The following highlights are a sampling from 2012 of VOA’s engagement with audiences in countries of strategic importance, including areas prone to terror incidents, genocide, or failed states.
Several new Urdu language TV programs were introduced for audiences in Pakistan. Zindagi 360, which airs on the Hum TV cable channel and Sana. A Pakistani, which airs on the Express News cable channel, focus on topics that resonate with young people. For frank dialogue, the program Access Point with Ayesha Tanzeem gives viewers in Pakistan a way to debate tough issues with studio guests in Washington. The Urdu Service also has launched Newsminute, a short segment that airs in prime time on Aaj TV, Express News and Dunya TV.
Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province
Deewa Radio, which has a large audience in Pakistan’s tribal areas, has moved into the increasingly popular direct-to-home satellite TV market. It has adopted a “radio-on-TV” format as a cost-effective way to expand its reach.
VOA TV continues to enjoy a large audience in Afghanistan, where it is carried by the national TV network and reaches an estimated 27 percent of the adult population every week. Combined with the weekly radio audience, VOA reaches nearly 11 million people in Afghanistan every week, more than 60 percent of the adult population.
The VOA Spanish Service increased both its affiliate base and audience reach in 2012 by offering live VOA reports to some of region’s leading television networks and stations. New affiliates include Mexico’s Television Azteca and Radio Formula, Globovision and Radio Caracas in Venezuela, Peru’s Andina TV and Radio Programas del Peru as well as Ecuador’s Teleamazonas and Radio Sonorama. The service also has made inroads in Central America with its “Washington Bureau” concept, which offers live reports from VOA correspondents throughout the United States.
VOA’s audience in Russia expanded with the launch of Podelis, a dynamic TV-webcast that engages online followers on topics they select. VOA Russian is also working with the independent Dozhd TV channel and other stations to provide coverage of U.S. news.
VOA’s Ukrainian TV program remains one of the most popular in the country with a weekly audience of 16 percent. VOA reports and interviews are now featured on the popular Pravda news portal.
Among the more than 52 million people a week who listen to VOA programs in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 20 million listen in Nigeria alone. The Hausa Service has responded to the emergence of the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram with the launch of a weekly program that looks at social issues in northern Nigeria. VOA also has conducted a series of journalist training programs, established a reporting center, and added a sports blog for soccer-mad audiences in West Africa.
VOA’s measured weekly audience is 74 percent of adults in the regions of Somaliland and Puntland. VOA played a key role in gauging public perceptions about a new constitution that was being drafted for the country. Government officials praised VOA for its survey that used Google Ideas software and polled more than 3,000 Somalis about key provisions of the constitution and the kind of government they want.
The seizure of Northern Mali by Islamic militants brought unique challenges. VOA is one of the first western news agencies to get a journalist into the region after the takeover and set up three-minute newscasts for mobile phone users with on-the-ground reports and breaking news from the surrounding countries.
VOA’s South Sudan In Focus radio program provided extensive coverage of ethnic violence in Jonglei State and tension between Sudan and South Sudan.
VOA’s Studio 7 broadcasts now reach 12.1 percent of rural and 7.5 percent of urban adults weekly in Zimbabwe. VOA is one of the leading international broadcasters in this African nation, which earns continued low marks for lack of press freedom.
The Burmese Service began the year by expanding its TV magazine show with a fast-paced, six-day-a-week summary of regional and global developments. In a historic market opening, VOA is now carried by Sky Net, a privately owned satellite TV operator of a 24-hour Burmese and English channel. Burma’s state-owned radio and television also agreed to broadcast VOA English teaching programs.
Chinese viewers now have two hours of fast-paced news and information following the launch of the new Mandarin language television program VOA Weishi via direct-to-home satellite and popular social media sites inside China. Innovative program elements provide viewers with information they cannot get on state owned stations. One segment, Error 404, focuses on Chinese censorship, showing the audience what is blocked by China’s Internet filters and why. In addition, VOA’s hit Chinese-English video blog, OMG! Meiyu is now available in the iTunes store as a podcast.
VOA was on the front line in covering the self-immolations, demonstrations and civil movements that occurred across Tibet and Tibetan areas in China. Despite the closed media environment, VOA provided multimedia coverage of the Tibetan student protests in Qinghai province and a demonstration by the Tibetan medical students taking place in Rebkong. Exclusive cell phone video and a Skype interview with a witness were made available online and on social media sites within the hour, and promptly broadcast on radio.
VOA Khmer has moved from radio production to television with the launch of a four-day a week WebTV program on YouTube. The program covers topics ranging from genocide, corruption and human rights to economic development and social issues. The reports are shared on affiliate television stations in Cambodia as well as on the Web through a growing social media network.
VOA Indonesian is reaching more than 21 million people each week (13 % of the country’s adult population) through more than 400 affiliate radio stations and more than 30 TV affiliates.
