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BBG Watch: ‘Tibet Needs Both VOA Radio and RFA’

Group is critical of Broadcasting Board’s plans

The following commentary was sent by the group BBG Watch in response to the article “Advocacy Group Objects to BBG Cuts” in Radio World. BBG Watch describes itself as a website by former and current BBG and VOA employees and their supporters “to keep members of Congress, media, and U.S. taxpayers informed about key issues in U.S. international broadcasting.”

According to a BBG spokeswoman, it would be “irresponsible” in the current tight budget environment to keep VOA radio broadcasts to Tibet and at the same time continue Radio Free Asia (RFA) Tibetan radio. With the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ latest effort to stop Voice of America Tibetan radio broadcasts, we took a look at some of the conclusions from the BBG’s own audience research.

Tibetans, human rights organizations, media freedom groups and experts disagree with the BBG assessment. According to them, there are very few countries in the world where the population needs both Voice of America and surrogate radio broadcasts more than the oppressed Tibetans living in Tibet under the Chinese regime’s rule.

In Tibet, Internet access is blocked to VOA and RFA websites and Tibetans cannot easily receive satellite television without risking arrests and fines. Private satellite TV dishes are banned in China without a special license. The BBG’s argument that VOA satellite TV in Tibetan would be sufficient is based on satellite TV viewing by Tibetan refugees living outside of Tibet, not in Tibet.

According to BBG’s own researchers, results of a BBG-commissioned refugee survey in Nepal are not projectable to any population. And yet a BBG spokeswoman claims that VOA Tibetan TV and Web content are the way to go, ignoring the fact that these two media cannot serve Tibetans living in Tibet. They can only be received reliably outside of Tibet.

What the BBG is in fact saying is that Tibetans in Tibet do not need Voice of America if they have Radio Free Asia. While RFA performs an extremely useful role, to claim that Tibetans in Tibet do not deserve to get Voice of America American, international and Tibetan news and the support of the American people that these VOA broadcasts imply is simply inhumane.

Radio Free Asia cannot replace Voice of America in Tibet. But because the Tibetans are so oppressed by the Chinese authorities, in addition to VOA they also need RFA as a surrogate broadcaster. The same is true for VOA and RFA Cantonese and for broadcasts to Vietnam and other countries ruled by communist or other authoritarian regimes.

What American taxpayers don’t need are constantly growing number of BBG executives creating highly-paid government positions for their friends, expanding their bureaucracy, giving themselves $10,000 bonuses and signing a $50 million audience research contract with the Gallup Organization that won’t produce reliable results for nations such as Tibet, China, Iran and Cuba. The BBG executive staff can do all of this by cutting programs that actually inform foreign audiences.

Shortwave radio broadcasts, even though they are being jammed by the Chinese authorities, are getting through and are the only reliable source of uncensored news from the United States for the desperate people in Tibet living under severe repression.

BBG Watch provided extended quotes from the Broadcasting Board of Governors 2010 Annual Language Service Review Briefing Book. Read them here.