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The Modernization of U.S. International Media transformation and impact

A message from the CEO

Dear friends and colleagues,

As 2019 comes to a close, we find ourselves reflecting on the vital work we are doing and the blend of success and challenges we face. I am struck by how far the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) has come, not just in the past year, but in the past few years. USAGM has embraced change and is using it to become a more modern, nimble and impactful media agency than ever.

In 2019, we enhanced our ability to compete in the ever-changing global media environment by developing more collaborative programming; expanding our affiliate networks; countering censorship through the creation of the Open Technology Fund (OTF) grantee to develop and distribute cutting edge security and access tools; and targeting audiences based on language rather than geographic location, through efforts such as the 24/7 global Persian-language network, VOA 365.

As we look to the next decade—in which press freedom issues will continue to be paramount—USAGM’s forward-leaning momentum positions it to respond creatively and effectively to the information needs of global audiences.

I have great confidence in this agency’s future and its ability to do even more to inform, connect and engage people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. USAGM remains committed to that mission—and its talented workforce supporting it—because getting the truth to people who do not have access to it benefits us all.

Best wishes for the new year,

Grant K. Turner,

Chief Executive Officer and Director, USAGM

Unprecedented Growth

Audience Estimates

USAGM's public service networks reach 350 million people weekly, on radio, television and internet.

That's an increase of 55% or 124 million people since 2015.

Trust and Credibility

USAGM networks provide programming that audiences find trustworthy and credible. All five of USAGM’s networks have credibility scores of at least 77 percent, meaning over three quarters of audiences trust their programming.

Online audience growth

Since committing in 2015 to a digital-first approach to better reach and engage audiences, USAGM's online reach has exploded by 279%.

Unprecedented security

Globally, now more than 2 billion people use USAGM-supported technology daily, and more than two-thirds of all mobile users globally have Open Technology Fund-incubated technology on their device.

“...USAGM networks [are] on a path toward becoming modern, effective news organizations providing unbiased information in some of the world’s most closed media spaces. This mission is an important representation of American values and is an asset in advancing our foreign policy goals."

--Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY)

Targeting Key Audiences

USAGM has successfully targeted resources to reach audiences in key markets and has focused on special populations that are targeted by state-sponsored disinformation, those subject to extremist rhetoric, and those in information-denied environments.

USAGM reaches audiences targeted by state-sponsored disinformation campaigns

USAGM's strategy to provide fact-based reporting to audiences subjected to state-sponsored disinformation campaigns has been extremely fruitful. Current Time, which began as a daily half-hour program rapidly expanded into a 24/7 digital and TV network produced by RFE/RL with cooperation from VOA, that provides Russian-language news and information to a global audience.

We've also created important fact-checking initiatives such as RFE/RL’s Footage vs. Footage, and expanded the digital platforms Polygraph and Faktograph.

USAGM reaches audiences subjected to extremist rhetoric and violence

USAGM has excelled at reaching audiences in areas plagued by extremism, where non-state forces espouse violent ideologies and execute campaigns of terror, threatening U.S. and regional security and subverting open, democratic societies. With projects like MBN's Raise Your Voice and RFE/RL's Not in My Name, USAGM’s public service networks provide platforms for real-time information and open discussion that do not otherwise exist

MBN's Raise Your Voice

MBN's Raise Your Voice initiative counters the propaganda spread by ISIS and provides a platform for citizens to discuss and engage on topics that underlie the appeal of extremist ideology.

"You ask us to share our stories, I have thousands of stories, but I have been waiting for someone that will listen. We are hoping you will save us, or least support us with words." —A woman in Mosul posted on the Raise Your Voice Facebook page

RFE/RL's Not in Our Name

This research and documentary project developed by RFE/RL to help communities in Central Asia understand and prevent the spread of violence and extremism.

Without recognizing the deep roots that push people toward violent extremism, it will be all but impossible to fully understand and prevent the spread of radicalization in Central Asia. “Not In Our Name” lays crucial groundwork for progress in that realm. -- The Diplomat, 26 October 2018

VOA's Boko Haram: Journey From Evil

This Voice of America documentary delivers an unprecedented examination of the terror group Boko Haram and the people who are fighting back.

USAGM reaches audiences in information-denied environments

USAGM's successful efforts at reaching audiences where independent information is blocked are exemplified by projects such as a joint video project launched by RFA and VOA for North Koreans, increased engagement with audiences in China by using digital media and circumvention tools to evade the Chinese firewall, and the creation of VOA 365, a 24/7 Persian-language channel to reach Persian-speakers in Iran and throughout the diaspora.

RFA's Bravo My Life is an example of programming targeted towards elites in North Korea, providing them with an accurate look at life outside of the DPRK.

