In a special video message, the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, congratulated the Voice of America (VOA) on the 70th anniversary of VOA broadcasting to China. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency which manages VOA, tried to end all VOA radio and television broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese on Oct. 1, 2011 (the anniversary of the founding of communist China), but in a bipartisan action outraged members of Congress managed to block this plan and VOA Chinese broadcasts were saved.
Link to the video of the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, congratulating the Voice of America (VOA) on the 70th anniversary of VOA broadcasting to China
On Dec. 6, 2011, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher hosted a large reception on Capitol Hill to mark the 70th anniversary of VOA broadcasting to China. He had earlier introduced an amendment that saved VOA radio and TV programs to China. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also attended the reception as did Congressman Chris Smith, also a strong supporter of VOA and an outspoken critic of human rights abuses by the Chinese communist regime. Ros-Lehtinen, Rohrabacher, and Smith thanked VOA China Branch employees for their work.
No current BBG member attended the reception, although all of them had been invited. A former Republican BBG member, Blanquita Cullum, who had published an op-ed in The Washington Times critical of the decision to end VOA broadcasts to China, spoke at the reception about the importance of VOA radio for the victims of human rights abuses in nations governed by dictatorial and authoritarian regimes and for those who experience severe economic hardships and political upheavals.
Sources have told BBG Watch that BBG’s Republican member Ambassador Victor Ashe was planning to attend the Capitol Hill reception but was travelling to Greenville, North Carolina, to visit the BBG radio transmitting station, which BBG executives and some of the other BBG members want to close down as part of their plan to privatize the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti and to merge Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV into a large corporate bureaucracy.
Critics point out that this large bureaucracy would still be funded by American taxpayers but run by some of the current BBG executives with less oversight from Congress and less independence for the so-called “surrogate broadcasters” such as RFA and RFE/RL than under the current arrangement. VOA and Radio and TV Marti would lose their semi-official status, which is feared by authoritarian regimes such as the one in Cuba, but would also continue to be funded by American taxpayers.
Ashe was quoted as saying that his trip to Greenville was very productive and that the transmitting facility is performing a “valuable service.” BBG executives had tried to discourage him from going on this trip. The executive staff had advised BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson, a former CNN executive and author of the best selling biography of Steve Jobs, that Congress would not object to the plan to end VOA broadcasting to China. BBG members seem now split on the wisdom of the advice they have been getting from their staffers.
Ambassador Ashe has been lately critical of BBG plans to reduce VOA radio and television broadcasting to countries without free media. He has been meeting also with groups of employees and raising employee morale issues.
Sources also told BBG Watch that Michael Meehan, one of BBG’s Democratic members, was also planning to attend the reception. The BBG was represented by Jeff Trimble, the Deputy Director of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), who — according to BBG Watch sources — had earlier advised BBG members to end VOA radio and TV transmissions to China, as well as to Russia in 2008. VOA broadcasts to Russia were terminated and never resumed. Sources also told BBG Watch that VOA Director David Ensor was travelling abroad and could not attend the Capitol Hill reception. Neither VOA nor BBG has issued a press release to mark the 70th anniversary of broadcasting to China or to highlight the unprecedented expression of support for VOA Chinese radio and TV programs from the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and other members of Congress.