The networks of the BBG worked together to provide timely and comprehensive coverage of President Barack Obama’s eighth and final State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday evening. The television, radio and digital coverage, which also included the Republican response by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, was distributed in countries such as Russia, Iran, China, Cuba and those in the Middle East.
For many in those regions, the BBG networks served as the only source of accurate and unbiased coverage of the president’s address.
Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty provided full English radio, TV and online coverage of the speech and the Republican response. VOA’s reporting featured reaction from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as a counter-terrorism analyst who talked about the impact of ISIS and violent extremism on the president’s address, the response and upcoming political races. RFE/RL covered the speech and Republican response live in English, with breaking news updates and a comprehensive news report.
In addition, VOA profiled several Muslims who were invited to attend the event, as well as Nikki Haley, a second-generation American of Indian descent.
Facebook proved to be a popular platform for coverage of the evening’s events. VOA’s Khmer Service previewed the speech on the new Facebook function Facebook Live, which produced more than 42,000 views and more than 3,200 engagements. A post by VOA’s Vietnamese Service looking back on President Obama’s past State of the Union speeches reached nearly 1.3 million people and generated 250,000 views and 9,000 engagements. More than 50,000 Facebook users viewed VOA Albanian’s native video coverage of the president’s address. VOA Asia reached 8,000 people and garnered hundreds of views and likes with a video preview of the speech based on a VOA Mandarin Service TV interview with U.S. Congressman Ted Lieu. And VOA Learning English reached 25,000 followers after sharing President Obama’s live video from the White House Facebook page and a post with the text of the speech.
Russia and its Periphery
VOA’s Eurasia Services covered the address and the Republican response on their TV and digital platforms, offering live video streaming with real-time updates and translations in live blogs and via social media. Live TV reports were aired by more than 40 affiliates, including those with national coverage in Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and the Balkans. The Ukrainian and Balkan services also shared reports with RFE/RL’s language services.
In addition to covering the speech and the response, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service interviewed local experts and politicians in Ukraine for their reaction. On its radio program, RFE/RL hosted a live report by a VOA Ukrainian reporter.
VOA’s Russian Service spoke with analysts including Richard Weitz from the Center for Political-Military Affairs at the Hudson Institute and Nicolas Gvosdev from the U.S. Naval War College.
In Iran, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda and VOA’s Persian Service broadcast the speech and the Republican response live, with simultaneous translation into Farsi.
VOA Persian also pre-produced several TV packages, including one on the president’s agenda in his final year in office, and spoke with analysts after the speech such as Masoud Kazemzadeh, a political science professor at Sam Houston State University.
Audiences in the Middle East were able to tune in to the speech live, with simultaneous Arabic translation on Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa. Alhurra.com provided a live blog. Immediately after the speech, Alhurra provided reaction from American analysts who discussed the implications of the address on the challenges facing the country and on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Alhurra also issued live reports from its White House and congressional correspondents and interviewed several members of Congress, as well as Syrian refugee Refaai Hamo, who was seated in the guest box of First Lady Michelle Obama.
Alhurra’s Al Youm and Free Hour programs focused their coverage on the State of the Union speech. Al Youm’s reports included:
- From Jerusalem, a report on Obama’s stance toward Israel.
- From Dubai, a report on Obama’s relationship with the Muslim world.
- From Cairo, a report on the elite reaction to the speech.
- From Washington, a report about the anti-ISIS strategy and another about the speech regarding ISIS, Syria and Iran.
Before and after the address and response, Radio Sawa aired live interviews with analysts, while correspondents provided live updates from Washington.
RFE/RL and VOA collaborated to provide comprehensive coverage of the speech and response to their Dari- and Pashto-speaking audiences in Afghanistan. RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi dedicated an hour of its airtime to VOA Afghan’s coverage with commentary. VOA Afghan later used Radio Azadi’s reactions and analysis from Afghanistan.
RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal service for northwestern Pakistan’s Pashtun regions also coordinated with VOA. Although Mashaal was not on the air during the speech, it aired VOA’s Radio Deewa content in its programming.
Cuba and Latin America
The Martis and VOA Spanish worked closely to share resources and provide comprehensive coverage to Cuba and throughout Latin America. TV Marti aired VOA’s broadcast of the speech with Spanish translation and then aired its own special program to provide a Cuban perspective with two guests, political analysts Robert “Bob” Macaulay and Alfredo Duran representing the Republican and Democratic points of view. The Martis also carried Nikki Haley’s response with Spanish audio track.
Both TV and Radio Marti content was streamed live on martinoticias.com.
VOA Spanish aired its own special program featuring Republican analyst Diego Sanchez and Federico de Jesus, President Obama’s former communications director. VOA Spanish also did a live interview with U.S. Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinios.
VOA Spanish provided its live coverage and reporting packages to affiliates throughout the region.
VOA’s Creole Service simultaneously translated the speech into Creole for nine radio stations in Haiti that aired it live.
VOA’s Mandarin Service previewed the speech on its TV program “Weishi” with Congressman Ted Lieu and reviewed the speech with Congresswoman Judy Chu, both Chinese-Americans from California. “Weishi” provided live coverage of the speech and response with simultaneous translation into Mandarin and featured expert analysis before and after the address with a look at it from a Chinese perspective.