According to a BBG spokeswoman, it would be “irresponsible” in the current tight budget environment to keep VOA radio broadcasts to Tibet and at the same time continue Radio Free Asia (RFA) Tibetan radio. With the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) latest effort to stop Voice of America Tibetan radio broadcasts, we took a look at some of the conclusions from the BBG’s own audience research.
Tibetans, human rights organizations, media freedom groups, and experts disagree with the BBG assessment. According to them, there are very few countries in the world where the population needs both Voice of America and surrogate radio broadcasts more than the oppressed Tibetans living in Tibet under the Chinese regime’s rule.
In Tibet, Internet access is blocked to VOA and RFA websites and Tibetans cannot easily receive satellite television without risking arrests and fines. Private satellite TV dishes are banned in China without a special license. The BBG’s argument that VOA satellite TV in Tibetan would be sufficient is based on satellite TV viewing by Tibetan refugees living outside of Tibet, not in Tibet.
According to BBG’s own researchers, results of a BBG-commissioned refugee survey in Nepal are not projectable to any population. And yet a BBG spokeswoman claims that VOA Tibetan TV and web content are the way to go, ignoring the fact that these two media cannot serve Tibetans living in Tibet. They can only be received reliably outside of Tibet.
What the BBG is in fact saying is that Tibetans in Tibet do not need Voice of America if they have Radio Free Asia. While RFA performs an extremely useful role, to claim that Tibetans in Tibet do not deserve to get Voice of America American, international and Tibetan news and the support of the American people that these VOA broadcasts imply is simply inhumane.
Radio Free Asia cannot replace Voice of America in Tibet. But because the Tibetans are so oppressed by the Chinese authorities, in addition to VOA they also need RFA as a surrogate broadcaster. The same is true for VOA and RFA Cantonese and for broadcasts to Vietnam and other countries ruled by communist or other authoritarian regimes.
What American taxpayers don’t need are constantly growing numbers of BBG executives creating highly-paid government positions for their friends, expanding their bureaucracy, giving themselves $10,000 bonuses and signing a $50,000,000 audience research contract with the Gallup Organization that won’t produce reliable results for nations such as Tibet, China, Iran, and Cuba. The BBG executive staff can do all of this by cutting programs that actually inform foreign audiences.
Shortwave radio broadcasts, even though thy are being jammed by the Chinese authorities, are getting through and are the only reliable source of uncensored news from the United States for the desperate people in Tibet living under severe repression.
Information from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) 2010 Annual Language Service Review Briefing Book.
According to the State Department’s 2009 report, “The government’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of the PRC remained poor and the severe repression of freedoms of speech, religion, association and movement that increased dramatically following the March 2008 Lhasa riots and subsequent unrest that occurred across the Tibetan Plateau continued during the year. Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial detention and house arrest. The preservation and development of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic heritage remained a concern.”
Further restricting freedom of speech, authorities routinely monitor all electronic communications including telephone conversations, fax transmissions, email, text messaging and Internet communications. Authorities also open and censor domestic and international mail. Security services routinely monitor and enter residences and offices to gain access to computers telephones and fax machines.
A few months after the 2008 protests, authorities said there would be severe penalties for spreading and listening to ‘rumors.’ Several Tibetans were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for unlawfully providing intelligence’ to organizations outside of the PRC.
Although Internet use in the PRC is increasing with the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) estimating some 384 million users by the end of December 2009, authorities take extreme measures to prevent Tibetans from receiving information originating outside of the PRC. The sophisticated control and surveillance system for Internet content, the so-called “Great Firewall”—is highly proficient. The PRC is now the world’s biggest prison for cyber-dissidents with a total of 57 currently held, five of whom are Tibetans.
Political conditions in China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) make it impossible to conduct any research to measure RFA’s or VOA’s audience there. Any performance data herein are results of a refugee survey in Nepal and not projectable to any population.
International radio broadcasts are still subject to considerable and, arguably, more intense jamming, particularly VOA and RFA Tibetan and Chinese broadcasts, as well as Voice of Tibet’s Tibetan language broadcasts.
Authorities also target satellite use. For example, in June 2009 in Tibetan areas of southern Gansu Province and the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, police confiscated or destroyed satellite dishes suspected of receiving VOA Tibetan-language television, as well as VOA and RFA audio satellite channels. Recognizing the power of satellite television, authorities are rolling out alternative strategies, such as providing free cable connections or small Ku-band satellite dishes (which are intended to thwart reception of foreign channels).