Board focuses on importance of digital, social media; new VOA Director introduced

The Broadcasting Board of Governors met to receive programming highlights from the BBG networks that advance the agency’s strategic priorities, and to discuss the BBG’s expansion into digital and social media.

Today’s meeting was attended by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Amanda Bennett, who was sworn in as VOA’s 29th Director on Monday.

“We are confident that Amanda will do a wonderful job as Director of VOA,” BBG CEO and Director John Lansing said.  “In today’s complex geopolitical environment, VOA’s work is more important than ever, and Amanda will lead VOA to great success around the world on all media platforms.”

The Board also honored VOA’s Associate Director of Language Programming Kelu Chao, who served as Acting VOA Director for nearly a year.  Chairman Shell presented a plaque to Chao for her service.

The meeting came a day after BBG Governors met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.  In addition to outlining its current priorities, the Board told the Secretary that its immediate aim is to position the agency as an impactful tool of U.S. global policy in the 21st century media environment.

At the Board meeting, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell praised Secretary Kerry for his support of the Board and the five BBG networks.

“He challenged us to be bold, and he challenged the government and the State Department and everybody else involved to utilize us and to increase our funding,” Shell said.  “It was wonderful to see the Secretary of State both recognize the progress we’ve made here at this organization with a new management team and functioning board, and also to recognize the importance of the mission that we’re all fighting for.”

Shell also cited a series of ongoing threats to BBG journalists around the world, including one that unfolded in Russia-annexed Crimea on Tuesday, when security officers raided the homes of at least seven people, some of whom have worked as RFE/RL contributors.  The Moscow-backed Crimean Prosecutor General’s Office said it has launched a criminal case against one of those contributors, Mykola Semena.

Shell also said Azerbaijani investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova remains in prison, despite the recent release of more than a dozen political prisoners by Azerbaijani authorities, and that an RFE/RL Turkmen service contributor is still in prison.

Lansing, who presented his report to the Board, also moderated a panel of social media strategists from each of the five BBG networks to discuss the agency’s digital and social media distribution.  One of his five strategic themes is an aggressive shift to digital and social media in hopes of connecting with more young, urban future leaders and influencers.

The panelists represented some of the most cutting-edge minds on the issue.  They shared information about what works, what does not, and where the BBG is now and where it must be to keep pace in the 21st century journalism world in regard to digital and social media.

VOA Director of Digital Strategy Matthew Baise discussed how social media data streams can help the BBG better target audiences and respond to their needs.  He also explained the role of analytics for measuring success and better understanding the demographics of the BBG’s audiences.

RFE/RL’s Managing Editor for Digital, Glenn Kates, noted that social media are a way for journalists to tell a “really compelling story” that has impact.  He also said video is completely changing how people use social media.

Mayra Fernandes, a broadcaster who works for VOA’s Portuguese Service, said in Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa such as Angola, Facebook and the social network Whatsapp are huge sources of information.

RFA Director of Public Affairs Rohit Mahajan said social media is an “asset and a challenge.”  He noted that his network encounters a lot of limitation in countries such as China, where many social media platforms are blocked.  Thus, he said, RFA seeks ways where it can compete with other media organizations in countries that are semi-open like Cambodia and Burma.

Omar Fekeiki, the Managing Editor of Raise Your Voice Digital at MBN, said the network’s successful “Raise Your Voice” campaign is a perfect example of how the BBG can succeed using social media while not abandoning traditional news delivery.  “Raise Your Voice” encourages people across the Middle East to speak out on Facebook about the fight against violent extremism.

OCB’s Director of Digital and Social Media Strategy, Clive Fernandez, said for the BBG to take full advantage of social and digital media, journalists need to experiment a lot more with those platforms.  They must be prepared for those experiments “breaking down at times,” he added.

About the BBG

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international media. Its mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG networks 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 Martí). BBG programming has a measured audience of 278 million in more than 100 countries and in 58 languages.