The history of U.S. civilian international broadcasting
The history of U.S. international media spans more than 75 years, starting with the creation of the Voice of America (VOA) during World War II. U.S. civilian broadcasting was born in February 1942 when American writer and journalist William Harlan Hale initiated VOA’s first radio show in German with these now immortal words:
“We bring you voices from America. Today, and daily from now on, we shall speak to you about America and the war. The news may be good for us. The news may be bad. But we shall tell you the truth.”
Today, VOA is one of five U.S. civilian broadcast networks that fall under the purview of the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM). The others are Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which went on the air on July 4, 1950 with a broadcast to communist Czechoslovakia from a studio in New York City; the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) with its Radio and TV Martí, which started broadcasting in 1985 and 1990, respectively; Radio Free Asia (RFA), which was founded on March 12, 1996; and the Arabic-language stations Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), which were launched in 2004.
The U.S. government’s international broadcasting services began to work closer together in 1990 when the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), then VOA’s parent agency, established the Bureau of Broadcasting to consolidate its three broadcasting services – VOA, the WORLDNET Television and Film Service, and Radio and TV Martí – under one umbrella organization that was supported by an Office of Engineering and Technical Operations.
In 1991, the Bureau of Broadcasting created the Office of Affiliate Relations and Audience Analysis (later renamed the Office of Affiliate Relations and Media Training in 1996) to establish and maintain a network of “affiliated” radio and TV stations around the globe that would broadcast VOA- and WORLDNET-produced programs. Today, more than 1,200 radio and TV stations receive programming through the Office of Affiliate Relations.
International broadcasting by the U.S government was consolidated even more when President Bill Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act (Public Law 103-236) on April 30, 1994. The legislation established the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and created a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with oversight authority over all international non-military government broadcasting.
With the enactment of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, the Broadcasting Board of Governors assumed authority for VOA and the Martís, as well as its three grantee organizations: RFE/RL, RFA and MBN.
VOA’s original charter, signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976 to lay out the objectives of VOA, was subsequently included in the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994, as amended. The charter serves as the basis for the “standards and principles” of all BBG broadcasting as written in the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994.
The first Broadcasting Board of Governors was sworn in on August 11, 1995. More than four years later on October 1, 1999, the BBG became an independent, autonomous entity as a result of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998. It would henceforth be responsible for all U.S. government and government-sponsored non-military international broadcasting.
The BBG’s role is to supervise all broadcasting activities and provide strategic management for the agency. It serves as a firewall between U.S. government policymakers and the journalists.
On August 22, 2018, as part of a larger modernization effort, the Broadcasting Board of Governors changed its name to the United States Agency for Global Media.
The change was made to help constituents better understand the work that the Agency and its networks do. USAGM remains rigorously committed to objective journalism and the firewall protecting journalists and content from political influence remains in place.