by Ted Lipien

FreeMediaOnline.org Free Media Online, San Francisco, February 6, 2006 — The Bush Administration’s federal budget proposal for FY2008 offers good news to dictators, authoritarian rulers and suppressors of press freedom in a number of countries and regions. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) – a bipartisan body in charge of all U.S. international broadcasting – confirmed plans reflected in the FY2008 budget proposal for eliminating Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts in Russian, closing down VOA Uzbek service, reducing Tibetan broadcasts by VOA and Radio Free Asia (RFA), and stopping VOA and RFA broadcasts in Cantonese. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty programs to Kazakhstan will be reduced under this budget. The White House and the BBG also want to eliminate or reduce VOA and RFE/RL programs to the Balkans, where some media outlets continue to stir ethnic hatred. Many hours of VOA English broadcasts heard around the world in countries without free media are also scheduled for elimination. [Link to BBG announcement… ]

It’s true that the Bush Administration’s FY2008 budget calls for enhancing U.S. broadcasting to countries that are some of the worst violators of human rights and press freedom: North Korea, Iran and Cuba. But the BBG again failed to convince the budget planners at the White House that media freedom is also under severe threat in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tibet and China.

FreeMediaOnline.org, a nonprofit organization founded to support freedom of the press, describes these proposed cuts and reductions in U.S. international broadcasting as a “gift to dictators and suppressors of press freedom.” Whenever budget cuts become necessary to pay for new programs to countries and regions where freedom of expression is suppressed, the BBG inevitably relies on cutting programs to audiences which are also deprived of free media but are less important for the foreign policy goals of the Administration.

This lack of consistency sends a terrible signal to defenders of freedom and courageous journalists around the world. Some of them, like independent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, paid with their lives for exposing human rights violations and participating in VOA Russian radio programs, which the White House and the BBG plan to eliminate.

Even if the White House refused to provide more money, the BBG could have saved these important broadcasts if it tried to reform the enormous bureaucracy of its program support divisions. Violators of press freedom in Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan must be pleased that the BBG, which has both Republican and Democratic members, does not have the courage to stand up to the Administration or to reform its operations.

Administration officials and the Broadcasting Board of Governors took the easy way out by rewarding dictators and betraying defenders of press freedom in Russia and in other media-at-risk countries and regions. The U.S. Congress should refuse to accept these cuts and demand from the White House and the BBG a consistent U.S. international broadcasting strategy in support of freedom.

FreeMediaOnline.org is ready to offer informational assistance to every independent journalist and media outlet working to support freedom of the press and democracy. For more information about this article or FreeMediaOnline.org send an email to contact@freemediaonline.org or call 1-415-793-1642.

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