Beginning with the Smith-Mundt Act, the US Congress granted the State Department the authority to communicate “America” to foreign publics. The State Department’s Undersecretary of diplomacy and public affairs administers government funds appropriated for the production of media intended for audiences abroad. A portion of these funds go toward gaining access to foreign networks, developing the technological base for broadcasting in a region and creating content for culturally tailored programming. Tracking the financial investments in regions, represented as a shaded circle, could produce a map of the world indicating the State Dept. regional investment. Similarly, mapping this information over time could show the decreasing and increasing emphasis of VOA broadcast targets through the funding allotted a given region. This visualization of the data would offer analysts an easy way to identify long-term trends in VOA programming. Ideally, the map would animate in such a way as to show a network of these expanding and contracting funding circles. Circles could also be pie charts, indicating the weight of various funding requirements by region.
Again, the map would measure geographic investment over time; the State Department would make greater financial efforts to communicate a message to certain regions given the specific geopolitical contests of that moment. Eastern bloc would show more investment during the post-World War II era, and specific region-specific branches of the communication apparatus would be financially empowered to bring about influence in region: Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Radio Sawa, al Hurra. Each would create investment blooms on the map. The map, as I envision it, would be an animated representation of these investment patterns, illustrating the “world according to the State Department allocations.” Circles, like inflating balloons, would expand and contract with respective increase and decrease in funds afforded that region.
Some definitional difficulties in this design:
What constitutes an “access expense?” Financial awards given to government entities or private companies governing network use would differ substantially. The study could be refined to a narrower conception by excluding some financial relationships or emphasizing some over others. Creating a definition of access-specific costs that would allow for a good comparison of tax dollars spent building communication contact with foreign publics.
1. payment for time on the air of pre-established stations
2. purchase of license for airtime
3. fees or payments made for access to nationalized spectrum
4. purchase of equipment required for network access (tapping into pre-existent infrastructure)
5. construction and maintenances of facilities*
6. Rented facilities and utilities (overhead)
7. Taxes levied for any purposes other than
8. Hired help: local or imported?
*Issues with this visualization and confounding elements:
1. Radio is quickly eclipsed as the chosen instrument of mass communication as TV takes over.
2. The local economies may be more receptive to investment than others.
3. Local economies may have better exchange rate, but this may be offset by the need for infrastructure development in less developed nations.
4. Less developed countries would require greater infrastructural investment for start-up costs.
5. Less investment occurs when pre-established newsrooms need to fill a “newshole” and are amenable to U.S. State Dept. products
6. The circular representation of investment may result from more than simply “the US Department of State’s interest in the region.” Other factors may influence the increase in funding for regional penetration:
a. Local competition emerges,
b. Local discontent with foreign media grows, generating external expenses,
c. Media Trade law is introduced in the respective country, creating additional costs as a barrier to entry
Comparison afforded by this data visualization:
If nothing else, the study allows us to compare the investment pattern to other forms of investment: business investment, military deployment, market development . . . I would anticipate that the circles of investment would cluster and grow around areas that increase in conflict.
Potential questions or hypothesis to be tested:
1. What happens to VOA funding when a region is no longer a contested ideological site? Will investment drop off or will the message penetration
2. Does the State Department continue funding levels and spectrum presence when local commercial broadcasters seek to eliminate VOA as market competitor?
3. To what degree does the investment pattern map onto American business interests in a given region? Certainly the VOA’s original purpose was to undermine socialist messages and Soviet influence in the post-war era. Can VOA’s investment pattern provide evidence that the network’s primary directive was to foster integrated global capitalism? A less ambitious hypothesis: To what degree does the data indicate that the State Department treated the VOA as a handmaiden of commerce and market penetration by U.S. firms?