BBG claims surrogate broadcasters can do Voice of America's job

In a response for a RadioWorld article, “Advocacy Group Objects to BBG Cuts,” a spokesperson for the Broadcasting Board of Governors advanced an argument that Voice of America does not have a special role representing the United States to foreign audiences and can be replaced in this role by private broadcasters funded by the BBG.

RadioWorld was reporting on an open letter to the House Appropriations Committee sent by the independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB):

“We adamantly object to the proposal by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which manages the Voice of America, and their plans to eliminate the VOA Tibetan Radio Service, the entire VOA Cantonese Service, as well as eliminating more than 200 positions and reducing information coverage in Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Cuba, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Russian Federation, Turkey and Vietnam,” CUSIB wrote.

“The Voice of America English and Spanish services are also threatened with severe cuts in broadcast operations and staff. The Caucasus region, including Chechnya, and Central Asia are likewise targeted by the BBG’s plan for unprecedented program cuts and reductions.”

CUSIB supports the so-called “surrogate broadcasters” and their special independent role in delivering highly-targeted news to countries without free media. CUSIB does not believe, however, that surrogate broadcasters should be required to represent the United States and explain American policies to foreign audiences. According to CUSIB experts, the effectiveness of surrogate broadcasters depends largely on their editorial independence and being separate from the Voice of America and the U.S. Government.

The claim of equivalency between VOA and the so-called surrogate broadcasters, private entities which are funded by the BBG with U.S. taxpayers’ money, is, however, now being advanced not only by BBG spokespersons but also by the new Voice of America director David Ensor. He announced Tuesday that the VOA news website, voanews.com, will be adding items from the reporting of BBG’s private broadcasters: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), which includes Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV, and Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which includes Radio and TV Marti.

This is what one VOA broadcaster said in response to Ensor’s announcement:

“Just a few weeks ago Voice of America Director David Ensor was saying that the VOA site would remain central despite all of the consolidation going on.

So, having mostly eliminated actual voices of VOA correspondents (on “radio” reports we file, even though they contain other audio material of interest to a web user) now the VOA site becomes another outlet for other BBG entities that already are recognized for their superior web operations.

Among other things this is yet another step toward de-boning VOA. Eventually, if the RIFS (Reductions in Force) happen, the VOA newsroom will be as I observed, little more than a production shop for the BBG and ultimately the GNN.” (Global News Network envisioned by former BBG chairman Walter Isaacson who resigned in January).

BBG spokeswoman Letitia King defended the BBG proposal to abolish the Voice of America Cantonese Service and to end VOA radio broadcasts to Tibet, leaving only VOA Tibetan satellite television program which can be easily received by Tibetans living in exile, for example in India, but not easily received by those living in Tibet, where the Chinese authorities prevent individuals from installing private satellite dishes.

This is what BBG spokeswoman Letitia King wrote:

“Tibet and China are crucial target audiences for BBG news and information content. But where there are two BBG broadcasters in the same language, we must seek economies.”

Anything less, she said, would be irresponsible in a time of tight federal budgets. In her response to RadioWorld, Ms. King did not address the issue of the constantly growing BBG bureaucracy, hiring new highly paid BBG officials, their $10,000 bonuses, and a new multi-year $50,000,000 contract with the Gallup Organization to conduct audience research in countries like China where getting accurate audience data is close to impossible because of fear of government repression.

More from BBG spokeswoman Letitia King:

“Both the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have sent strong programming to Tibetan audiences. Under the FY 2013 budget request, Radio Free Asia would continue its service to Tibet in three dialects via shortwave and satellite audio while the Voice of America would focus on satellite TV and drop radio broadcasts in Tibetan. As part of this media redistribution, RFA would assume VOA’s prime radio transmission hours, ensuring that the people of Tibet continue to have access to U.S. international broadcast news. This decision was informed by field research showing that Tibetan audiences more often access VOA’s news and information via television rather than radio, and that they listen to RFA’s radio broadcasts.”

