Sending Out a Message
One government agency particularly interested in the WLMS was the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which operates under the supervision of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), providing technical engineering for U.S.-government-funded international broadcasts. Although largely unknown in the United States, the BBG has, by its own estimates, more than 100 million listeners around the world who tune in for objective news in their native language.
"We do broadcasts overseas in about 60 different languages," said IBB technical engineer Terry Balazs. "The bureau actually supports all of the U.S. government's international broadcasting activities. Our use of the [WLMS] is really quite straightforward -- it's to figure out where in the world people are speaking various languages. And it allows us to really pinpoint, better than any other product I know of, specific areas where a language is spoken, even within a country. That gets to be a concern for us to really target our resources even within a country, especially areas where they speak multiple languages. We like to know what the dominant language is in one area versus another so we can pinpoint our resources as best we can."
Because the BBG and the IBB don't broadcast in the United States, most Americans probably have never heard of the agencies. They may have heard, however, of the Voice of America, the BBG's leading international news broadcast.
"It's basically news and information," Balazs said. "The [BBG's] objective is to provide -- particularly to people who do not have sources of objective news and information -- an objective source of news and information. So we provide just a general news service. Voice of America will also emphasize news about America, and also give statements of the official policy of the U.S. government."
With current world opinion about the United States divided, it's more important than ever that the BBG reaches those who cannot access information freely. And the more languages in which the organization can broadcast, the more people it can reach.
"There are not many resources that geographically give you that information," Balazs said. "In terms of pulling it all together, this is, as far as we can tell, a rather unique product. We really try to reach people in their own native language, and try to be as culturally sensitive as we can. We need to know where they are and what they're speaking as a starting point."
The BBG currently draws huge numbers of listeners in vital areas of the Middle East by combining news reports with contemporary music. And with the help of the WLMS, the BBG can better broadcast critical health-care information to impoverished people in Africa.
The BBG's work goes unnoticed here in the United States, and any success it has is inevitably tinged with a bit of sadness. "Once we really do our job, they don't need us anymore," Balazs said. "We are, by law, prohibited from broadcasting in the United States. That's too bad, because it hurts us in our public relations. We can't show people and share with them what we're doing."
The WLMS was a tool originally designed to spread the Bible. Now it's also used to give oppressed people a chance -- if only for a fleeting few moments -- to hear truth. It would seem there may be something of a small miracle in all of this, even if most Americans don't know it's going on.