Audience numbers in Iran grew in 2012. New Gallup data show the weekly TV audience grew to 21.4 percent, up from 6.5 percent in 2011. The return of the VOA signal to the popular Hotbird satellite is believed to be a key factor. With the addition of radio and the Internet, VOA’s total audience reach in Iran is now estimated at 22.1 percent. Under the leadership of a new management team, the Persian Service has updated its programs and is now available 24 hours a day on Livestation, an Internet streaming platform.
VOA inaugurated a new weekly news program Kurd Connection. Beginning as a web-cast only and hosted by Dakhil Elias, Kurd Connection recently gained two affiliations from Kurdish-speaking broadcasters. The Kurdish Service has introduced a social media component to its daily one-hour radio on TV program, with editors appearing on the program to talk about trending news stories and to solicit input from viewers/listeners.
The Azeri Service is having extraordinary success with its Live Web Forums, using social media and the Internet to bring prominent Azeri officials, human rights activists, writers, and journalists before average Azeri citizens. During the Live Web Forum, the services’ journalists act as mediators who relay the questions to the guest and make responses available to the public.
VOA on the Web
VOA websites got a new look and feel in 2012, with the transition to the Pangea content management system that makes navigation easier, highlights compelling content, and allows more multimedia functionality.
- VOA’s TV Ashna, a respected hour-long program that broadcasts in Dari and Pashto, is now appointment viewing for many in Afghanistan. Under a new five year contract, Radio-Television Afghanistan will continue to broadcast the news program six nights a week. VOA Dari and Pashto websites have grown in popularity, and subscribers get programs via mobile browsers and email.
- VOA ’s satirical program to Iran, Parazit, rode a wave of popularity in 2011. Viewers sent in pictures of their families, both young and old, watching at so-called “Parazit Parties.” It even spawned a new term in Iran: “Paraziti,” a fan who dresses up like the irreverent co-creator of the program Saman Arbabi, who is well known for his wild and colorful outfits. The show was viewed millions of times on social media sites, despite Iranian efforts to block access. In November, Secretary of State Clinton made a guest appearance on the program, which has been called an Iranian version of “The Daily Show.” Along with ongoing news programming in Persian, VOA marked the Iranian New Year with a special televised performance of the play, An Iranian in Heaven, starring Oscar-nominated actress and Emmy award winner, Shohreh Aghdashloo.
- Traffic to VOA ’s Russian website nearly doubled in 2011 and saw record growth in Twitter followers and YouTube video views. With its web-only strategy in Russia, VOA has attracted a growing audience with new blogs and social media features that invite an active online conversation. The new Russian iPhone app rolled out in April lets citizen journalists upload and share short reports, photos, or video about key events.
- VOA ’s Croatian Service signed off for the last time on November 23, 2011, after 19 years of broadcast history that began during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia and ended with Croatia’s emergence as a democratic member of the European community.
- VOA made increasing use of mobile as a delivery platform in Africa, where in most areas the technology is outpacing the growth of home Internet use. In addition, a daily video headline segment called VOA 60 for Africa has also been added to many VOA mobile sites. The Hausa Service saw over 200,000 visits to its mobile site in December alone. The Zimbabwe Service’s radio show, Studio 7, which broadcasts in English, Shona and Ndebele, joined the Intelsat-10 “direct to home” satellite lineup along with other VOA programs reaching Southern Africa. A new French language show, Your Health–Your Future, is part of an increased emphasis on health-related news programs to the continent.
- VOA responded to the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa with comprehensive coverage from the region. Somali and Amharic drought programs were added to deliver life-saving information to refugees and victims of the crisis. VOA launched a pioneering online data visualization project that outlined the scope of the disaster.
- VOA -trained citizen journalists fanned out across the Democratic Republic of Congo gathering video, pictures and information to create a dynamic online conversation about the 2011 election and life in Congo. Congo Story: War, Women and Rape, a joint project between VOA and Citizen-Global is a multimedia crowdsourcing platform which allows victims of the country’s rape crisis to tell their haunting personal stories.
- South Sudan’s independence celebrations were broadcast live in July on VOA ’s radio program South Sudan in Focus, which is funded by a State Department grant. It is co-hosted from Washington and Juba and broadcast on FM, AM and shortwave.
- The Somali Service saw listening rates soar to 73 percent in 2011 – one of VOA ’s highest.
- OMG! Meiyu, a trendy, online English teaching feature, was seen by more than 5.5 million people in its first four months. The quirky videos produced by Jessica Beinecke are posted on social media sites and teach popularEnglish expressions used by young Americans. A new Chinese language iPhone app was launched in June, giving users the news on their mobile devices, and enabling citizen journalists to upload tips and photos from their phones. Chinese language TV and radio programs continue to be popular in China despite efforts to block them.
