The Voice of America’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe was started to replace the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation that is why it broadcast in all of the country’s three major languages – English, Shona and Ndebele.
But, an evaluation done by President George Bush’s administration under its Expect More Programme showed that this was a very expensive experiment with the government spending US$5.22 to reach a single Zimbabwean.
The Insider obtained this information when it sought to find out whether Washington had changed its policy on the Voice of America to allow its citizens to hear its broadcasts.
Voice of America is not allowed under the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 to broadcast to its citizens in the United States because this is classified as propaganda.
In May last year Mac Thornberry and Adam Smith introduced a bill to amend the Act to “authorise the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences, and for other purposes”.
This would allow VOA to broadcast to its citizens within the country. The Insider understands that this might be effected next month.
It was during this research that The Insider established, with the help of colleagues in the United States, that Studio 7, which celebrates in 10th anniversary this year, was actually started to replace the ZBC.
The station was started shortly after the passing of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act whose aim was to “support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable economic growth, and restore the rule of law”.
Gwen Dillard, chief of the Voice of America’s Africa Division, told the Washington File in June 2003, only months after the launch of Studio 7 that the Zimbabwe programme was “the only truly surrogate service we have on the continent (Africa).”
Her boss, David Jackson, who was the director of VOA added: “Surrogate services act as a replacement in countries that do not have a free and reliable local news media.”
“It’s not easy or safe to be a journalist in Zimbabwe these days. As Zimbabwe’s government continues its repressive measures, the people have an even greater need for information. Now Zimbabweans who speak Shona or Ndebele have a new source of straight and uncensored information from the Voice of America.”
Zimbabwe’s Information Minister at the time, Jonathan Moyo, who was educated in the United States complained about Studio 7 and how it was using local journalists, including from the State media as stringers but this was scoffed at as Moyo’s propaganda.
The Insider last year revealed that a dozen Zimbabwean journalists, some of them former ZBC employees, had been working for VOA, some since 2004, and had been paid a total of US$2.1 million.
The Insider has now obtained a document in which the United States government assessed the impact of Voice of America, including Studio 7, in Africa.
The assessment was done in 2007 under President Bush’s Expect More programme, a programme that was aimed at informing United States citizens how the federal government was doing, and what it was doing to perform better.
According to the report, VOA spent US$5.22 in 2004 to reach each Zimbabwean who listened to it- coast per audience member.
Although it started broadcasting in 2003, there was no cost for 2003.
The situation improved a little in 2005 to US$4.93 and dropped to only 69 cents in 2006.
VOA intended to reduce this further to 65 cents in 2007 but the cost shot up to US$2.00.
Although the aim of Studio 7 was to replace the ZBC, audience awareness never exceeded 25 percent.
It was 20 percent in 2004, the same in 2005, rose to 24 percent in 2006 when the cost came down but fell to 23 percent in 2007.
A cost comparison showed that in 2003, it cost VOA only 27 cents to reach its Swahili audience and this was cut down to 11 cents in 2006.
It cost VOA even less to reach its Hausa (Nigeria) audience- only 6 cents.