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Inspector General, Voice of America’s Chinese Branch, July 2010

Inspection report prepared for the US Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Originally designated “sensitive but unclassified.”
July 1, 2010

Key Judgements

•The management of Voice of America’s (VOA’s) Chinese branch, which is composed of the Mandarin and Cantonese language services, provides sound leadership to an outstanding, dedicated staff under difficult conditions imposed by the antipathy of Chinese authorities to VOA Chinese programming.

•The Chinese Government censors VOA’s Chinese branch Web site and jams its radio frequencies. The International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) has taken measures to deal with such censorship. Faced with innumerable challenges of reaching the Chinese target audience and deciding on the most effective delivery systems in a world of rapidly developing communications technologies, the Chinese branch must give serious attention to a detailed, long range plan for how it expects to operate five or ten years from now; it also needs to provide a projection of the resources, both personnel and financial, that will be required to meet its goals.

•China is the leading market in the world for new media, in terms of the actual number of new media users, and is rapidly outpacing the United States. In spite of censorship challenges, the Internet and new media offer a new and vibrant way for the Chinese branch to reach its target audience inside the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Employees of the Chinese branch have enthusiastically embraced new ways to grow audiences through the Internet and are resourceful in using new media.

•The VOA Chinese branch relies on purchase order vendors (POVs) to supplement direct-hire staff. Differences between existing guidelines and Chinese branch practices need to be reviewed for compliance with governing U.S. Government statutes and regulations.

•The Chinese Government welcomes (or tolerates) certain VOA programs and products, such as English language teaching, as long as they do not cross a line that involves hard news reporting. As a way to penetrate the Chinese market, the branch chief initiated negotiations with a major cell phone company to install VOA English language programs into phones intended for sale in the PRC. The program went into effect in 2008. Chinese cell phoneusers have the option to subscribe to the programs. Indications are that the program has been highly successful. The OIG team considers this initiative a best practice.

•The Chinese branch administrative support has improved greatly, especially in the last two years, as noted by employees and POVs alike. However, despite serious efforts at communication and transparency, management has been less effective in getting the information about policies and procedures to all employees. The OIG team has made suggestions for improvement.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 7 and March 31, 2010.

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