BBG Watch Commentary

The Radio Free Asia (RFA) Tibetan Service leads all international broadcasters in quick, extensive and objective reporting on the current unrest in Tibet despite the recent firing of its longtime director — a decision which raised some concerns among lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Radio Free Asia News
Radio Free Asia News

Breaking news reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service in its radio broadcasts and online are being translated and posted on the broadcaster’s English website. Radio Free Asia reported today that Chinese authorities arrested four Tibetan students Tuesday after opening fire on and suppressing a mass student demonstration in Qinghai province a day earlier, as another Tibetan burned himself to death in neighboring Sichuan province in protest over Chinese rule.

The Tibetan Service appears to function well during this crisis despite the recent dismissal of Nagpo Jigme, who has been its director since it was started 16 years ago. The Tibet Sun online newspaper reported that Radio Free Asia officials have not revealed the reasons for his dismissal. It is normal practice among NGOs like RFA and government agencies like the BBG not to discuss personnel actions to protect privacy of employees and to avoid potential lawsuits. The Tibetan Service employees were supportive of their former director and expressed concern that the reasons for his dismissal were not announced, The Tibet Sun reported.

Libby Liu, RFA President
Libby Liu, RFA President

Radio Free Asia, headed by its president Libby Liu, has a reputation as being the most transparent and the best managed among U.S. government-funded international broadcasters which report to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Unlike, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Voice of America (VOA), RFA has had good labor-management relations and no major scandals involving programming or personnel in recent years.

Radio Free Asia categorically denies that any political motives are involved in its personnel decisions. When The Tibet Sun inquired about the reasons for Ngapo’s dismissal, RFA’s Media Relations Manager Rohit Mahajan replied in an email: “RFA does not discuss details of internal management decisions related to personnel and administration as a matter of policy. All decisions are made on the basis of how RFA can best produce quality, objective programming that will inform and enhance the lives of our audience.”

He further wrote, “Speculation that Mr Ngapo’s employment was terminated for political reasons is categorically untrue.”

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher at VOA to China 70th Anniversary Reception in Dec. 2011
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher at VOA to China 70th anniversary reception in Dec. 2011

Longtime supporter of U.S. international broadcasting on Capitol Hill, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R – CA), is concerned, however, that pressure from the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala may have been a factor in the removal of the Tibetan Service director.

Rep. Rohrabacher, who is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, wrote to RFA President Libby Liu, stating that “I have reason to believe that he was terminated for political reasons.”

In a separate letter to Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala, Rep. Rohrabacher expressed concerns that some Tibetan leaders are trying to influence news reporting by Radio Free Asia. He also repeated these concerns in a tough-worded press release.

“I am writing to express my outrage that actions taken by you and other Tibetan leaders such as Lobsang Nyandak, Lodi Gyari and Samdhong Rinpoche are eroding support within the US Congress for the Tibetan cause.”

Rep. Rohrabacher's Letter to Prime Minister Rep. Rohrabacher urged the Tibetan leaders to “immediately cease making disparaging remarks and taking harmful actions aimed at the Tibetan Service of Radio Free Asia and its loyal, hard working Tibetan-American staff.” Rep. Rohrabacher also wrote that these actions “deprive the Tibetan people of the joys of open debate and the free exchange of information that Radio Free Asia has provided.” A press release issued by Rep. Rohrabacher states:

“It appears that pressure from the Tibetan Government-In-Exile is responsible for the recent firing of the long time Director of the Tibetan Service within Radio Free Asia, Jigme Ngapo. Ngapo is well respected within the Tibetan community and known for encouraging open discussion about Tibet’s future, including independence, a position not advocated by Sangay and some other individuals in the Tibetan Government-In-Exile.”

Rep. Rohrabacher suggested that some Tibetan political leaders may be too soft on China. The letter continues that “the 75 Tibetans who have self-immolated did not do so for the right to become a minority group within Communist China; the policy you are advocating. They are killing themselves for their right to freedom and self-determination and the end of the illegal Chinese occupation.”

Representative Rohrabacher added that he is “also aware of serious accusations that US funding meant for Tibetans may have been misspent… If US assistance has been misspent and perhaps even goes into the pockets of the Communist Chinese and Tibetan power brokers I will learn of it and action will be taken.”

In 2012 the US Government granted $7.5 million dollars in support of the Tibetans.

Rep. Rohrabacher was instrumental in saving Voice of America broadcasts to China and Tibet, which the Broadcasting Board of Governors wanted to cut during the past two years. He is considered a hero among many Voice of America and Radio Free Asia language services.

The Tibetan Review reported that the head of the exile Tibetan administration, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, “has expressed regret that his and the Central Tibetan Administration’s names have been dragged into matters that are internal between Radio Free Asia (RFA), a congressionally funded independent broadcasting service, and its long time Tibetan Service director Mr Jigme Ngapo.” “Through a Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) press statement Nov 21,” Tibetan Review reported, “he issued a categorical denial of having ever contacted either the RFA President, Ms Libby Liu, or any member of its oversight body, the Broadcasting Board of Governor, on matters related to RFA personnel.”

Link to RFE/RL video with sexual content designed to attract a younger audience in Kazakhstan, a largely Muslim country
Link to RFE/RL video with sexual content designed to attract a younger audience in Kazakhstan, a largely Muslim country

Radio Free Asia has a strong record of objective human rights reporting

Sources told BBG Watch that Radio Free Asia has the strongest and the best pro-human rights radio programming among BBG broadcasters while at the same time it is a leader in overcoming censorship using advanced digital media technologies. That is not true of some of the other BBG-managed broadcasters. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has become an enemy of anti-Kremlin human rights and political leaders in Russia after it fired most of its experienced Russian journalists and de-emphasized political and human rights news reporting. An international media expert gave this comment to BBG Watch:

“Rep. Rohrabacher is a great friend and supporter of U.S. international broadcasting to nations without free media. He is right to ask tough questions to make sure that U.S. public funds are not misspent by Tibetan leaders in exile. I have, however, great confidence in RFA’s independent editorial policies, as opposed to those of the BBG and some of its other broadcasting entities. While Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is eliminating human rights programs, laying off experienced human rights journalists and producing videos with strong sexual content to attract a new audience, Radio Free Asia has strongly resisted such destructive changes being pushed by BBG executives and RFE/RL president Steven Korn, in large part thanks to Ms. Liu’s experience and leadership, including her strong role in combating Internet censorship and using new media to engage young supporters of freedom” a longtime observer of U.S. international broadcasting told BBG Watch.