The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting wants Congress to restore funding in the 2013 budget for radio and TV broadcasting to China and Tibet. They said these services are needed so VOA can present the policies of the United States to the people of those countries and other “news-restricted nations.”
CUSIB calls itself a nonpartisan group that supports free flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries without free media, through Voice of America and other BBG programs. It was co-founded by Ann Noonan and Ted Lipien; the latter is a former acting associate director of VOA. The president of the union chapter that represents the BBG workforce is on its advisory board.
The group issued an open letter to the House Appropriations Committee: “We adamantly object to the proposal by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which manages the Voice of America, and their plans to eliminate the VOA Tibetan Radio Service, the entire VOA Cantonese Service, as well as eliminating more than 200 positions and reducing information coverage in Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Cuba, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Russian Federation, Turkey and Vietnam,” CUSIB wrote.
“The Voice of America English and Spanish services are also threatened with severe cuts in broadcast operations and staff. The Caucasus region, including Chechnya, and Central Asia are likewise targeted by the BBG’s plan for unprecedented program cuts and reductions.”
CUSIB said some 70 million people in China speak Cantonese, including in the economic hubs of Hong Kong as well as Quangdong province. “This effort to deny VOA broadcasts to them in Cantonese will isolate them from uncensored information.”
The group said current world events provide evidence of the need for the Tibetan Radio Service as well. And it criticized the BBG for entering into a contract with the Gallup Organization and eliminating jobs of journalists who specialize in human rights reporting, while resources are lacking for key radio and TV programs.
CUSIB expresses concern that the BBG is slowly dismantling “America’s commitment to broadcast news on behalf of the United States not only to China but to other strategic areas of the world.”
Radio World asked the BBG for reaction. Spokeswoman Letitia King replied in an email: “Tibet and China are crucial target audiences for BBG news and information content. But where there are two BBG broadcasters in the same language, we must seek economies.” Anything less, she said, would be irresponsible in a time of tight federal budgets.
“Both the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have sent strong programming to Tibetan audiences. Under the FY 2013 budget request, Radio Free Asia would continue its service to Tibet in three dialects via shortwave and satellite audio while the Voice of America would focus on satellite TV and drop radio broadcasts in Tibetan. As part of this media redistribution, RFA would assume VOA’s prime radio transmission hours, ensuring that the people of Tibet continue to have access to U.S. international broadcast news. This decision was informed by field research showing that Tibetan audiences more often access VOA’s news and information via television rather than radio, and that they listen to RFA’s radio broadcasts.”
King said that in the case of China, frequent government jamming of radio broadcasts, Internet censorship and an overall lack of press freedom make it “exceptionally challenging” for any international broadcaster to achieve impact.
“Here RFA would continue its exclusive Cantonese radio broadcasts to Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, Hainan Province and parts of the Guangxi Autonomous Region. VOA’s efforts to reach the increasingly important Chinese audience will focus on enhanced programming in Mandarin via shortwave radio, the Internet, mobile technologies, and direct-to-home satellite TV which does not suffer from jamming. Incidentally, because Cantonese and Mandarin are essentially the same written language, VOA will continue to reach out to Cantonese-speaking audiences through its news websites for Chinese audiences.”
According to King, BBG strategy incorporates all agency media assets — in the case of China, not just VOA or RFA but rather both together. “Thus, the BBG will continue to serve our many audiences in China through a fresh combination of BBG services in a way that meets audience needs, satisfies our requirements as defined by the U.S. Congress, and eliminates duplication to yield savings that can be used for other pressing priorities.”
She said BBG understands that proposed reductions will cause hardship for parts of the agency and its broadcasters. “In every case, the BBG will do everything possible to ease the impact of reductions on individuals through attrition, buyouts and other avenues.”