Â FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online BlogÂ September 24, 2008, San FranciscoÂ – A U.S. broadcaster is denied access to a radio frequency in the Russian capital. The censor in this case isÂ not the Kremlin, as one might expect,Â but the U.S. government agency which manages U.S. taxpayer-funded international broadcasts. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)Â is preventing the Voice of America (VOA)Â from using an AM frequency in Moscow for its Russian-language radio programs, even though the Russian authorities still allow the frequency to beÂ occupied by VOA. The same bipartisan Board ignored directives fromÂ Congress andÂ terminated all on air VOA Russian radioÂ broadcasts on July 26,Â just 12 days beforeÂ the Russian army attacked Georgia.
The BBG’s plan also called forÂ ending VOA radio programs to Georgia, Ukraine, India and a few other countries. After the most recentÂ Russian military intervention in the Caucasus, the Voice of America director Dan Austin has asked the Board for permission to temporarilyÂ continueÂ VOA radio broadcasts to Georgia and Ukraine. HeÂ is said to be alsoÂ considering askingÂ the BBG to allow him to resume radioÂ broadcasting to Russia, but he faces stgrong bureaucratic opposition from the Board’s executive director Jeff Trimble and his staff.
The 810khZÂ AM frequency in Moscow, which is leased by the BBG,Â is now usedÂ to rebroadcastÂ VOA English programs. BBC and other international broadcasters also lease similar AM frequencies in Moscow.Â The Russian authoritiesÂ have forced nearly all private radio stations to terminate similar rebroadcasting arrangements with Western public broadcastersÂ but have not yet decided what to do with the government-controlledÂ AM frequencies in the Russian capital. TakingÂ a direct action against allÂ Western broadcasters at the same timeÂ could result in bad PR for the Kremlin, which may explain why these broadcasters are still on the air in Moscow.
At least forÂ now the 810kHz frequency is working and the Voice of America couldÂ use it toÂ broadcast several hours of Russian-language programming daily.Â The BBG, however,Â has been steadfastlyÂ rejecting urgentÂ appeals from VOA RussianÂ staffers to allow them to produce a radioÂ show that could be aired in the Russian capital. Despite the growing media censorship in Russia, these federal government employees chargedÂ with facilitating free flow of information were ordered by the BBG to limitÂ theirÂ audio production fromÂ several hours to 10 min. daily and to become anÂ Internet-only news provider.
VOA Russian serviceÂ broadcastersÂ sayÂ they areÂ deeply demoralized andÂ underemployed.Â They complain that resources paid for by U.S. taxpayers are wasted while the bipartisan U.S. government Board deniesÂ radio listeners in Russia access to Russian-language news from Washington. While there is a serious risk of the AM frequency in Moscow being shut down by the Kremlin, VOA employees reported that the BBG is also preventing them from producing a regularly scheduled radio program that could be broadcast on shortwave frequencies controlled by the U.S. government. They also said that the BBG staffÂ won’tÂ even allow them to create a regularly scheduled extended radio broadcast that could be placed on the Web.
FreeMediaOnline.org,Â a San Francisco-based media freedom nonprofit, reported that by terminating VOA radio to RussiaÂ the BBG has acted against the wishes of the majority of members of CongressÂ from both parties but received support from the Senate staff of Senator Joe Biden. The BBG action will benefitÂ the semi-private broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is incorporated in Delaware and also managed by the BBG. Both Democrats and Republicans on the BBG, with the exception of only one Republican member, voted to stop VOA radio programs to Russia. One of those votingÂ to terminate VOA radio broadcasts to Russia, Georgia, Ukraine,and IndiaÂ was Ted Kaufman, who was formerly Senator Biden’s chief of staff and is now assisting him with the vice presidential campaign. BBG executive director Jeff Trimble was formely acting president of RFE/RL and engineered the silencing of VOA radio in Russia.
According to Ted Lipien,Â FreeMediaOnline.org president and former VOA acting associate director,Â the BBG staff won’t allow VOA Russian radio programs to be aired in MoscowÂ because it wantsÂ to protect the interests of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “This action seriously damages the ability of the American people to communicate with the people in Russia.Â Â It also underminesÂ America’sÂ support for media freedom,” Lipien said.
Most of Radio Liberty reporters, who under the BBG planÂ would be the only producers of U.S. radio programming in the Russian language, are Russian citizens working and living with their families in Russia. Ted Lipien said that in light of the Kremlin’s crackdown on the mediaÂ what RFE/RLÂ employeesÂ needÂ most is protection from the Russian secret police and are in no position toÂ replace VOA in presenting American news and opinions to radio listeners in Russia.Â LipienÂ called the BBG’s decision toÂ block the useÂ of the AM frequency in Moscow for VOA Russian programsÂ ”one of the mostÂ blatantÂ acts of bureaucratic selfishness andÂ a foreign policy blunder thatÂ rewards Mr. Putin.”Â