Mandated by Congress, the annual Language Service Review (LSR) is a process during which the Broadcasting Board of Governors prioritizes its language services, providing strategic direction for the budgeting purposes.
As a result of LSR, the BBG could add new languages or enhance existing services. But at the same time, others could face reduction or even elimination as resources are reallocated.
Factors affecting the LSR this year include the overall tight budget environment, the BBG’s 5% budget cut due to sequestration, and a recent GAO report that recommends renewed examination of overlap throughout the broadcast entities. That overlap could mean language services, but it also refers to areas previously identified in the BBG’s strategic plan, such as transmission, back office operations, coverage of major events, bureau locations, and other expenditures where resources could be pooled.
The BBG currently delivers news and information in 61 languages to more than 100 countries.
Added recently were Bambara and Songhai (also Songhay) — two languages spoken in Mali. Both are small services, operating under the umbrella of VOA’s French to Africa Service. The most recent cancellation of a language service came in November, 2011 when VOA ended broadcasts to Croatia.
Criteria for language service assessment include statutory factors that center on freedom and democracy, including press freedom, and U.S. Government national security interests. The BBG also draws on a host indicators including a given country’s level of development and stability.
NGO Freedom House noted that there were more declines than gains in worldwide freedom in 2012 — the seventh consecutive year of decline. Also adding context to discussions is Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders) which ranks press freedom scores, from best to worst. Europe scores best with 17.5, followed by the Americas’ 30.0, Africa at 34.3, 42,2 for Asia-Pacific, 45.3 for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and 48.5 for the Middle East and North Africa.
North Africa is of particular interest as extremist threats have expanded significantly across the region and into the Sahel.
All the while, global media growth continues, including expanding state-sponsored broadcasting from China, Russia, and Qatar.
Overall, the data points to the conclusion that more media does not mean more media freedom.
At the heart of Language Service Review is the BBG’s enabling legislation and charter, which includes the following three broadcasting principles:
United States international broadcasting shall include:
(1) news which is consistently reliable and authoritative, accurate; objective, and comprehensive;
(2) a balanced and comprehensive projection of United States thought and institutions, reflecting the diversity of United States culture and society;
(3) clear and effective presentation of the policies, including editorials, broadcast by the Voice of America, which present the views of the United States Government of the United States Government and responsible discussion and opinion on those policies.
The 2013 LSR meetings will run through April, informing the upcoming budgeting process for fiscal year 2015.