The Broadcasting Board of Governors will save millions of dollars by reducing staff and consolidating programs and some language services, according to the FY2013 budget request the U.S. international broadcaster released earlier this week.
The $720.1 million submission sent to Capitol Hill includes program, transmission and staffing reductions at the Voice of America, Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network. It represents a 4.2 percent decrease from current spending levels at BBG.
One long-time U.S. international broadcasting observer described the BBG’s budget request as “massive international broadcasting cuts.”
“We are mindful of the fiscal austerity out there right now, in this country and in our government. We are facing very difficult decisions. We are taking a hard look at everything and trying to achieve these efficiencies without failing our mission,” said Richard Lobo, director of the International Broadcasting Bureau, which is a division of the BBG.
Among the highlights in the BBG budget proposal:
— Further shortwave and medium-wave reductions. Research data clearly shows the declining effectiveness of shortwave distribution to many target audiences, according to the BBG. There would be a reduction in shortwave and medium-wave transmissions for VOA English. Shortwave transmissions for RFA Lao and Vietnamese will also be reduced.
— The Poro, Philippines transmitting station would close and discontinue 10 positions. The one megawatt station currently provides only five hours per day of medium-wave transmission to audiences in Southeast Asia.
— The VOA would discontinue broadcasting in Greek and will service Cantonese speakers only on-line. RFE/RL will discontinue Chechen, Circassian and Avar.
— The VOA would discontinue broadcasting in Cantonese, Greek, Chechen and Avar. VOA Cantonese products are thought to have a negligible impact in the crowded South China media market.
— The OCB Central News Division will focus on streamlining and consolidating the planning and execution of news coverage to allow multiple broadcasts to leverage shared resources.
— Consolidating Radio Free Iraq with Radio Sawa, part of Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
— Streamlining reporting assets across the platforms. As a result RFA will condense its language service operations. The request will reduce two positions from the Khmer Service, two positions from the Vietnamese Service, two positions from the Korean Service, two positions from the Mandarin Service and one position from the Burmese Service.
— The request would consolidate VOA bureau locations in the Middle East, Eurasia, East and South Asia and the United States.
—Reduce administrative and support costs by $5.4 million at IBB. The BBG theorizes, among other things, that as the transmission network grows smaller, the agency will no longer need to budget for storage and shipping of supplies and equipment, including tubes and capacitors, required to operate shortwave and medium-wave transmitting facilities.
The BBG has acknowledged workforce issues at all five news organizations. Some observers fear tensions and divisiveness between employees, contractors and management could be heightened as a result of proposed cuts.
“Management has been working very hard on that. A survey was done with employees and contractors to determine the issues. There is an added emphasis on entrepreneurism. There is a wide range of opinion about what it is like to work here,” said Lynne Weil, director of communications and external affairs at the BBG.
Approximately between 35 to 40 percent of the federal workforce at BBG are independent contractors, Lobo said.