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  • With VOA Left Voiceless, Obama Fails to Reach Russian Public

    President Obama’s foreign policy thus far has been marked by an emphasis on public diplomacy. As a result, successfully engaging foreign publics has become a top priority of his administration. The President himself has taken an active role in this effort, delivering several high-profile speeches to audiences around the world. His July 7th oration in Moscow, which focused on the importance of media freedom and human rights, was one such occasion.

    But Obama’s message failed to reach his intended audience- the Russian public. On Russian television, which is tightly controlled by the Kremlin, Obama’s remarks were largely ignored, receiving hardly any air-time.

    To make matters worse, a crippling cyber-attack had rendered the international websites of Voice of America (VOA) useless. As a result, VOA, the federally-funded broadcast service congressionally mandated to provide objective, accurate news to foreign audiences, was utterly incapable of offering the Russian public unbiased coverage of the President’s speech. VOA’s loss of web-based capabilities might have been less damaging if not for the fact that its oversight, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, decided in 2008 to completely do away with VOA’s Russian language radio and television broadcasts into the country.

    VOA has demonstrated its ability to circumvent anti-American state-media and deliver objective news programming, most notably in Iran following the June 12th election. However, the internet-only approach in Russia, and the inability to provide sufficient security for this service, allowed Kremlin-controlled media to undermine Obama’s attempt to connect with the Russian public. Unless the Obama Administration takes the necessary steps to ensure the vitality of VOA and similar programs, our nation’s outreach to foreign publics will continue to be rebuffed by unreceptive governments.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    One Response to With VOA Left Voiceless, Obama Fails to Reach Russian Public

    1. Daniel Robinson - Po says:

      Providing U.S. international broadcasting, particularly Voice of America, with the money needed annually to continue its work via traditional radio as well as Internet and other technologies remains an uphill battle for those who have struggled in the trenches over the years to keep the issue front and center.

      The many activities under the BBG, ranging from VOA radio and television operations to the various Middle East and South Asia programs as well as RFE/RL, are provided $746 million in the State Department/Foreign Operations appropriations bills for 2010.

      VOA, which is slated to get about $205 million in 2010, has seen its English radio broadcasting capabilities, as well as some key language services (including Russian) either slowly taken apart in recent years or summarily executed.

      Where VOA was once considered a powerful competitor in the English language to BBC radio broadcasting around the world, over the last decade resources were directed primarily at Internet and Middle East/South Asia television efforts within the BBG structure.

      Language included in House State/Foreign Operations legislation, achieved after long and difficult efforts by some dedicated current and former broadcasters, states:

      "The VOA's English-language radio programming is especially important since it provides accurate, objective, and comprehensive news to a potential English-speaking audience of 1.6 billion people worldwide."

      It also "recognizes VOA for its essential contribution to United States public diplomacy.

      At the same time, of the total recommendation for BBG, only about $15,000,000 is slated for VOA's English broadcast division.

      USIB funding has remained in the sub-billion dollar range for decades. In other words, the entire U.S. international broadcasting structure operates at about the same cost as a couple of F-22s.

      One of the sad ironies of the past dozen or so years is that VOA's once strong English language radio broadcasting voice was hurried down the road to oblivion, while such countries as China and Cuba actually EXPANDED their English and other language broadcasting.

      In these days of worry over the impact of sharply increased deficit spending aimed at repairing the economy, it's hard to argue for more spending on government-funded broadcasting.

      But then it was ALWAYS hard to argue over the decades, under Democratic and Republican administrations, that this should be a priority requiring more than what could be considered a paltry investment of several hundred million dollars annually.

      It has also been difficult to persuade members of Congress that more funding should be directed to long-term core operations of VOA such as its once extensive English broadcast voice rather than region or country-specific projects designed to win the hearts and minds, as laudable as those efforts may be in the short-term.

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