During times of unrest, such as the protests that arose in early 2018, Iranian authorities' default reaction is to restrict access to information. The networks of USAGM therefore ramp up their coverage and provide anti-censorship tools to audiences and reporters on the ground. The result is that Farsi speakers inside and outside of Iran can safely access unbiased and accurate information. The success of our networks' coverage in late 2017 and early 2018, as shown below, laid the groundwork for a similar approach and results in 2019.

U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo

"I care deeply about USAGM’s mission; getting free and objective news and information into some of the most closed societies in the world is more important than ever, and I commend your agency’s leadership in this area.”

Streamlining Coordination

USAGM is one of the world's largest news-gathering and reporting enterprises, with more than 50 overseas bureaus, 4,000 employees, and 1,500 stringers. Since 2015, the five networks have increasingly worked together to leverage the breadth and depth of the agency as a whole.

Creation of the ICC

The effort to streamline operations began in 2015 when the USAGM CEO convened the first International Coordinating Committee, or ICC. The heads of each network comprise the ICC, and they meet regularly to coordinate coverage, break apart silos and work collaboratively, while reinforcing their unique and respective mission-driven roles around the world.

Collaborative Networks

USAGM's language-based strategy brings together language services from more than one USAGM network to act as a force multiplier and capitalizes on the resources and strengths of each network. These language-based digital networks allow USAGM to engage diaspora audiences who report to relatives in their home countries and are crucial in information flows.

Current Time is a Russian-language, 24/7 digital and television platform, led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. In 2018, its videos received more than 520 million views online and across social media platforms, with more than half coming from inside of Russia. It is seen in 20 countries via 94 distributors and 50 affiliates (including 9 within Russia) and has more than 2.5 million followers across social media platforms.

VOA 365 builds on Voice of America’s Persian Service and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s top-rated Radio Farda to provide 24/7 live and unfiltered coverage of global news and events through its expanded pool of studios and correspondents in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, London, Iraq, Prague, and other European cities.

And coming in FY20, USAGM will launch another collaborative project, a 24/7 global Mandarin-language network by VOA and RFA.

Increased coverage coordination

USAGM networks have leveraged their extensive news gathering networks, including stringers and correspondents, and employed "bridge editors" and other content-sharing mechanisms to direct original reporting from the language services to central newsrooms and across USAGM. These efforts have resulted in unprecedented coverage of new stories such as the North Korea Summit, Hong Kong protests, and the demonstrations and violence in Venezuela, to name a few.

Collaborative projects

USAGM networks have produced full-scale collaborative projects on internet freedom and the rising global influence of China.

The Dragon’s Reach examines how China's $1 trillion investment is transforming lives, reshaping landscapes and tilting the geopolitical balance. Supporting USAGM's strategic priority to enhance cooperation among the networks, The Dragon’s Reach, offers a well-rounded look at China’s economic and infrastructural reach with each network producing a variety of pieces that focus on their broadcast regions.

The 2018 project The Dragon’s Reach; Tracking China’s Economic Power Play was shortlisted for recognition in the “Interactive Category” by the Association of International Broadcasters (AIB)

Optimizing program delivery and overcoming censorship

To reach 350 million adults in 61 languages and in 100 countries around the world, USAGM has excelled in the sophisticated and tailored delivery of its content. Today's modern USAGM has taken the lead in assisting the world's citizens gain access to information on all platforms.

Overcoming censorship

In 2019, the Open Technology Fund, which was created as a program within RFA in 2012, became an independent USAGM grantee. As such, OTF addresses the increasingly sophisticated challenge of internet censorship and surveillance by supporting tools to ensure privacy and enable unfettered access to the internet. OTF support internet freedom community and the incubation of a robust network of information access technologies that serve billions of users worldwide.

OTF-supported technology is now running on more than 2 billion devices worldwide.

More than 150 million websites rely on technology supported by OTF for their security.

OTF has supported the translation of more than 70 tools into over 200+ languages and dialects.

Optimizing Program Delivery

USAGM is successfully expanding its reach and engagement on digital platforms, including mobile devices, and new streaming and over-the-top platforms.

USAGM has prioritized developing content and distribution to social and mobile platforms, and it has paid off. Online audiences have increased more than 300% since 2015.
Counting the number of affiliates--broadcast stations and digital platforms that carry USAGM content-- offers a measure of the appeal of programming to the vital gatekeepers and distributors of USAGM networks' content.

For more information about these and other accomplishments, please visit USAGM.gov or read the agency's yearly reports.

Credits:

Created with images by Rodion Kutsaev - "untitled image" • ROBIN WORRALL - "I heard recently that the average person scrolls the height of Big Ben in a day. Whilst waiting for a delayed train in Bath I spotted this line of hands on phones – all endlessly scrolling."