BBG bureaucracy versus strategy and national interests defines proposed program cuts at Voice of America

The bureaucratic executive staff at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and its operating arm the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) are proposing major cuts in U.S. international broadcasting to strategic countries and regions while expanding their own ranks and expenses. They have targeted the primary strategic U.S. broadcaster — the Voice of America (VOA) — for the most severe program cuts and reductions while bureaucratic IBB positions will grow from fiscal year 2011 from 593 to 678.

The IBB/BBG executive bureaucracy has been rated in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys as the worst among all federal agencies in management knowledge and leadership.

Growing bureaucracy at the expense of programs

The proposed reductions are driven not by a considered strategic world view, but by bureaucratic expedience and a fundamental misunderstanding of the mission of VOA. If the fiscal year 2013 proposal is enacted, the staff level for VOA will be reduced by 13.2% from the current year. In contrast, only 3.3% of the positions from the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which provides administrative support to the BBG, will be cut. If the fiscal year 2013 proposal is enacted the number of full time equivalent (FTE) positions for the IBB will rise from 593.2 in fiscal year 2011 to 678.2. In the same time period VOA will lose 121.2 FTE positions. The general trend of the IBB has been to grow larger while the number of language services they support is being reduced. Broadcasting should be the last thing to be cut. It makes little sense to grow the bureaucracy while cutting that which it is meant to support. The eliminations and reductions in broadcasting to Tibet, China, Laos, and Vietnam alone will cut 28 positions from VOA.


The Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees all civilian international broadcasting operations funded by the U.S. government:  VOA/Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia (RFA) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN).

Of these, VOA is the only Agency subject to direct Congressional oversight because it is part of the U.S. Government.

In addition to world news, VOA provides news and information about the United States, its people, its ideals and beliefs and its government policies.

RFA, REF/RL and MBN are privately-run organizations yet federally funded by grants from the BBG.  Each operates as a surrogate broadcaster by acting as a free-press for those countries in which they operate.  Their mission is to be an alternative for in-country news.  Their mission does not include broadcasting news from or about the United States, its people, its ideals or U.S. government policies as is enshrined in the VOA Charter, Public Law 94-350.

ACTIVITY                  # OF POSITIONS         #OF POSITIONS CUT

Central News                     125                            – 43 

POTENTIAL IMPACT:   With its Central Newsroom staff in Washington, DC, reduced by one third, VOA would risk losing a high quality  news service that has been its brand since 1942.  It will no longer be able to cover news, trends and American life comprehensively 24/7 — its trademark as a “go to” source about America and the world.  Carefully sourced information is essential to the success and standards of VOA’s more than 40 language services.  The news writing responsibility will be delegated to the language services which are staffed in part with non-U.S. citizen contractors who have little, if any, stake in or understanding of U.S. foreign policy.  It is essential to use a Central News Service which could and should be used by ALL the various elements.  The recent occurrence in VOA Russian where a fake interview with the dissident Naval’ny was posted on the VOA Russian website is a perfect example of the chaos that can ensue if this reorganization of Central News is approved.

English                                  99                             – 28

POTENTIAL IMPACT:   Radio broadcasts (shortwave, AM and FM) would be silenced to all areas of the world except Africa.  This includes strategically important broadcasts to the Middle East, China and Tibet where where VOA English is the only USG international broadcast service that is not jammed.  VOA’s remaining global broadcasts in English would cease including all hourly newscasts and regionalized news and information about America from a uniquely American point of view.  Emphasis would be placed on social media and the Internet which are easy to interdict.  In this decision, the BBG ignores the fact that all over the world, English is becoming a favorite second language, especially among the youth.  The great popularity of  VOA Special English programs with its limited vocabulary and explanation of idiomatic English phrases is a prime example of good programming that reaches listeners who are interested in English.

