A New WebsiteÂ HidesÂ a Tale of Fewer Radio Programs to Tibet, China, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine
FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog, September 10, 2008, San Francisco — Websites tell their tales, and the newly redesigned, flashyÂ website of theÂ U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) tells a tale of hubris, waste, and reduced access to uncensored radio newsÂ for those who are the poorest and the mostÂ repressed byÂ authoritarian regimes.
Why Buddhist Monks?
The BBG, which manages U.S. taxpayer-funded broadcasts to countries without free media, has just launched its new website, which shows on its “Home”Â pageÂ a picture of Buddhist monks, a flashy promotional video, and the slogan: “Bringing News and Information to People Around the World in 60 Languages.”
For those who are familiar withÂ the BBG’s record of foreign policy blundersÂ and are concerned about media freedom, the Buddhist monks picture tells a tale that is greatlyÂ at odds with the advertising look of the new government website. The same bipartisan body of two women and four men — three Democrats and three Republicans, including the Secretary of State Condoleezza RiceÂ – had tried earlier to reduce the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) news radio programs to Tibet and China. These two stations are funded by the U.S. Congress and managed by the BBG.
These prominent, politically well-connected and business-orientedÂ Americans — who, however, have no experience of living under a totalitarian regime, are not practicing journalists (with one exception), and have no record of significant activism in support of human rights –Â had decided to reduce radio programs to TibetÂ about a yearÂ before the pro-autonomyÂ demonstrations, whichÂ erupted there inÂ March 2008Â and were violently suppressed by the Chinese government in Beijing. They thenÂ refused to rescind their decision until a group of Tibetan monks went to the Capitol Hill and staged a peaceful protest. The U.S. Congress finallyÂ forcedÂ the BBGÂ to back down on the program reductions toÂ Tibet and China.
A Government Agency That Places A High Priority on Itself Tries to Hire Paula Zahn
The BBG claims that shortwave radio program cuts and reductions allow it to invest more in the development of their InternetÂ program delivery strategy. They did use a picture of Buddhist monks, but to what purpose? The newÂ expensive website does notÂ offerÂ any help toÂ the impoverished Tibetans in cities and inÂ rural areas or toÂ otherÂ groups around the worldÂ caught up in wars and conflicts andÂ without access to the Internet. The sameÂ BBGÂ also wanted to hire American television newscaster Paul Zahn, formerly of CNN and ABC,Â to be their public relations guru. She hadÂ turned them down.
Just 12 days before the Russian military attacked Georgia on August 8, the Broadcasting Board of Governors completely shut down all on-air Voice of America radio programs to Russia and to all other area were Russian is spoken. This included parts of the war zone in Georgia.
Senator Biden’s Staff Reportedly Helped to Kill VOA Radio to Russia
The Senate staff of the new Vice Presidential Democratic Party nominee, Senator Joe Biden, was said to have helped the BBG membersÂ implement this decision. It was carried out in great secrecyÂ because of the widespread opposition to these program cuts among the rest of the members of Congress.
Extremists InvitedÂ by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Alhurra Television
Senator Biden was said to have favored program cuts at the Voice of America because they would benefit Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a semi-private entity, which is incorporated in his state. RFE/RL, which is also managed by the BBG and broadcasts in Russia, was recently criticized by the Moscow Human RightsÂ Bureau for giving extensive airtime to an extremist Russian politician who is known forÂ â€œchauvinist and racist views,”Â including comments aboutÂ dark-skinned immigrants.Â Another BBG-managed private broadcaster, Alhurra Television to the Middle East, gave air time to a militant who called for the death of American soldiers in Iraq. The BBG claims thatÂ radio program cuts to Tibet, and countries likeÂ Georgia and Russia, help to pay for Alhurra television and the expansion of its new technology infrastructure, including the Internet.
When the Russian troops entered deeply into the Georgian territory on August 8, the BBG was also about to shut down all Voice of America radio programs to Georgia and to Ukraine — the two countries under pressure from Russia, which Vice President Dick Cheney visited last week. Also last week, President Bush announced a $1 billion aid package to Georgia. But evenÂ these developments haveÂ had little if anyÂ effect on the BBG. The BoardÂ announced that the Voice of America Georgian radio programs will continue, but only for “the foreseeable future,” and described demands from its own journalistsÂ for reversing theÂ other program cuts, including those toÂ Russia and Ukraine, as “a non-starter.”
