At today’s meeting at Radio and TV Marti in Miami, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) approved a plan to reverse the cuts proposed earlier in U.S. international broadcasting to China. Facing overwhelming bipartisan criticism in Congress and from numerous human rights and media freedom groups, BBG members reversed their previous plan and decided to retain Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts in Tibetan, the VOA Cantonese Service (radio, TV and Internet), as well as Radio Free Asia services at present levels.
Retention of these services at FY 2012 levels will mean reduction of only about one tenth of the severe earlier cuts proposed for the Voice in the President’s FY 2013 request announced on February 13.
How Voice of America English to Asia radio broadcasts will be affected is unclear, but given the Board’s expressed concern about the need to retain a strong presence in China and given the PRC’s massive investments in overseas broadcasting and public outreach in the U.S., it seems likely that VOA English, too, will be retained, one outside expert predicted. We [BBG Watch] are not predicting, however, at this time that other BBG broadcasting services will also be saved.
The BBG and IBB executive staff is likely to put up strong resistance to any further retention of broadcasting services since the jobs of these executives, their control over the agency and their bureaucratic resources might be then threatened. BBG Watch will report more on this topic as soon as more information is available.
The fate of other broadcasting services also facing cuts and reductions, including Voice of America Spanish, Georgian, Turkish, and Greek, among others, is likewise unclear.
BBG members had earlier approved the elimination of VOA Tibetan radio programs, the closing down of the VOA Cantonese Service as well as reductions in Radio Free Asia broadcasts at the recommendation of the BBG and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executive staff.
The BBG’s senior Republican Ambassador Victor Ashe was initially the only BBG member strongly opposing the proposed cuts and questioning the executive staff’s explanations. Sources told BBG Watch that he was supported by Governor Michael Meehan, a Democrat, but faced strong initial opposition from Republican Governor S. Enders Wimbush and did not receive much support from another Republican Dennis Mulhaupt. The majority of Board eventually agreed with Victor Ashe after numerous outside protests and input from NGOs and members of Congress.
The official BBG announcement:
Miami, Fl, April 20, 2012 – The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) today announced a renewed strategy for broadcasting to China that will be reflected in the ongoing dialogue with Congress about the Agency’s proposed FY 2013 budget.
“China’s highly competitive media market and its government’s aggressive jamming of BBG content are long-standing challenges,” said BBG board member Michael Meehan. “Beijing blocks media of many kinds and aggressively stifles free expression, especially in regions where dissent continues to arise in the open, such as Tibet. While the Board understands the reality of the current budget environment, it also perceives a pressing need for the news and information that we provide to be seen and heard across China and Tibet.”
In response to inquiries from Congress and other stake-holders, the Agency is developing alternatives that take into account the roles of Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) Tibetan Radio, along with VOA Cantonese TV programming and VOA satellite TV capability in China.
At the April meeting of the BBG Strategy and Budget Committee, the Board asked that key senior staff form a working group to devise a holistic solution for reaching audiences throughout China, including Tibet.
The funding increase required in order to implement the board’s China distribution strategy totals approximately $3 million for FY 2013. The Board directed top agency management to identify various areas to offset the cost of the new strategy, including migrating satellite frequencies to the KU band and accelerating other transmission optimizations.
This was one of several key initiatives discussed today at the Board’s meeting, held this month in Miami at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
An account of those initiatives, as well as reports and other documents, will be posted on the Agency’s website, www.BBG.gov.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 187 million in 100 countries. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Martí).
For more information, please call the BBG’s Office of Public Affairs at 202-203-4400 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.