Despite Threats to Press Freedom BBG Broadcasts Attract Large Audiences

U.S. international broadcasting attracted wide audiences worldwide in 2009, particularly in key countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, despite declines in press freedom and the targeting of journalists in some countries, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) announced today.

More than 171 million people worldwide turn to U.S. international broadcasts across media platforms every week for reliable news and information, according to the BBG’s independent research. This figure is statistically unchanged from the BBG’s global audience estimate of 175 million reported in June 2008 and represents an increase of more than 70 percent over the 100 million listeners and viewers in 2002.

BBG broadcasters — the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa) — are bringing reliable news and information to places where it is needed most. For example, U.S. international broadcasting reaches over 56 percent of the population in Afghanistan and more than 30 percent in Iran each week.

Freedom House marked 2009 as the seventh straight year of decline in global media freedom while the Committee to Protect Journalists documented increasing dangers bloggers face including harassment and imprisonment.

Countries with the highest percentage of audience reach include Iraq (72 percent), Rwanda (72 percent), Kosovo (64 percent), Afghanistan (56 percent) and Haiti (50 percent). Audiences increased to a record 43 percent in Armenia and to 16 percent in Zimbabwe.

The largest audiences for U.S. international broadcasting include Nigeria (22 million), Indonesia (16 million), Iran (14.5 million), and Iraq (11.7 million). The BBG’s first-ever survey of Niger found an audience of nearly 3 million in that country, while the first nationwide survey of Haiti found 1.4 million listeners. The audience also increased by 1.4 million in Egypt.

In order to reach key audiences on preferred media, the BBG has taken a number of strategic steps including continuing to increase TV offerings, expanding local FM presence where possible, and maximizing online content. Audience engagement through call-in shows and social networking is another priority effort.

U.S. international broadcasting has been able to attract high audience levels through sustained journalistic excellence, program innovations and diversification of media platforms. Harassment and threats to journalists in Pakistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Cambodia along with persistent censorship in many countries including China, Iran and Cuba are ongoing challenges. Government crackdowns, most notably in Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, prevented local radio and TV affiliates from carrying programming and caused declines in audience estimates. In addition, some radio audience declines were observed due to increased local competition, crowded FM markets and increased popularity of satellite TV.

At the same time, the BBG is delivering a significant amount of news on the Internet, via SMS text messaging and other new media platforms. The largest BBG Internet audiences are in Iraq, Oman, Kosovo, Morocco, and the UAE.

The BBG’s audience and market research is done independently via local market research firms around the world through a contract with the InterMedia Survey Institute. The standard measure of audience reach for the BBG and other international broadcasters is the number of adults (age 15and above) who “listened or viewed last week.” The audience estimate includes research conducted over a three year period in 70 countries, including 39 in Fiscal Year 2009.

Audience reach is one criterion the BBG uses to assess effectiveness. Broadcasting impact on the target audience, audience perception of the broadcasters’ credibility and improved understanding of the United States and current events are also key indicators of effectiveness.

In many countries, audience samples are extremely limited and require audience members to acknowledge illegal listening and/or viewing, activities that result in severe penalties. Numbers for these hard to reach countries and regions such as Somalia, North Korea, Tibet, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are not included in our overall estimate. Such restrictive environments may make survey participants reluctant to reveal media habits that include banned international broadcasts.

The BBG is announcing its global audience estimate in conjunction with the release of the Fiscal Year 2009 Performance and Accountability Report.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is to promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multimedia communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information, and other programming about America and the world to audiences overseas. BBG broadcasting organizations include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).