It’s worth noting that Ms. King refers to “Tibetan audiences,” which can include Tibetan exiles in India, but not specifically to Tibetans living in Tibet. She did not mention a recent National Public Radio report that Tibetan Buddhist monks in Tibet listen secretly to VOA Tibetan radio broadcasts, which the BBG wants to eliminate.

More from BBG spokeswoman Letitia King on the BBG proposal to abolish the VOA Cantonese Service:

“Here RFA would continue its exclusive Cantonese radio broadcasts to Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, Hainan Province and parts of the Guangxi Autonomous Region. VOA’s efforts to reach the increasingly important Chinese audience will focus on enhanced programming in Mandarin via shortwave radio, the Internet, mobile technologies, and direct-to-home satellite TV which does not suffer from jamming. Incidentally, because Cantonese and Mandarin are essentially the same written language, VOA will continue to reach out to Cantonese-speaking audiences through its news websites for Chinese audiences.”

The BBG keeps silent about the Beijing regime’s efforts to suppress the Cantonese language and culture and does not explain how firing VOA Cantonese journalists will allow Voice of America to reach out to Cantonese-speaking audiences.

Ms. King did not elaborate how the requirement of the VOA Charter, a Public Law passed by the U.S. Congress which mandates that the Voice of America will represent significant American viewpoints and discussions and explain U.S. policies to foreign audiences, will now be carried out by surrogate, private broadcasters.

“Thus, the BBG will continue to serve our many audiences in China through a fresh combination of BBG services in a way that meets audience needs, satisfies our requirements as defined by the U.S. Congress, and eliminates duplication to yield savings that can be used for other pressing priorities.”

Letitia King said BBG understands that proposed reductions will cause hardship for parts of the agency and its broadcasters. “In every case, the BBG will do everything possible to ease the impact of reductions on individuals through attrition, buyouts and other avenues.”

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From: David Ensor
Sent: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 12:28 PM
To: VOA Language Service Chiefs; VOA Language Service Division Directors; VOA Language Programming Directorate; VOA Managing Editors; Matthew Baise
Cc: Steve Redisch; Rebecca McMenamin; Barbara Brady; David Borgida; Richard M. Lobo; Jeffrey Trimble; Jay Tolson

Subject: VOANews.com

Colleagues,

Our English language website-one of the most popular websites offered by U.S. international broadcasting– is going to try something new.

In the next few days, our website will broaden its offering to readers, by adding a few stories each day chosen by VOA web editors from the reporting of our sister news organizations, RFE/RL, RFA, MBN and OCB.  This will enrich our already strong site, and we hope, attract more readers to it, (and also to those of our colleagues, since there will be links).

Here is how it will work:  when the VOA web team identifies a story from-for example RFE– that it would like to use, it will send that story to the relevant VOA personnel to make sure the story is not one that VOA already has from its own reporting, or in which there may be problems. For example, a story on Ukraine would be sent to the VOA Ukrainian Service and to Central News, for vetting.  They will then have about an hour to let the web editor know if:

1.      VOA already has this story so if we’re putting it on our website, we should use our own version,

2.      There may be factual or editorial problems that need to be addressed before the story should be put on our site.

When the web editor does not hear back on either point one or two, the story will go up on the site about an hour after the query.

I want to stress another important point about VOANews.com:
the VOA English language web team is eager to put more original content stories generated by VOA journalists on the site. Reporters working in the language services, and language service chiefs should be on the look-out for stories that break news or offer special insights and that might be of interest to VOA’s English internet public.  If your service breaks a story that might be of interest beyond your audience, please assign someone to make at least a rough English translation and flag it to Central News, and to Matthew Baise and his team.

This will help VOANews.com to continue its growth as a significant global site, one that offers original content, in addition to a presentation of the main stories around the world and about the United States.

David

David Ensor
Director

Voice of America
330 Independence Ave, SW
Washington DC 20237
(202) 203.4500

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