The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) senior Republican member Ambassador Victor Ashe is visiting Asia where the BBG is planning major reductions in Voice of America broadcasts. Ashe is believed to be opposed to some of these cuts and reductions already approved by the majority of BBG members in their FY2013 budget plan. These plans also face a stiff bipartisan opposition in Congress and among human rights organizations and media freedom groups.
Ashe is visiting Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. The Communist Party in Laos has been in power since 1975 and tightly controls the local media. The BBG wants to reduce the Voice of America Lao Service to two staffers by cutting four broadcasting positions and eliminating shortwave radio programs.
During his current trip to Asia, Ashe is not visiting Vietnam, where the BBG plans to eliminate 17 and a half hours of weekly VOA Vietnamese radio broadcasts, leaving only Internet VOA news service to a country where all the media are controlled by the Communist Party. The VOA Vietnamese Service will lose 10 broadcasting positions under the BBG proposal.
At the last BBG open meeting, Ashe questioned the wisdom of the most controversial among recent BBG proposals which calls for the elimination of all Voice of America Tibetan radio broadcasts at the time when more and more Tibetan monks are setting themselves on fire to protest increasing repression of the Tibetans by the communist regime in Beijing. The BBG wants to eliminate seven VOA Tibetan broadcasting positions. It also wants to eliminate one broadcasting position in the VOA Burmese Service and six positions in the VOA Bangla Service.
The BBG is also proposing halving Voice of America radio broadcasts to Afghanistan from 12 to 6 hours daily and eliminating 10 broadcasting positions. The same BBG budget proposal also calls for completely abolishing the Voice of America Cantonese Service, which has seven full time broadcasters and serves Cantonese speakers in China where they face increasing Chinese Communist Party restrictions on their language and culture.
The Voice of America English Newsroom and VOA English radio broadcasts which are heard in Asia are set to lose 71 journalistic and broadcast support positions. VOA English radio broadcasts on shortwave, AM and FM would be silenced to all areas of the world except Africa. That includes strategically important broadcasts to China and Tibet where VOA English is the only USG broadcast service that is not jammed.
It is not clear to what extent Ashe’s Asian trip and his opposition to some of the BBG proposed cuts in broadcasting services to Asia may influence further discussions among BBG members about these controversial reductions. He faces an uphill battle against an alliance of BBG and IBB bureaucrats and several BBG members, including some of Ashe’s Republican colleagues
Critics of this plan accuse the BBG, and particularly the International Broadcasting Bureau executive staff under the leadership of IBB director Richard Lobo of ignoring strategic US interests in the region and cutting critical programs while expanding the IBB bureaucracy. There is a bipartisan effort in Congress to stop at least some of the proposed BBG program cuts in Asia.
A letter addressed to Congresswoman Kay Granger (R – TX), Chairman of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the House Committee on Appropriations and to Ranking Member Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D – NY) criticizes the Broadcasting Board of Governors for expanding their bureaucracy at the expense of critical overseas broadcasts and U.S. strategic interests:
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 Board (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.
Link to the Letter
The following press release is from the official BBG website.
BBG Governor Victor Ashe is in Southeast Asia, visiting BBG facilities, meeting with agency staff and holding talks with U.S. embassy officials and local authorities in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.
In the Udon Thani province of northeast Thailand, Ashe toured a BBG transmission facility and presented 30-year and 20-year service awards to staff members.
He spoke about the BBG’s mission and praised staff for its work in support of U.S. international broadcasting.
Ashe, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, took particular interest in the activities undertaken by BBG officials to build and maintain relationships with local communities.
Ashe also met with Michael Honnold, acting public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.
At Voice of America offices in Phnom Penh, Ashe met toured the facilities and met with staff, including Poly Sam, director of the RFA’s Cambodian Service.
He heads now to Laos for further consultations on RFA and VOA operations.