GAO Seeks Strategic Plan On Broadcasts to Arab World

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Despite claims of success by the Bush administration, radio broadcasts and satellite telecasts by the U.S. government to the Arab world lack reliable audience estimates and accuracy checks. That is the conclusion of the Government Accountability Office, Congress's watchdog agency.

The GAO also said, in a report released yesterday, that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Radio Sawa and Alhurra satellite television, has not established a detailed strategic approach to compete with TV networks funded by Arab governments.

Radio Sawa and Alhurra -- funded by the U.S. government -- are a major part of the public diplomacy effort directed by the State Department and have been cited by the administration as a key component in the campaign against terrorism.

Claims that Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV each reached an audience of about 21.6 million last year are questionable, the GAO report said, because of limited survey methods and documentation.

To improve monitoring of the broadcasts' effectiveness, the GAO recommended development of a long-term strategic plan. The report also called for improving contractors' methods of audience research and providing regular editorial training.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, in a statement echoed the administration's view in calling Radio Sawa and the Alhurra satellite TV networks "among the most powerful American public diplomacy tools in the Middle East and North Africa at this critical moment," but he also said the report raised legitimate concerns about a need for strategic planning, oversight and accurate audience research.

Larry Hart, a spokesman for the broadcasting board, disagreed. "We stand by the credibility of the extensive surveys that have been done," he said. "In evaluating the BBG research, the GAO applied textbook standards, which are not entirely applicable to research in the Middle East where there are problems that involve security concerns and substantial cost."

-- Associated Press

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