United States Agency for Global Media

History

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.

Working Together

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 Business Development) 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 3,000 radio and TV stations receive our programming.

Further Consolidation

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 journalists.

Modernization

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.

““Continued broadcasting will change the awareness of the people. The DPRK (North Korea) is a country that cannot exist long. Broadcasting is like shooting a gun at the general public. You should broadcast even if you think there is only one person in the audience. You should not spare money for broadcasting."”

North Korean defector & former journalist

2000

““I really admire your daily programs and listen to them on a regular basis. I believe that what you are producing is the best programming among all Persian radio broadcasts originating from abroad.””

Listener in Iran

2000

““Through jamming, through all the technical problems, across seas and oceans for many years, we’ve been listening to VOA.… We are especially interested to hear about people who are able to laugh at themselves and their circumstances.””

Listener from Russia

2000

““Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur program is the only source in the Uyghur region that provides timely news and truthful information. Our government and media broadcast only propaganda and untruthful information.””

Listener from the Uyghur region

2000

““ RFA is an objective, fair, and accurate radio station. What you report is exactly what we ordinary people need so we can learn what is happening around us. Often, the Chinese government blocks the news and also tries to fool us. We don’t even know what is happening in our own environment.””

Student from China

2000

““For me, Radio Liberty—just as for millions of its listeners in the boundless stretches of [Russia]—was and is the real embodiment of its name, ‘Svoboda’ (freedom). It is freedom from lies, it is the freedom to receive and distribute information as it is formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During the quiet days of our lives, one can think that ‘Svoboda’ is one radio station among many. But, oh, such days are few! And in all the others—those showery and stormy days and times of fog and blood—you understand that ‘Svoboda’ will still be needed by Russia on its long path to Freedom!"”

Elena Bonner, Russian human rights activist

2000

“"You are ordinary Chinese, but the work you do is extraordinary. Your work is to wake up millions of Chinese who have been cheated, numbed, fooled and persecuted and learn their situation. Thanks to you, RFA. You have opened a window for China and introduced space for democracy and freedom. You are a real promising sunshine. I wish all of the RFA staff good health and ask you to work hard so Chinese people can break away from the hardship of life sooner and live happily and freely. This will be RFA ’s achievement that will be remembered forever."”

Listener from China

1999

“"Although I could not understand why some callers support the CCP, we have at least one thing in common we all love to listen to RFA. I think the CCP is afraid of people listening to RFA because they do not want people to know more about freedom and democracy."”

Caller from China

1999

“RFA broadcasts, like an educator, has brightened our hearts …They have opened our eyes. China always wants to keep the Uyghurs ignorant of the world. But now we understand democracy, human rights, and freedom. RFA broadcast means more than food, drink, and air to us because it give s us hope and inspiration. We hope RFA increases the broadcast time in the Uyghur language.””

RFA Uyghur Listener

1999

“I want to thank you because of the great service you provide, especially the Persian radio. In all the days of the p r o t e s t s, the only news agency I could trust was you….I hope someday all the work we do will lead Iran to freedom."”

Listener from Iran

1999

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