A Great New PromotionalÂ Website at Taxpayers’ Expense With Not Too Much Emphasis on Human Rights
The new BBG website looks very muchÂ like aÂ combination of a news andÂ promotionalÂ site, even though the BBG itselfÂ was not created by Congress asÂ a news organization or told to promote its ownÂ workÂ to the American public. As a body called to guide and oversee the work of real broadcasters, itÂ has no reason toÂ glorify itself at U.S. taxpayers’ expense, much less hire Paula Zahn to do its public relations. The U.S. government-funded news organizations, managed by the BBG, already have theirÂ own news sites and public affairs departments.Â
The Broadcasting Board of GovernorsÂ is required, however, to promote respect for human rights through U.S.Â international broadcasting.Â Â Interestingly, there are no permanentÂ references to human rights on the new website’s “Home” and “About the Agency” pages. One has to search deeperÂ throughÂ the site to find any permanentÂ directÂ mention ofÂ human rights and media freedom.
In a twist of irony, however, on September 10, barely a month after the Voice of America radio programs to Russia were cut, the BBG sponsored a workshop — “New Media vs New Censorship: The Authoritarian Assault on Information.” By announcingÂ the workshopÂ on its Home page, the BBG madeÂ Â at least an indirect and temporary referenceÂ to its human rights mission.
For more information about FreeMediaOnline.org and articles dealing with the BBG andÂ U.S. international broadcasting,Â go to: http://www.freemediaonline.org.
Â Listen To The Last Voice of America Russian Radio Broadcast
Listen here to the last Voice of America on-air Russian radio broadcast delivered on July 26, 2008, just twelve days before Russia attacked Georgia.
The BBGÂ members who haveÂ supported cutting VOA programs toÂ Tibet, China, Georgia, Russia,Â and Ukraine are: Joaquin Balaya, chairman of Balaya Media Inc.; Jeff Hirschberg, a partner of in Kalorama Partners, a consulting firm that deals with corporate governance and risk assessment and aÂ director of the U.S-Russia Business Council; Edward E. Kaufman, Senator Biden’s former chief of staff who is now president of Public Strategies, a political and management consulting firm based in Wilmington, Delaware; and Steven J. Simmons, chairman and CEO of Patriot Media and Communications, LLC.
Three seats on the Board currently are empty, after the recent departure of former BBG Chairman James K. Glassman, who also favored program cuts at VOA. Glassman is now the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. According to FreeMediaOnline.org sources, Glassman wasÂ responsible forÂ proposing to hire Paula Zahn. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice does not attend the BBG meetings andÂ is usually represented byÂ James Glassman.
FreeMediaOnline.org learnedÂ that only one BBG member, radio broadcaster Blanquita Cullum, questioned the decision to hire a media celebrity while radio programs to countries without freeÂ press were being cut.Â She was reported to have saidÂ that if the rest of the BoardÂ proceededÂ with hiring a new high profileÂ spokesperson, “itÂ would be over her dead body.” Cullum,Â who is a Republican,Â is also said to be the only member of theÂ bipartisan BoardÂ who has consistently opposedÂ U.S. radio programming cuts to countries without free media.
View FreeMediaOnline.org Online Presentation SAVE VOICE OF AMERICA BROADCASTS
View FreeMediaOnline.org Online Presentation in support of saving Voice of America broadcasts to Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Tibet and other media-at-risk countries.
Call or emailÂ the Broadcasting Board of Governors to register your protest: Tel: (202) 203-4400; Fax: (202) 203-4585; E-mail: email@example.com. CONTACT YOURÂ MEMBERS OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES AND THE U.S. SENATE and tell them about the BBG’sÂ actionsÂ affecting U.S. support for freedom of the press and human rights and the use of your tax dollars.Â
A statement issued recently by theÂ leadership of theÂ Voice of America employeesâ€™ unions,Â AFGE Local 1812 and AFSCME Local 1418,Â said that the Broadcasting Board of Governors â€œhas been responsible for one blunder after another â€” to the point that its actions have compromised U.S. strategic interests.â€ Saying that â€œthe elimination of Russian and Georgian radio broadcasts should be the last straw,â€ the VOA employeesâ€™ union leaders called on Congress to act immediately to dissolve the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
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