Broadcast Operations       284                           -16     

POTENTIAL IMPACT:    Linked to reduction in need for radio technicians to support programs throughout this list

Spanish                                  27                            -14 

POTENTIAL IMPACT:    Six Spanish broadcasters will remain in Washington; 4 will be transferred to New York, and 4 to Miami.  This is Phase 1 of a long-range VOA and Radio-TV Marti consolidation.  VOA radio relays to 19 Spanish-speaking countries in our hemisphere will be severely curtailed at the same time Iran has established HispanTV a Spanish language TV channel that communist/Cuba sympathizer Hugo Chavez is actively involved with.  This is in addition to Hugo Chavez’ other project – Telesur which besides Venezuela is cosponsored by from Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Uruguay.  Telesur broadcasts 24/7 to South, Central and North America.  The Network has a staff of 500 with offices throughout Latin America and broadcasts via satellite, cable, and terrestrial TV and radio platforms.  The content has been identified by various groups as being anti-U.S.  Perhaps as a result, one country after another in Latin America is choosing leftist governments.  The BBG has been steadily ignoring these threats in our hemisphere cutting Portuguese to Brazil and sporadically broadcasting to countries which could be potential threats to our national security.  Also, there has been NO directive from Congress which would authorize the BBG to dramatically reorganize and consolidate Radio/TV Marti.  What happens to the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act, Public Law 98-111 which Ronald Reagan signed in 1983 putting it under the auspices of the VOA?

Afghan (Dari-Pashto)          40                             -10 

POTENTIAL IMPACT:    VOA radio to strategically-important Afghanistan would be halved from 12 to 6 hours daily during the critical 2012-2014 drawdown period for NATO and US forces.  Original programming would be cut, risking a possible loss of younger multimedia expert staff and a substantial reduction in VOA Afghan’s audience share (60% of adults).   Six hours weekly of TV would be retained while all research information points to the fact that RADIO is the prime communication in Afghanistan.

Vietnamese                       16                                -10

POTENTIAL IMPACT:    VOA will lose its 17 ½ hours weekly of radio, leaving only Internet services to a country where all the media are controlled by the Communist Party.  The six remaining staff members may not be able to: 1) sustain four current Internet sites they now reach, as Hanoi steps up efforts to control these by establishing its own state-owned social network, 2) retain the VOA Vietnamese position as the third most visited website at the Voice.  The proposed cut would severely hinder America’s ability to counter the propaganda of communist governments in Hanoi and Beijing.  The VOA Vietnamese Service has been a trusted source of news since 1943 and has almost 5 times the audience of the Vietnamese Service of Radio Free Asia.  In essence, this cut to VOA Vietnamese is punishment for a job well done.

Cantonese                             7                               -7            ABOLISH SERVICE

POTENTIAL IMPACT:  VOA Cantonese would be abolished on grounds that the audience is “negligible.” But RFA Cantonese will continue, with eight staff members even though it has only a “trace” audience.  In an independent survey last year, VOA had a weekly TV audience share of 9.8 % in Hong Kong and 1.9% in Guangdong Province.  VOA has a recognition factor there 2.5 times greater than RFA.  VOA and RFA have different and distinct missions (preamble, page 1). Following the example of the successful programming to Eastern Europe and the USSR during the Cold War when the US broadcast through surrogate stations RFE/Radio Liberty as well as VOA, RFA should be entrusted with programming about domestic events while VOA Cantonese radio/TV would concentrate on world news.  Another factor arguing for retention is the fact that as of March 1, 2012, Chinese authorities stopped all Cantonese-language programming in Guangdong province affecting over 50 million people.  Hong Kong, also predominantly Cantonese-speaking with 7 million people, could also be affected down the line.  Contrary to what the BBG has erroneously said re: Mandarin and Cantonese having the same classic standard Chinese characters, SPOKEN Mandarin and SPOKEN Cantonese are totally different languages.  During this time when Cantonese speakers in China would be deprived of media in their own language is a crucial strategic moment for VOA/RFA to INCREASE not decrease programming.

