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Restructuring US International Broadcasting in the 1990s

Restructuring US International Broadcasting in the 1990s

Starting in 1990, all U.S. government international broadcasting services began to work more closely together. That year the U.S. Information Agency, then VOA's parent Agency, established the Bureau of Broadcasting to consolidate its three broadcasting services — the Voice of America, WORLDNET Television and Film Service, and Radio and TV Martí — into one element.

U.S. government international broadcasting was consolidated even further when President Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act (Public Law 103-236) on April 30, 1994. The legislation established the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) within the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and created a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with oversight authority over all non-military U.S. government international broadcasting.

In 1998, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act (Public Law 105-277), mandating that the Broadcasting Board of Governors become an independent federal entity on October 1, 1999 and giving it supervisory authority over the International Broadcasting Bureau, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia, founded in 1994. The legislation also abolished the U.S. Information Agency and merged most of its functions into the U.S. State Department.

On the programming side, the 1990s saw changes in the output of many language services, especially those broadcasting to the crumbling Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In August 1991, VOA Russian covered the attempted coup against then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the same year. Following the collapse of communist governments throughout Eastern Europe, VOA continued a daily flow of news and information to the region.

In other parts of the world, VOA launched a 15-minute Tibetan program in 1991, which the Chinese government promptly started to jam. Kurdish-language broadcasts to listeners in Iraq and Iran went on the air in 1992.

In response to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991, VOA divided its Yugoslav Service into Croatian and Serbian services in 1993 and expanded their broadcast hours to the region. These, along with VOA's Slovene Service, maintained a constant flow of news and information to listeners in the Balkans. A Bosnian Service was added in 1996 and a Macedonian Service in 1999.

Following the massacre in Rwanda and exodus of refugees, VOA introduced Kirundi- and Kinyarwanda-language programming for listeners in Central Africa in 1996.

In 1998, VOA’s worldwide English-language service expanded into a 24-hour-a-day service, VOA News Now.

Although historically an international radio broadcaster, VOA began to simulcast programs on radio and TV in the mid-1990s. The first, China Forum TV, a weekly televised call-in show, aired on September 18, 1994. Two years later, VOA's Arabic Branch teamed up with WORLDNET Television Service and the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) in London to launch Dialogue With the West. The success of these two programs encouraged VOA, with the assistance of WORLDNET Television, to build the new TV Studio 47 at its headquarters. On October 18, 1996, VOA's Persian Service went on the air with the TV show Roundtable With You, which now is part of a daily Persian program stream with a weekly audience of approximately 25 percent among Iranian adults.

In 1994, the Voice of America became the first international broadcaster to offer its material through the Internet. Initially, the site offered information through two simple text-based formats, then added audio and video. Within a few years, VOA had become an increasingly important source of news on the Internet. By the end of 1999, much of the programming in each of VOA’s 53 (at the time) language services was available on the web.

VOA’s expansion into television and the Internet helped transform this flagship of U.S. government-funded broadcasting into a multimedia international broadcaster ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century.