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  • Quieting the Voice of America

    More than 30 years have passed since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about the “Soft Voice of America” in an article that first appeared in National Review on April 30, 1982. Incredibly, today we appear again to be headed in the direction bemoaned by Solzhenitsyn all those years ago. While the budget for international broadcasting has certainly grown since Cold War days, it is again in a downward trend as leadership contemplates budget cuts of $17 million to $720 million in the President’s FY 2013 budget.

    Deep cuts in broadcasting are projected, including a number of broadcasting services to countries that are undeniably deprived of free media—Tibet, for instance. President Obama’s proposed budget comports badly with the aspiration stated in the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) 2012–2016 Strategic Plan to become the “world’s leading international news agency” by 2016. While broadcasting to fragile and repressive societies is being cut, other accounts have been spared, like management. Furthermore, in December, the BBG struck a $50 million deal with Gallup to do audience research (conducted for decades by Intermedia), and the consulting firm Deloitte is being paid handsomely for producing a merger plan of Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network that has not yet been approved by Congress.

    Thanks to the editors of National Review Online, who recently reposted Solzhenitsyn’s compelling article, we can revisit the arguments made by the author of The Gulag Archipelago. His arguments carry as much weight today as they did back then. Solzhenitsyn wrote:

    VOA, Radio Liberty, and the other Western broadcasters should be considering: the inner state of the people toward whom the broadcasts are directed, their spiritual hunger, their frustrations, their aspirations. Their main need is for knowledge. Information in the Soviet papers and on Soviet television is distorted beyond recognition. Those who live in the Soviet Union know, in a general way, what is happening in the world, but they know nothing of what is going on in the neighboring town, in the neighboring county…Not to know what is happening in and to your own country is crippling.

    Instead of the Soviet Union, we might today substitute China, Tibet, or parts of Latin America, all of which are slated for deep cuts. Years ago, Voice of America (VOA) gave up on broadcasting to Russia, having ended shortwave transmissions and finding their broadcasts blocked from the AF and AM markets by the Russian government.

    The new proposed cuts include:

    • 70-plus positions from broadcasting in English and the English newsroom, which will result in the elimination of Worldwide English, turning it into an Internet and social media feed.
    • Total elimination of the Cantonese service, which takes the VOA out of the political and information arena in big chunk of China. This is at a savings of only $965,000.
    • Cuts of 10 positions in Dari and Pashto, the primary languages in Afghanistan.
    • Cuts of a major part of the Tibetan service, which will signal to the Chinese that the U.S. has effectively abandoned Tibet.
    • Cuts in Turkish, which at this point is operating only on the Internet.
    • Cuts in Georgian, a major buffer region and a country that Russia invaded in 2008. This is also at this time an Internet-only operation.
    • Cuts in Azeri, which at this point is Internet-only.
    • Major cuts in Spanish, affecting both the Latin Service of VOA and Radio Marti, which is likewise owned by the U.S. government but is located in Miami, broadcasting to Cuba and federally funded. This comes at a time when Iran is extending its broadcasting throughout the region.
    • Cuts in the Bangladeshi service, part of a region that remains highly volatile.

    Congress needs to take strong action to reverse the trends outlined in the President’s budget. U.S. International Broadcasting continues to have many champions on the Hill. If they don’t, the United States will be sending signals of retreat in areas where Iran, China, and Russia are surging.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Quieting the Voice of America

    1. Jim Fell says:

      The federal government needs to rein in its spending by about 30% to have a fiscally responsible budget. That means everybody is going to feel the pinch. To say we can't cut services that advance the conservative agenda is just as bad as when liberals whine about their projects getting cut, if not worse. If we are going to clean house, we need to start in our own homes. For better or worse, VOA is not an essential service of the federal government, and it is certainly not mandated in the Constitution.