Tibetan                                 22                            – 7

POTENTIAL IMPACT:    All VOA Tibetan radio will be abolished, with TV expanded from its current two hours to three hours a week to a country where there are no affiliates on which to broadcast the program.  Although PRC radio jamming is extensive, the television audience in Tibet is still smaller by comparison because of government efforts to jam TV satellite signs.  There’s no reason to help the PRC achieve their objective of silencing the Voice and radio which remains a major information link to the worldwide Tibetan diaspora.  Interestingly enough, in his remarks recorded for the 70th anniversary of VOA, the Dalai Lama kept repeating the impact of VOA Tibet RADIO to the Tibetans and its great importance.  A recent feature on NPR revealed the fact that Buddhist monks secretly listen to VOA Tibet radio programs although under constant surveillance by Chinese militia.  At this critical moment when over 20 monks have self-immolated to bring the attention of the outside world to their plight is no time to CUT VOA Tibet programs which are truly a lifeline for those listeners.  Accurate research on radio listening habits in Tibet are virtually impossible to obtain since outsiders are not allowed free access into the country.  Research is available on TV listening habits among Tibetan refugees in India who fled the oppression in their native country.

Bangla                                 11                             – 6

POTENTIAL IMPACT:   All Bangla AM and shortwave will cease, and remaining 5 staff will concentrate on FM and TV placement.  VOA Bangla, aided by a powerful AM signal from Thailand, had more than 1,000 fan clubs in 2002 and its presence on Dhaka FM demands adequate staff to produce programs.

Albanian                             12                              -5 

POTENTIAL IMPACT:   All VOA radio in Albanian will end, but TV production will continue.   VOA is the leading international broadcaster to Kosovo and Albania but will be hard pressed to retain this position with only 7 staff.

Greek                                   4                              – 4              ABOLISH SERVICE

POTENTIAL IMPACT:  The proposed elimination of broadcasting to this strategically important country is ill-advised.  It would come just as its financial crisis and internal unrest threaten Greece’s security and the financial stability of both the EU and the United States.  VOA Greek reaches nearly 500,000 people weekly in Athens alone.  It is also on the air in Cyprus.  Its strategic importance is being totally ignored.

Turkish                                 8                            – 4

POTENTIAL IMPACT:   Cutting this service in half to focus only on the Internet while abolishing TV and radio broadcasts would seriously undermine VOA’s capability to reach a critical and growing anti-American Muslim audience in the volatile region.  It would also threaten impressive audience gains of the past year.  The 24/7 website recommended by the BBG requires more staff, not less.  Internet service in Turkey is spotty at best.  The BBG, as is the norm, is shooting itself in the foot with this decision and in addition, imperiling our national security.

Georgian                            6                            – 4

POTENTIAL IMPACT:   Reducing rejuvenated VOA Georgian by two thirds makes no strategic sense.  In 2010, when Georgian broadcasts ceased, Russian troops invaded that strategically important country two weeks later.  Russia occupies, or has growing influence, in neighboring South Ossetia and Abkhazia and hostilities could potentially break out with no warning.  The Republic of Georgia is making tremendous strides in its economy.  The 60 years of VOA Georgian broadcasting into the country have created a pro-American stance among its people.  Georgian forces have fought in Iraq & Afghanistan. VOA Georgian radio would disappear at precisely the wrong time especially since many predict that after his victory, Putin may once again begin aggressive actions against Georgia.  The two surviving staff members would find it impossible to produce both a high quality Internet and TV service prescribed by the BBG following the proposed reduction.   The BBG is setting the service up for failure and within a year, would probably close the service.

Lao                                      6                               -4

POTENTIAL IMPACT:  Lao media are tightly controlled by the ruling communist party which has been in power since 1975.  With its staff cut to two and the loss of shortwave transmissions, VOA Lao will be severely weakened — producing material largely for 8 affiliated FM stations across the border from Laos in neighboring Thailand.  Laos is a country hungry for a variety of Western news sources.  VOA and RFA, even with their different missions, can fill the void,

Burmese                           13                             – 1

POTENTIAL IMPACT:    Burma is on the verge of substantial democratic reforms.  It’s been said that the Rangoon government is contemplating allowing VOA radio and TV programs to be rebroadcast on Burmese government controlled media which may be wishful thinking and not valid information on which to base the decision to possibly cut .  Affiliate programming is highly uncertain as that programming can be shut down suddenly and quickly as it was with VOA Russian, Ukrainian, Azerbaijan and other language services.  Ironically, in a video presentation at the VOA 70th anniversary celebration, the leader of the Burmese democracy movement, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, spoke of her 18 years under house arrest and repeated over and over how VOA Burmese which she listens to every night was her lifeline of information and the source of the hope that kept her alive.