- VOA Tibet hosted a live televised debate from Washington in March featuring three candidates vying to become Prime Minister of the exiled Tibetan government and broadcast live coverage of the Dalai Lama’s 76th birthday celebration in Washington in July. Surveys of exiles and people leaving Tibet suggest a sizeable audience for VOA TV programs.
- VOA ’s Burmese Service provided extensive coverage of the country’s changing political climate in 2011, and hosted a series of programs with Pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. VOA reporters were on hand as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her historic visit to Burmain December.
- VOA journalist Sungwon Baik completed a rare reporting assignment to North Korea in September to cover the 17th International Taekwon-Do World Championships in Pyongyang. VOA programs reach North Korea on shortwave, medium wave and mobile sites.
- Japan’s deadly earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster were covered extensively by VOA ’s correspondent Steve Herman, who became one of the most quoted international journalists to report on the story. Herman, a prolific and well known Twitter user, was one of the first reporters to reach the crippled Fukushima-1 reactor, capturing photographs and providing an eyewitness description of the depopulated zone.
- This year El Tiempo, one of the region’s oldest and most respected news organizations, began using VOA reports on its growing 24-hour cable TV service in Colombia.
- VOA ’s Creole Service updated its lineup of programs with new segments focused on engaging its increasingly youthful audience and examining critical issues including the economy, health, public safety and education. Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States, marking the service’s 25th anniversary, called the program, “a model and example for many radio stations and for journalists in Haiti.”
- VOA reporter and videographer June Soh won a Bronze Medal at the New York Festivals® World’s Best Television and Films Awards in New York. The TV feature profiled renowned acoustic guitar maker and musician Wayne Henderson. Correspondent Michael O’Sullivan won a LA Press Club National Entertainment Award for his feature about a group of “famous jazz old timers coming together for a recording session like it was done in the old days.”
- A report by Jerome Socolovsky about the pro-democracy protests in Egypt was honored by the Association for International Broadcasting with a “Highly Commended” award in the category of “clearest coverage of a single news event – radio.”
- Reporter Carolyn Presutti and Videographer Michael Kornely won a Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Award for Outstanding Specialty Reporting for a five-part series from the Mississippi Delta region, including a story about a school that teaches young musicians how to play the blues.
- Young-Ran Jeon won the 2010 New York Festivals Gold World Trophy for National/International Affairs for her three-part radio series on North Korean migrant workers in Vladivostok, Russia. Jeon’s reports provided rare insight into the hardships that the workers endure in order to earn a higher income than is possible in North Korea.
- Reporter Jessica Beinecke was “highly commended” by the Association of International Broadcasters in the category of Best Creative TV feature for her Mandarin program Bai Jie Speaks English.
- VOA’s Thai Service received an honorary award from Bangkok’s Thammasat University, a top institution of higher learning in Thailand, in recognition of 15 years of teaching classes.
- Myroslava Gangadze, the host of Chas-Time, was named one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Ukraine by Focus Magazine, a popular newsweekly, for the second year in a row.
- The Bedirxan Cultural Foundation, based in northern Iraq, held its 7th annual festival in Washington, DC, under the theme of “Cultural Bridges between Kurds and Americans.” The foundation gave VOA’s Kurdish Service an award for its exceptional contribution to the local media.
- Haitians, cut off from the world by a devastating earthquake in January 2010, tuned in to special shortwave and satellite radio broadcasts from the Voice of America’s Creole Service to learn the latest news and information. “In times of crises, VOA is a lifeline of information,” said VOA Director Danforth Austin. “Because of our technologies, we are able to reach people in their own languages when disasters strike.” ”
- VOA’s Russian service continues to keep consumers up-to-date using the latest technology. In March 2010, the service launched a new website for cell phone users in the Russian Federation’s rapidly expanding web market. The new URL automatically adapts to a user’s mobile phone – allowing easy and convenient access to the VOA Russian-language Internet site. “With Russia’s quickly evolving new media landscape, we are constantly adapting to new realities,” said Elez Biberaj, VOA Eurasia Division Director.
- VOA’s Persian News Network continues to cover events inside Iran, following the controversial election in June 2009 of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In June of 2010, VOA was granted rights to air the HBO documentary For Neda, the tragic story of the young Iranian woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot and killed during the turmoil that followed the election. The program tells Neda’s personal story, and features previously unseen footage. VOA’s PNN has the largest combined television and radio audience in Iran of all international broadcasters, with nearly 20% of adult Iranians watching a VOA program at least once a week.
- VOA was on the scene in South Africa, boosting its multimedia coverage of the World Cup with daily reports, special features, videos, and photos. Among the broadcasters covering the tournament- hosts from the Persian News Network, Spanish-language VOANoticias, and popular English host Sonny Young. VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch said: “People all over the globe are passionate about football, and VOA is determined to provide our worldwide audience with as much coverage, analysis and color as possible.”