former head of the VOA Albanian Service, received a Presidential Medal of Gratitude from Albanian President Bamir Topi.
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