The Voice of America (VOA), an international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has ceased its on-air Russian-language radio broadcasts as of July 26. The broadcasts were stopped despite concerns expressed by U.S. lawmakers and human rights NGOs that freedom of speech remains restricted in Russia.

In an apparent effort to limit negative publicity and possible embarrassment, neither VOA nor BBG issued any public statements in English prior to taking the programs off the air after more than sixty years of uninterrupted broadcasting. A one paragraph announcement on the VOA Russian language web site, posted on July 26, stated that as of next day VOA programming in Russian will be available only through the Internet. The short announcement did not specify what radio or TV programs may still be available on the VOA Russian-language website.

Earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee criticized the Bush Administration and the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America and other taxpayer-funded civilian international broadcasts, for the decision to eliminate on-air VOA Russian language programs. The panel concluded that freedom of speech remains restricted in Russia and voted to continue funding VOA Russian-language broadcasts in FY09. The committee also criticized the administration and the BBG for proposing cuts in other U.S.-funded broadcasts, including programs to Tibet, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

Tish King, a spokeswoman for Voice of America, was quoted by ProPublica.org as saying that the language services cuts are the result of “painful decisions” that reflect a focus on “places where, based on research, we can be most effective.” In 2007, Congress disagreed, however, with BBG’s plans and restored funding for language services which the administration and BBG wanted to eliminate. According to King, this time around Congress is on board with the cuts. ProPublica.org also quoted her as saying that the cuts will be effective in September. According to Tish, the cuts do not mean that U.S. government-funded broadcasts to some countries will stop altogether. She pointed out that Radio Liberty broadcasts in Russian will continue, and VOA Russian-language website will remain. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is a U.S. Congress-funded semi-private entity based in Prague, the Czech Republic, which has radio programs in Russian and other languages. The BBG is also in charge of RFE/RL’s budget and broadcasts.

Ted Lipien, a former acting associate director of VOA and current president of FreeMediaOnline.org, a nonprofit which through its website supports independent journalism worldwide, said that despite these assurances, “eliminating live VOA radio and television broadcasts to Russia shows a certain lack of strategic thinking on the part of the Bush Administration and the BBG. Anyone familiar with the political situation in Russia would see murders of Russian journalists, government takeovers of media outlets, and intimidation of broadcasters using VOA and Radio Liberty programs as a serious threat to freedom of expression,” Lipien said.

Be Sociable, Share!