Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez takes issue with BBG decision to close down Voice of America Greek Service

Sen. Menendez

BBG Watch Commentary

Senator Bob MenendezWhile the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) wastes millions of taxpayers dollars on its overblown and discredited International Broadcadting Bureau (IBB) bureaucracy and dozens of non-productive high-paying positions within the Voice of America (VOA) executive staff, closing down the Voice of America Greek Service — one of VOA’s most successful language services with television affiliates in Greece — to save $400,000 did not make much sense to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the largest and oldest membership-based association for the nation’s millions of American citizens of Greek heritage and Philhellenes, called the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ decision “misguided and ill-informed.”

Avoiding and resisting major structural management reforms within the IBB and senior VOA staff, where millions of dollars are being wasted, while making small savings through cuts in shortwave radio broadcasts to some of the most needy international audiences and closing down successful VOA language services, has been embraced by the bureaucracy and at least one Republican BBG member who had called the congressional criticism of the U.S. international broadcasting agency’s management “dated,” “overly harsh” and “not fair.”

An article on the Greek news website ekathimerini.com by By Zacharo Gialamas, “After 72 years on air, VOA’s Greek Service goes silent,” quotes from an angry statement by Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in response to the BBG decision to close down the VOA Greek Service. ekathimerini.com is the website for Kathimerini English Edition, a daily newspaper published in Athens which is distributed exclusively with the International New York Times in Greece and Cyprus.

Senator Bob Menendez, as the powerful Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, may have a chance to restore the Voice of America Greek Service by inserting language in the Senate version of the bipartisan Royce – Engel United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490), which was approved unanimously by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and passed unanimously in a voice vote by the House of Representatives. One BBG Governor called the bill’s language “less than inarticulate.” (sic)

The H.R. 4490 bipartisan bill would abolish the Broadcasting Board of Governors Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau and create a new agency in which the Voice of America would provide international news while paying more attention to the second and third provisions of the VOA Charter with their focus on U.S. news and American views and institutions. This change is resisted by many agency executives and some VOA journalists, especially in the VOA English newsroom, but it has strong support among VOA language services and the AFGE Local 1812 employee union.

ekathimerini.com: However, US Senator Robert Menendez said that he would make efforts to ensure that the Greek Service gets back on air, saying that it had helped foster understanding between Greece and the USA “and has promoted democratic values and free market ideas in Greece for decades.”

“Upon learning of Voice of America’s plan to discontinue its Greek language service earlier this year, I expressed my opposition to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. With Greece emerging from an economic crisis that had profound social and political impact on the country, and with instability spreading in near-by regions, now is clearly not the time to end a service that allows us to communicate the best of our ideas and ideals to the Greek public,” said Menendez, who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement on August 12.

“In this context, it is of the utmost importance that the U.S. Government and the American people have a forum to present our views about ongoing developments at home, in Greece and around the world. I am convinced that the platform best equipped to guarantee that free exchange of information between the United States and Greece is Voice of America’s Greek language service, a program I will do everything in my power to restore.”

Zacharo Gialamas also reported on the agency management’s position.

According to the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) website, VOA Director David Ensor called the Greek Service “a small but mighty group of talented, dedicated journalists, who for over seven decades served as an unbiased, objective news source.”

Budget cuts at VOA and a change of direction in terms of the foreign language services the broadcaster wanted to offer both contributed to the decision to shut down the Greek service. In a post-9/11 world, there were doubts about whether federal money was best spent on broadcasting to developed democracies that were already served by a free local media.

READ MORE: After 72 years on air, VOA’s Greek Service goes silent, Zacharo Gialamas, ekathimerini.com, August 12, 2014.

Voice of America executives, some VOA English newsroom reporters and at least one new BBG member seem not know how to work with members of Congress and encourage resistance to the H.R. 4490 reform bill.

BBG Watch would not object to closing a VOA language service broadcasting to a country with free media if absolutely no other savings could be made. But most BBG members know very well that millions of dollars are being wasted by the IBB and VOA bureaucracy on the IBB and VOA bureaucracy. That’s where budget cuts should be made first before any VOA programs, shortwave radio transmissions or language services are eliminated by the BBG.

The free media in Greece is with only a few exceptions strongly anti-American. Hopefully, the H.R. 4490 will allow VOA to provide U.S. news even to some vulnerable countries with free media where anti-American sentiment runs high and local media employ local or foreign anti-U.S. disinformation and propaganda. We strongly support Senator Menendez and his opposition to the BBG’s closing of VOA language services without first addressing serious management deficiencies, waste and abuse.
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The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association’s (AHEPA) Supreme President Phillip T. Frangos issued the statement below, regarding the official closing of the Voice of America Greek Service.

A message from the AHEPA Headquarters
Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Contact: AHEPA Headquarters
Phone: (202) 232-6300
Email: press@ahepa.org

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AHEPA Statement on Closure of VOA Greek Service

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the largest and oldest membership-based association for the nation’s millions of American citizens of Greek heritage and Philhellenes, issued the following statement on the closure of the Voice of America Greek Service which became official on August 11, 2014:

“AHEPA is profoundly disappointed with the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ misguided and ill-informed decision to include as part of its FY2014 budgetary cuts the Voice of America’s Greek Service that has led to the Greek Service’s unfortunate closure,” Supreme President Phillip T. Frangos said.

