The president’s budget request for fiscal 2017, sent to Congress Tuesday, includes $777.8 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
The BBG, which oversees Voice of America, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and BBG-funded grantees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, distributes programming in 61 languages to approximately 100 countries via AM and FM radio, shortwave, medium wave, satellite, television, the Internet and a growing list of mobile devices and social media outlets. It says U.S. international broadcasting has a global audience of 226 million each week.
The FY2017 request marks a 3.5 percent increase in spending over FY2016, the BBG says. The U.S. international broadcaster’s FY2016 request was $751.5 million. It received $749.6 million in actual funding for FY2016.
BBG CEO John Lansing, speaking during a teleconference in Washington, said the request reflects unprecedented collaboration among the five BBG networks to increase efficiency and support BBG’s unified mission.
The request prioritizes expanding digital and video production to engage young audiences who are affected by Russian aggression and disinformation, or by media campaigns of violent extremist groups such as ISIL, Lansing says.
The BBG networks are shifting dramatically to social media to attract a younger audience, Lansing says, but he sought to emphasize that BBG is not abandoning radio. BBG will invest $4.55 million in the expansion of the shortwave broadcast infrastructure in Kuwait. Shortwave broadcasts from Kuwait reach multiple regions, including Africa, and due to the low cost of electrical power in Kuwait, it is the international broadcaster’s most cost-effective shortwave transmitting site, according to a BBG budget summary.
“Expanding the broadcast capacity in Kuwait will allow us to migrate transmissions from other far more expensive facilities,” Lansing says. “BBG will realign, transmitting stations, shortwave station sites and transmissions across its worldwide network in response to the migration away from shortwave to other next generation media formats.”
Cutbacks in shortwave infrastructure have been an ongoing theme over the past decade at BBG. Lansing didn’t specify which shortwave facilities could see cutbacks.
The budget request includes language to legally authorize day-to-day operation and management duties to the CEO in order to optimize the BBG’s coordinated coverage of global news. BBG Chairman Jeff Shell has voiced support for such a move. BBG only recently moved to a CEO-led structure.
The Obama administration also is seeking to establish a Spanish-language grantee for Cuba, which would perform the current functions of the current Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
The FY2017 request comes at a time when some in Congress are calling for an overhaul to U.S. international media, including major structural reforms. The United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015 would divide the governing body into two separate independent boards create a Freedom News Network as the umbrella organization for the three grantees. The House Foreign Affairs Committee last year unanimously approved the bill (H.R. 2323), which now awaits further action in the House and Senate.