    2. Helle Dale Helle Dale says:

      The cuts themselves are not the bigger part of the problem, but the priorities. Even $720 million is a good chunk of money. protecting the language services to countries under repressive regimes ought to be a top priority, as indeed the law itself states. Granted VOA is not mentioned in the US Constitution, but the legislative power of the US Congress certainly is.

    3. Neil Currie says:

      The issue at the VOA is not the need to cut government spending but where to cut it. The VOA bureaucracy cuts everything but itself. The broadcasters leave, the bureaucrats remain. Those who would silence the VOA fail to appreciate that it is vastly cheaper to talk than to fight. Our opponents know it and are increasing their broadcast operations while we are cutting ours. In the final analysis, silence says nothing for America.

    4. waverider says:

      Let's see — they conclude a $50 million contract with Gallup for research, while planning to fire more than 200 journalists, entrench senior managers who only arrived in the last few years at the GS-15 level, fast track a poorly-conceived "restructuring" plan that among other things emphasizes flashy video/Internet product and social media over substantive heavyweight reporting VOA was once known for, encourage animus toward and pressure on veteran reporters, attempt again to target programming to China and Tibet after they were admonished by members of Congress for doing so previously, continue to rank at the bottom of government employee satisfaction surveys, and run a Stalinesque system in which constructive suggestions are suffocated while BBG members flit from DC to Miami to Prague for meetings, or phone in from undisclosed locations to vote for steps that will, as the title of this item says, "quiet" the Voice of America. Problem is, with all of these problems becoming ever so clear, and after decades of this style of management (to which successive administrations unfortunately turned a blind eye) what is the justification for maintaining the entire structure?

    5. Beevster says:

      "Maintaining the status quo in US international broadcasting does not help the performance of USIB. Without the reform necessitated by budget restraints (it should have been necessitated by good sense), USIB will not become "the world's leading new agency." It will simply remain the world's most inefficient collection of news agencies." – Kimandrewelliott.com

    6. Dai Van Pham ( PT) says:

      After 44 years working with VOA News Division since the worse time of the Vietnam war in Saigon in 1968 and recently retired in Dec. 31/2011, I could not believed the Managers of the so-called " talks more than did few things right" Broadcasting Board of Governors(BBG) have turned The Voice Of America into the "Voice Of Self-Defeat" in front of America's enemies.

      I wish and hope the U.S. Congress should take a closed-look at the BBG's spending on itself, and on its waist millions of dollars on the Gallup audience research, and on its "cosmetic-show business" Web Pages consider its budget proposal.

      Dai Van Pham ( PT)

      Retired-Assignments Desk Edtor of the Voice Of America

    7. Dai Van Pham ( PT) says:

      Re-posted :

      After 44 years working with VOA News Division since the worse time of the Vietnam war in Saigon in 1968 and recently retired on Dec. 31/2011, I could not believed the Managers of the so-called " talks more than did few things right" Broadcasting Board of Governors(BBG) have turned The Voice Of America into the "Voice Of Self-Defeat" in front of America's enemies.

      I wish and hope the U.S. Congress should take a closed-look at the BBG's spending on itself, and on its wasted millions of dollars on the Gallup audience research, and on its "cosmetic-show business" Web Pages before to consider its budget proposal.

      Dai Van Pham ( PT)

      Retired-Assignments Desk Edtor of the Voice Of America

    8. Dai Van Pham ( PT) says:

      After 44 years working with VOA News Division since the worse time of the Vietnam war in Saigon in 1968 and recently retired on Dec. 31/2011, I could not believed the Managers of the so-called " talks more than did few things right" Broadcasting Board of Governors(BBG) have turned The Voice Of America into the "Voice Of Self-Defeat" in front of America's enemies.

      I wish and hope the U.S. Congress should take a closed-look at the BBG's spending on itself, and on its wasted millions of dollars on the Gallup audience research, and on its "cosmetic-show business" Web Pages before to consider its budget proposal.

      Dai Van Pham ( PT)

      Retired-Assignments Desk Edtor of the Voice Of America

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