He continued, “The VOA Greek Service has provided award-winning journalism, bringing unbiased news and information to the people of Greece since 1942. The closure of the Greek Service is a tremendous loss because the Service reinforced ties between the United States and one of the few true democracies in that part of the world in NATO ally Greece, making the Greek Service essential to America’s security interests. The Service also will be sorely missed by the American Hellenic community because of the invaluable professional service that signified to Greek Americans that the good works and deeds of the American Hellenic community which were aimed to strengthen U.S.-Greece relations would be reported and placed in several media outlets abroad. The contributions of the Greek Service in all these areas are the reasons why AHEPA and champions of the Greek American community on Capitol Hill have fought annually to keep the Greek Service from elimination over several past fiscal years.

“Over the decades, it has been a pleasure to work with award-winning Greek Service Chief George Bistis, and more recently, Greek Service Chief Anna Morris; and their colleagues at the Greek Service. We are deeply grateful to them, and we wish them the very best in their future endeavors.”

In November 2001, for the second time in two years, Voice of America’s Greek Service, along with VOA’s Turkish Service, received the Ipekci Peace and Friendship Prize for Communication for their multifaceted and sincere cooperation in support of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement on an international level.

Background

AHEPA has worked over the past several years to ensure the VOA Greek Service would be kept from elimination in the federal budget. Most recently, AHEPA worked with the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, as it has done in the past, to back congressional support for the Greek Service. AHEPA also submitted written testimony for the record to congressional appropriators.
For more information on AHEPA’s perspective on the importance of the VOA Greek Service, please click here.

Founded in 1922 in Atlanta, Georgia, to protect individuals from the evils of bigotry and discrimination, AHEPA is the largest and oldest grassroots association of American citizens of Greek heritage and Philhellenes with more than 400 chapters across the United States, Canada, and Europe. The mission of AHEPA is to promote the ancient Greek ideals of Education, Philanthropy, Civic Responsibility, and Family and Individual Excellence through community service and volunteerism. 
 
For more information about AHEPA or how to join, please visit ahepa.org or contact AHEPA Headquarters, 202-232-6300.
 
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A message from the AHEPA Headquarters
Friday, April 11, 2014

Contact: AHEPA Headquarters
Phone: (202) 232-6300
Email: press@ahepa.org

N E W S  R E L E A S E  
 
  
AHEPA Commends Hellenic Caucus Initiative to Restore Voice of America Greek Service Funding

AHEPA Backs Service in Written Testimony to House Appropriations Panel
 
   
WASHINGTON, DC – The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), a leading association for the nation’s three million American citizens of Greek heritage, and Philhellenes, commends the initiative of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues to generate congressional support to restore $400,000 in federal funding for the Voice of America Greek Service for Fiscal Year 2015.

Twenty U.S. representatives, led by U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), signed a letter sent to House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) and Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY), requesting the restoration of the program’s funding. This is the most congressional support secured for the Greek Service, which was eliminated in the FY2014 federal budget.

“The Greek Service is extremely crucial to the American Hellenic community and to the United States’ interests in the eastern Mediterranean and the broader region,” Supreme President Anthony Kouzounis, who submitted written testimony to congressional appropriators on the issue, said. “It fulfills the mission of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and plays a significant role in communicating an accurate message to a part of the world that is situated on the doorsteps of the Middle East and the Balkans.”

He added, “We sincerely thank the leadership of the Hellenic Caucus for spearheading this initiative, which garnered bipartisan support. Furthermore, we applaud the Hellenic Caucus members who voiced their collective concern about the elimination of the program. The community is grateful.”

In addition to U.S. Rep. Sarbanes and Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairs U.S. Reps. Maloney and Bilirakis, several ranking members and Foreign Affairs Committee members signed the letter, including: Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Ranking Member William Keating (D-MA), Committee on the Budget Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Committee on Ways and Means Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI), and U.S. Reps. David Cicillene, member, Committee on Foreign Affairs; Ted Deutch, member, Committee on Foreign Affairs and co-chair, Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance; Grace Meng (D-NY), member, Committee on Foreign Affairs; Albio Sires (D-NJ), member, Committee on Foreign Affairs; Tony Cardenas (D-CA), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Niki Tsongas (D-MA).
 
The Hellenic Caucus’s action had the support of AHEPA.

AHEPA Submits Testimony to Appropriations Panel

Supreme President Kouzounis submitted written testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, State, and Related Programs, chaired by Rep. Granger, requesting the federal government restore $400,000 in funding for the Voice of America Greek Service for Fiscal Year 2015, on April 4. The testimony has been entered into the Public Record.

“The elimination of the Greek Service just doesn’t make sense,” added Kouzounis, who credits the Greek Service’s reporting of key issues such as extremism in Greece and the United States’ backing of Greece during the latter’s economic crisis as critical to conveying the strong, long-standing relationship, or historic bridge, between the United States and Greece.

In fiscal years prior to FY2014, Congress had fully restored funding for the Greek Service.

“We look to the leadership of the appropriations subcommittee to correct this budget oversight yet again,” Kouzounis said. “We also took the case to restore the Greek Service to the Senate side during last month’s Capitol Hill Day.” 

Read the Congressional Letter here 

Read AHEPA’s testimony here

Founded in 1922 in Atlanta, Georgia, to protect individuals from the evils of bigotry and discrimination, AHEPA is the largest and oldest grassroots association of American citizens of Greek heritage and Philhellenes with more than 400 chapters across the United States, Canada, Greece and Cyprus. The mission of AHEPA is to promote the ancient Greek ideals of Education, Philanthropy, Civic Responsibility, and Family and Individual Excellence through community service and volunteerism. 
 
For more information, please visit ahepa.org. 

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