Â FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online BlogÂ September 30, 2008, San FranciscoÂ – Sources say that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)Â tried to recruitÂ John Cochran of NBC, then ABC News,Â as their high profile public relations guru.Â According to earlier reports, the BBG also tried to recruit Paula Zahn, who turned them down.
The yearlyÂ costÂ of such a positionÂ is well over $100,000.Â The same bipartisan Board, which manages U.S. government-funded international broadcasts,Â terminated the Voice of America radioÂ programs to Russia and wanted to end broadcastsÂ to Ukraine and Georgia.Â Most members of CongressÂ are strongly opposed to these cuts.
Despite Russia’s attack on Georgia in early August, the BBG continues to oppose the resumption of VOA Russian-language radio broadcasts, butÂ its plan to cutÂ radio programs to Ukraine and Georgia has been put temporarily on hold due to strong protests from foreign policy and human rights groups. Earlier, the BBG had tried to reduce radioÂ broadcasts to Tibet and China but was forced by Congress to cancel these plans.
The money which the Board proposes to spend on its new public relations initiative would pay forÂ VOA radio broadcasts to at least one country near Russia’s borders. The Voice of America Russian Service already has sufficient resources to produce radio programs, but the BBGÂ prevents it from resuming radio broadcasting to Russia. The Board keeps VOA RussianÂ staff underemployed and wants to limit their work to producingÂ a website in order to save money for itsÂ other projects.
Ted Lipien, president of media freedom nonprofit FreeMediaOnline.org, criticized the BBG’s decision saying that a VOA website will not have any significant impact on the Russian government leaders or the Russian public opinion.Â Only one of the currentÂ six BBG members, radio broadcaster Blanquita Cullum, was reported to have voted against program cuts to Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine.
The programÂ cuts and the hiring of a new spokespersonÂ were supported by the former BBG chairman, James Glassman, who is now the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Cullum was reported to have strongly objected to spending money on public relations campaigns while programs to countries without free media were being cut. Both Cullum and Glassman are Republicans.
All Democrats on the Board have supportedÂ program cuts. One of the strongestÂ advocates of ending VOA radio programs to Russia was Ted Kaufman, Senator Joe Biden’s former chief of staff who now works on his vice presidential campaign. Voice of America radio to Russia has been off the air for over two months. Last week, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KA) proposed legislation that would abolish both the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the position of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and create a new agency in charge of U.S. public diplomacy.