New director seems unaware of BBG plans for VOA

In a NPR interview, new VOA director David Ensor seemed unaware that in addition to terminating VOA radio to China, the BBG also plans to terminate all VOA satellite television news broadcasts in Chinese. This plan is in line with the BBG’s strategy in recent years to deprive VOA of most of its broadcasting capabilities. Ensor suggested that VOA should be broadcasting TV programs to China on satellite.

The BBG had already eliminated all VOA Arabic content and terminated VOA Russian radio and TV broadcasts just before Russia’s military attack on the Republic of Georgia in 2008. BBG executives, who have an uncanny ability to announce wrong decisions at the wrong time, proposed to end VOA radio and TV to China just before the unfolding of the Jasmine Revolution.

Ensor would be wise to learn that BBG executives will stop at nothing to secure broadcasting capabilities only for their semi-private entities, thus ensuring their survival by taking these capabilities away from VOA despite the waste and the duplication that this approach entails.

David Ensor said that VOA’s future in China is in new media and satellite television. He apparently did not know that the BBG wants to cut the VOA Chinese satellite TV news program, which has had more members of Congress as guests than any other VOA broadcast.

ENSOR: My personal feeling is that China’s one of the most important places for us to reach, and some of these new platforms that you’re talking about – social media, satellite television – are where we need to be headed in China.

Ensor’s answers suggested that he may not know that the VOA Chinese service already has a strong Internet and social media presence which is, however, stymied by Chinese Internet censors.

The new VOA director’s answers also revealed that he may not appreciate the importance of shortwave radio for China’s dissidents, human rights activists, and hundreds of millions of other Chinese who have no Internet access or ability to circumvent the Chinese regime’s firewall. Accessing VOA or RFA websites can expose Chinese dissidents to the secret police.

ENSOR:Some people think if a golden era when Voice of America was on shortwave radio and there were the huddled masses listening and then looking for the secret police to knock on the door and hide the radio. That’s not where we’re at now.

Ensor and BBG executives could learn something from the wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. During a five-minute reprieve from the usual Internet isolation imposed on her, Liu Xia wrote a friend that she is “miserable.”

“Can’t go out. My whole family are hostages,” Liu Xia wrote, as The Washington Post’s Keith B. Richburg reported last month. “I don’t know how I managed to get online,” she also wrote. “Don’t go online. Otherwise my whole family is in danger.

Radio broadcasts to countries governed by authoritarian regimes are just as important to those listeners whom VOA should focus on as they were during the Cold War. The BBG, on the other hand, obsesses about reaching mass audiences. The message and the purpose behind U.S. international broadcasting is lost on those without the knowledge of history.

Ensor could also learn something from Jing Zhang, a former Chinese political prisoner who now heads U.S.-based NGO Women’s Rights in China.

Not only would the elimination of VOA’s Chinese language service be contrary to the spirit and values of America’s Founding Fathers, it would inflict irreparable harm on generations of dissidents and advocates of freedom and democracy, and silence the most vulnerable groups in Chinese society—the women and children.

Women’s Rights in China urges the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration to face the reality of the China of today, to maintain Voice of America’s Chinese language service and to leave a legacy that could stand up to history.

In his interview Ensor did not show much appreciation for VOA’s traditional mission of reaching out to the most oppressed people around the world. He also showed his ignorance of VOA’s WWII history.

When NPR host Scott Simon said that he was very moved when he was preparing for this interview to read the first words that the Voice of America ever broadcast and asked Ensor whether he is familiar with those words, Ensor’s response was that he was not. The phrase “The news may be good or bad for us. We will always tell you the truth.” appears on the VOA website and in every book about VOA’s history.

The NPR host was better prepared for the interview with Ensor than Ensor is for his new job.

Ensor seems to have bought into the BBG executives’ propaganda that a broadcasting organization like VOA cannot have both broadcasting and social media so it might as well settle only on social media. Perhaps, he’s not curious enough to ask why the same is not true for BBG’s semi-private entities or any other prestigious broadcasting organization.

I wonder if David Ensor knows that VOA has no Arabic service because the BBG had abolished it. Ensor should realize that the BBG has all the power and he as VOA director has none.

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