by Ted Lipien Free Media Online, Dublin, CA, November 9, 2006 — Rather than scoring flamboyant propaganda points, state-controlled media in countries considered strident enemies of President Bush’s policies reacted slowly and cautiously to Republican defeats in U.S. midterm elections.

Slow media response in countries like Cuba, Iran, and North Korea can be explained by authoritarian controls over journalistic reporting. Journalists in these countries are afraid to volunteer their own views before seeing an official statement from the regime or its leader. There was no immediate reaction from North Korea.

Without a clear assessment of the U.S. elections from the top leader, media in most countries viewed as main ideological enemies of the Bush Administration offered a rather muted assessments of the Democratic electoral win.

Iran’s state broadcaster Voice of Islamic Republic of Iran described Rumsfeld’s resignation as “the first repercussion of the Republican defeat.” “The embarrassing defeat of the Republicans and the landside victory of the Democrats were completed by the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld,” the Iranian radio announced. [Link]

According to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the results of U.S. Congressional elections showed dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration. “This is a punishment vote to protest the war in Iraq and the incompetence of the government in the aftermath of Katrina,” President Chávez told journalists. Venezuelan news agency reported that Chávez saw the construction of a wall on the border with Mexico as influencing the vote of the Latin community in United States. [Link]

The Cuban news agency Prensa Latina also focused on the Latin immigrant vote declaring that “the Latinos sunk Republicans in the mid-term elections.” In an attempt to add credibility to its report, Prensa Latina quoted an unidentified commentator on the Spanish CNN who reportedly said that the 2006 elections results were “the Latino community´s punishment of the Republicans for having spearheaded a racist, anti-immigrant offensive since the 2004 election.” [Link] The U.S-Mexican border fence has already become a major propaganda point for regime-controlled media in Cuba and Venezuela.

In commenting on the U.S. elections, Belarus declared that the government of President Lukashenko is ready to continue the dialogue with the United States. The Belarus Foreign Ministry spokesman was not sure whether the U.S. election results would change Washington’s policy toward the Lukashenko regime but he left some room for cautious optimism by saying that “Belarus is ready to go as far as the American partners are ready to go in establishing normal, pragmatic, and mutually beneficial relations.” The Bush Administration has frequently criticized President Lukashenko for human rights abuses, including severe restrictions imposed by his regime on independent media. The U.S. Congress passed a legislation in a bipartisan vote, strongly supported by the White House, which authorized funding for pro-democracy activities in Belarus. [Link]

Syria like Belarus is also hoping that the victorious Democrats will be more forgiving toward authoritarian regimes despite the lack of any significant evidence to support such a view. The Syrian news agency SANA web site featured a picture of Representative Nancy Pelosi and focused on the Syrian Minister of Information Dr. Mohsen Bilal’s praise of the future Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Syrian minister told the Aljazeera Arab satellite television channel that Ms. Pelosi had said “no” to the war in Iraq, adding that “this lady has made the word of the American people audible .. and this is very comfortable.”

According to the Syrian spokesman, “the outcome of the US midterm legislative elections constitutes a ‘significant change’ . He added “the [American] people voted for change and against the neoconservative mentality of the current administration.” He also described the outcome of the the elections as “a genuine punishment from the American people [for the] administration that staged a war on Iraq.” [Link]

The most realistic assessment as to whether Democrats will be kinder toward authoritarian regimes came from a commentary by the Russian state broadcaster Voice of Russia. Although the Voice of Russia commentator Yuri Reshetnikov did not say it directly, he may have correctly concluded that in its determination to wage the global war on terror, the Bush Administration has been more forgiving toward President Putin’s increasingly undemocratic rule and his clampdown on independent media.

The Voice of Russia commentary noted that over 55 percent of respondents in a poll conducted in Russia believed nothing is going to change either in the United States or in the rest of the world as a result of the U.S. elections. Only 15 percent of Russians polled believe Washington will quickly pull its troops out of Iraq. According to Voice of Russia, few respondents believed that Washington’s relations with Moscow will improve and twice as many people thought they would actually take a turn for the worse. [Link]

China like Russia has not been considered by the Bush Administration as an ideological enemy. Radio China International gave no indication as to whether it considers the Democratic win as a positive development for U.S.-Chinese relations. China Radio International reported that US and Iraqi politicians welcomed Secretary Rumsfeld’s resignation. The Chinese state broadcaster focused on comments by Democratic Representative Ed Markey, whom it described as a liberal Massachusetts lawmaker and critic of the Bush administration’s policy on the war, who reportedly lamented the fact that Rumsfeld’s departure would deprive Democrats of the chance to hold him accountable for his actions at the Pentagon. [Link]

It is likely that the Democrats, who will now control the Congress, will actually pay greater attention to human rights and press freedom abuses in countries like Russia, China and Belarus. U.S. support for media freedom in non-Muslim countries has declined as the Bush Administration moved resources to fund broadcasting, propaganda and public diplomacy programs in the Middle East and in other regions viewed as critical to the war on terror. The effectiveness and the level of funding for these programs may now come under review.

One of the decisions that may be reversed by the Democrat controlled Congress is the plan approved by the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and supported by the White House which would eliminate all Voice of America radio broadcasts in Russian. The same plan also calls for cutting or reducing broadcasts in a number of other languages, including English, which the Bush Administration and some BBG members — Republicans as well as Democrats — declared expendable. Many of these Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasts are to countries ruled by authoritarian regimes which severely restrict freedom of expression and free flow of information. The Democrats have a different assessment of the terrorist threat than the Bush Administration but that may only lead to increased U.S. support for pro-democracy activities and cause additional problems for totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. The Voice of Russia commentator, who knows the history of the Cold War, is probably right in suggesting that the Democrats are not going to be kinder to President Putin on human rights and media freedom issues. The same is likely to be true for nondemocratic regimes in Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Belarus, and North Korea. [Link to BBG program cuts announcement ] [ Analysis of VOA and RFE/RL program cuts]

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