BBG Watch Commentary

SilentThe crying among International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives over the loss of a 30 min. Mon. thru Fri. Voice of America (VOA) Russian radio rebroadcast in Moscow, which by the way they had tried very hard not to reinstate after their 2008 decision to terminate all VOA radio and TV to Russia — is to say the least disingenuous.

IBB had to be forced by members of Congress to restart this much shortened program in 2008. They did it kicking and screaming, but got more than 90% of what they had wanted — the end of any significant Voice of America broadcasting presence in Russia.

As they were implementing their program cuts in 2008, these IBB executives did not even bother to reply to numerous letters from Russian human rights groups and other NGOs protesting the plan to end VOA Russian radio and TV.

We repost one of these protest letters to set the record straight for IBB and for current Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members who were not there in 2008 and may not know of IBB’s infamous role in the strategic withdrawal from direct VOA radio and TV broadcasting to Russia.

Even now, IBB officials strongly resist demands to start medium wave (AM) rebroadcasts of Radio Liberty and Voice of America Russian programs to European Russia and Ukraine from Lithuania, a U.S. ally, as they are also opposed to any surge shortwave transmissions in response to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.


Excerpts from Letter of “Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union” sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008

“Dear Madame Secretary:

UCSJ: The Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union, having been working in Russia and other post-Soviet states since 1970 (as you know), is shaken by the Administration’s 2007 budget item whereby Voice of America (VOA) broadcasting to Russia and its former Soviet neighbors would be effectively cancelled. During the Cold War the VOA broadcasts to the FSU, primarily in Russian, called to account the Soviet government and the so-called national patriots, who spread anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia, neo-Nazi ideology and anti-Western views and propaganda. It provided to the vast Russian public uncensored news and commentary about America and democracy worldwide, thereby providing political and moral support and nourishment to Refusenik, dissident and human rights activists in ways that ultimately contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Today Putin’s Russia has reinstated many indices of its totalitarian past, thus obscuring for the Russian public an appreciation of the benefits of market democracy. There remain no effective, pro-Western political opposition parties and the direct election of governors and mayors has yielded to presidential appointments. Russia’s rule of law, the essence of human rights and democracy, is now exemplified by a dysfunctional justice system that tolerates and/or foments pervasive corruption and the sheer impunity of anti-Semitic and xenophobic violence and propaganda as well as persecution of religious minorities, especially Evangelical Christian and Roman Catholic confessions deemed competitive with the all-but-official Russian Orthodox Patriarchy. Most recently, the Kremlin has initiated a strong campaign against independent civil society institutions, i.e., the new anti-NGO law. UCSJ views VOA today as being more important to promoting democracy across the former Soviet Union than at any time since the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

The VOA remains one of the few Russian voices that objectively broadcasts programs that explain to Russian listeners the basic principles of the American and international policy so important at a time of very wide anti-American propaganda spread by many Russian and foreign mass media (one example being Iran Radio in Russian). What’s more, VOA’s Russian language broadcasting constitutes virtually the only source of credible information about current events and democracy for listeners in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan!

We find it as dangerous as it is regrettable that today the VOA has only three hours of broadcasting in Russian, including one hour that repeats the previous day’s programs, let alone contemplating the demise of the entire offering. We urge the Bush Administration and the Congress to not only preserve this level of broadcasting to Russia, but to double the air time for listeners on the territory of Russia and some other post-Soviet states. The serious deterioration of democracy in Russia and across the former Soviet Union argues forcefully for assertive public diplomacy, not its demise. We have no doubt that VOA’s unique contribution to the orientation and education of Russian society now is no less important than it was in the Soviet past.”

Copies of this letter were also sent in 2008 to 35 members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. IBB ignored the letter. All VOA Russian radio and TV broadcasts ceased in 2008 just two weeks before the Kremlin launched its military incursion into Georgia. Later only a 30 min. Mon. thru Fri. VOA Russian radio program was reinstated due to strong pressure from members of Congress.