Broadcasting Board of Governors – In the Playground

by The Federalist
The Broadcasting Board of Governors and the International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB) have provided yet another sterling example of the shortcomings of their “flim flam strategic plan.”  It comes in the form of one of its press releases.  The issue: the Cambodian government hitting the “OFF” switch on Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) programs to Cambodia on June 2 and June 3.  Why would the Cambodian government do this?
Elections.  Specifically, national commune elections.
The press release reads in part:
“This action runs contrary to the principles of free and fair elections,” said BBG Presiding Governor Michael Lynton.  “News and information programs help shape a well-educated citizenry and should be encouraged, not denied. These attempts to silence RFA and VOA are counterproductive to the goals of building a democratic society in Cambodia.”
Let’s put this statement into a perspective:
Since 1975, Cambodia has been a mess.  It was overrun by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 which starved or murdered about 2 million of their fellow Cambodians in the overthrow of the Cambodian government and an alleged attempt to create an “agrarian utopia.”  That represents about 25 percent of the population at that time.  Deeply distrustful, even in their own ranks, the Khmer Rouge periodically conducted purges.  One person targeted for elimination is the current Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen.  He beat tracks for Vietnam, which overran much of Cambodia in 1979 after the Khmer Rouge started massacring Vietnamese villagers along the border between the two countries.  The North Vietnamese, having ejected the United States-supported South Vietnamese government in 1975, “inherited” a huge stockpile of American arms which they put to good use rolling west on Highway 1 to Phnom Penh and beyond, chasing the Khmer Rouge to the northern border regions of Cambodia.  Along the way, the Vietnamese installed Hun Sen as head of a Cambodian government.
If one were to make a general, caustic observation regarding the “administration” of Mr. Hun Sen, it is not likely that you will often hear the words “free and fair” in anything, including elections.  Especially elections.  Instead, you are likely to hear something like, “The only person who can remove Hun Sen is Hun Sen,” or words to that effect which he proclaimed when questioned about the revolts going on in the Middle East.  Don’t be looking for an “Arab Spring” in Cambodia any time soon.  Mr. Hun Sen has survived at least two assassination attempts.  Things like that have a tendency to work deep into one’s psyche.  He isn’t mellowing out with the passage of time.  And it doesn’t sound like Mr. Hun Sen is buying into the view that “building a democratic society in Cambodia” is high on his priority list.  Remember, a building block in this guy’s “resume” is that he was a Khmer Rouge cadre.  He will be prime minister for life – however long or short that may be.
If you want to read more about the current state of affairs in Cambodia – and you have a Kindle device – you might want to read a short work by Terrence McCoy titled “The Playground.”  You’ll learn a lot about present-day Cambodia.  It’s not a long read, but a memorable one.
So, what’s the point?
The Cambodian government – like those in Russia, China, Indonesia and elsewhere – has learned the value of that “OFF” switch.
In addition to its heavy reliance upon the Internet, the BBG/IBB, in certain instances, also rely heavily on in-country radio and television stations they call “affiliates.”  In reality, what the agency is doing is placing its programs on these local stations.  These stations are not “affiliated” with an agency the United States Government.  That’s one of those twists of a phrase that the BBG/IBB likes to use – the kind of phrase that immediately attracts the attention of the governments where these stations are located.  When something internally sensitive comes up above the horizon, these governments do not hesitate to hit that “OFF” switch with these stations.  They are not in the least bit intimidated by the whining of the BBG/IBB.  They have interests which do not necessarily comport with those of the BBG/IBB.
Here’s another thing – the Chinese are into Cambodia in a BIG way.  They have their own interests to protect.  While not clear in this situation, it would not be a stretch to say that the Cambodian government is either getting advice from the Chinese or have watched how the Chinese have been dealing with the BBG/IBB.
The BBG/IBB is getting out of the business of direct international broadcasting.  In Cambodia and elsewhere, this situation demonstrates the consequence of abandoning stand alone means of delivering program material.  This decision has facilitated a great opportunity for those who have a far different perspective on the BBG/IBB message.
As one extracts from the press release, the BBG/IBB makes use of radio in Cambodia in a fairly large way.  That is admirable.  But again, they shoot themselves in the foot by placing heavy reliance on local stations rather than direct broadcasts, even though the BBG/IBB makes brief mention in the press release that it still uses shortwave radio broadcasts into Cambodia.  In short, if you know you can boom into Cambodia via shortwave, you don’t need to care too much about what Mr. Hun Sen does with that “OFF” switch regarding local Cambodian stations.  Be happy you can get around him and go gangbusters (literally) into Cambodia on shortwave.  And if the BBG/IBB is paying to have its programs “placed” on Cambodian stations, you just saved the American taxpayers a tidy sum of their money – because after all it’s our money, not the BBG/IBB’s.
The BBG statement did say that its programs were available on the Internet in Cambodia.  Here’s the deal on that score:
Cambodia is one of the poorest places on earth, for the majority of Cambodians.  Again, read “The Playground.”  The poor are only getting poorer.  Villagers are being forcibly ejected and relocated to make way for luxury resorts being built by:
The Chinese.
Radio, representing the most cost-effective media for reaching mass audiences with limited income or no access to Internet technology, is the best link to the outside world for most Cambodians.  When you can direct broadcast from offshore, you accomplish your mission – especially when the “brain trust” of the BBG/IBB should know or anticipate what someone like Mr. Hun Sen is capable of doing.  And as this incident demonstrates, Mr. Hun Sen gets it and did the deed and caught the BBG/IBB either complacent or deep in the dreamscape of its “flim flam strategic plan.”
And as far as the Internet is concerned, all Mr. Hun Sen needs to do is ask the Chinese how they deal with BBG/IBB websites.  Most certainly, the Chinese would be more than willing to sell Mr. Hun Sen the technology and train his government in its use.  Indeed, since the Chinese are big on cyber warfare, it would be a brilliant sleight of hand on their part to operate a covert cyber warfare campaign against the BBG/IBB out of Cambodia, presenting the BBG/IBB with yet another conundrum they can’t understand, much less deal with.
And speaking of the Internet, guess what the United Nations is up to?  It is currently considering regulating the Internet.  Guess who is leading the initiative?
The Chinese – along with the Russians and joined by India and Brazil.
Another nail yet to come in the BBG/IBB coffin.  
The Federalist
June 2012

Official BBG Press Release:

BBG Decries Cambodian Government Cancellation Of VOA, RFA Coverage During National Election

JUNE 4, 2012

Washington, DC — The Broadcasting Board of Governors today condemned the Cambodian Ministry of Information’s decision to force FM stations to stop airing election programming from Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America.

The ministry prohibited five affiliate stations in Cambodia from running Khmer-language RFA and VOA programs on Saturday, June 2 and Sunday, June 3 — the day of national commune elections.  The shows were all taken off the air without notice.

“This action runs contrary to the principles of free and fair elections,” said BBG Presiding Governor Michael Lynton.  “News and information programs help shape a well-educated citizenry and should be encouraged, not denied. These attempts to silence RFA and VOA are counterproductive to the goals of building a democratic society in Cambodia.”

RFA and VOA play a critical role in informing the Cambodian electorate on fundamental election issues, and they provide a platform for the full spectrum of political opinions in the country.  Due to government-imposed restrictions on political coverage by all media to avoid undue influence on the elections’ outcome, their programs on Sunday were focused on information necessary to voting, such as when polling stations were to open and close.

Two VOA Khmer Radio programs on June 3 were broadcast as normal on an AM frequency, via short wave and online.