BBG member Michael Meehan
BBG member Michael Meehan

BBG Watch Commentary

Speaking up at a panel discussion on media freedom, an unidentified Tibetan woman challenged the Broadcasting Board of Governors over the BBG plan to end Voice of America Tibetan radio broadcasts. The March 28 panel discussion in Washington was organized jointly by the BBG and Gallup. A moderator from Gallup repeatedly tried to silence the Tibetan woman, but she was allowed to finish her comments thanks to an intervention by BBG member Michael Meehan who was one of the panelists.

The panel discussed how the world’s populations perceive media freedom in their countries. Gallup and BBG also announced the details of their new global research project, which will cost US taxpayers 50 million dollars over the next five years.

BBG Watch applauds Governor Meehan for defending the Tibetan woman’s right of free speech as a US taxpayer who is concerned how her money is being spent to support freedom and democracy abroad.  While the Governor showed a genuine interest in the tragic human rights situation in Tibet, we disagree with his comments that Tibet is just one of many hot spots around the world that Broadcasting Board of Governors cannot possibly cover.

Tibet is controlled by China, which represents one of America’s biggest strategic challenges, especially in the area of media freedom and public diplomacy. The argument that the BBG should not respond in cases of crisis has been a favorite one of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) bureaucrats who see their positions and their bureaucratic spending threatened each time real news programs are saved or expanded. They have managed to infect BBG members with their faulty and self-serving reasoning.

In fact, if BBG members could have asked the late Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa, they would learn that it is exactly in times of crisis that the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe were needed the most and gained the largest audience and the greatest loyalty of their listeners. That loyalty and friendship toward America lasted for decades and is paying dividends for the United States to this day.

As the unidentified Tibetan woman said, to eliminate VOA radio broadcasts to Tibet at this time is not just wrong; it is outrageous.

The problem is the culture of the BBG and IBB executive staff on whom BBG members depend far too much. These highly-paid executives have lost an appreciation of whom US international broadcasting should serve and with what.

While Governor Meehan mentioned the need to broadcast to those living under authoritarian regimes, neither the BBG and IBB staff or the moderator from Gallup have shown any real concern for the those who are the most oppressed and the most opposed to tyranny. Based on what we saw at this panel, it seems unlikely that the corporate culture at Gallup is well suited to serve the needs of the BBG and American taxpayers when it comes to promoting free speech, media freedom, and US public diplomacy interests around the world.  Gallup may be a great company for commercial and political research serving commercial and political needs, but US international broadcasting was not created for commercial reasons.

You don’t cut off the Tibetan people’s lifeline at the most critical moment in one of the most strategically important countries — you expand it, even if it means laying off BBG and IBB bureaucrats.

We hope Governor Meehan will take these views into consideration. It’s the high time for BBG members to start thinking for themselves and to take charge of US international broadcasting.




UNIDENTIFIED TIBETAN WOMAN:  I just wanted to make a point when it comes to research in cases like Tibet that is under China’s authoritarian rule, there is no research data that you can collect inside Tibet.

MODERATOR FROM GALLUP: Ma’am, do you have a question?

UNIDENTIFIED TIBETAN WOMAN: I do. The BBG has proposed to eliminate the Voice of America Tibetan radio. It concerns me because Voice of America radio is the only source of international news and information about America to Tibetans inside Tibet

Radio Free Asia also goes to Tibet, but their mandate is different.

MODERATOR FROM GALLUP: Ma’am, please ask a question?

UNIDENTIFIED TIBETAN WOMAN: Radio is the most common and cheapest, used by Tibetans everywhere.

President Obama recently said the Voice of America is the voice of freedom.

And, it is so.

Eliminating this voice of freedom for the Tibetans at this time, based on the research that you have collected is just outrageous.

MODERATOR FROM GALLUP: Ma’am, please state a question, otherwise we’ve got to move on. We have a lot of folks here who want to ask questions.

UNIDENTIFIED TIBETAN WOMAN: I understand. I just wanted to make a point that Tibetans and Tibetan supporters at this time are outraged when the situation inside Tibet is right now…

[Moderator from Gallup attempts to cut off the Tibetan woman’s mike.]

BBG GOVERNOR MICHAEL MEEHAN: Let her finish, thank you.


BBG GOVERNOR MEEHAN: Go ahead. Ask me a question. I sit on the Board. You are not going to find a bigger supporter of Tibet than me.

If you have a question, let’s have it.

UNIDENTIFIED TIBETAN WOMAN: Yes, we would like to ask that you reconsider this proposed budget for 2013 [that calls for] the Tibetan radio to be eliminated.

It [VOA radio] does provide a very vital source of life for Tibetans inside Tibet.

We’d like you to look at that.

BBG GOVERNOR MEEHAN: Excellent point. Excellent point.

Thank you for sharing that, your point of view, and it’s an excellent point.

This is one of the harder things that we as a Board have.

Because there is no way that, I would say, that the US government should spend 750 million dollars to try to cover every hot spot in the world.

The Chinese spend 6.6 billion dollars a year doing what we do.

We are just up against some really big forces.

There are seven people that work at the VOA Tibetan [radio] effort. But I would disagree with you that VOA is the only staff that covers Tibet.

We have Radio Free Asia. We have five different companies that are under US international broadcasting.

And, in a case by case basis, we have to find places where there are overlaps of people doing work.

And Tibet is a unique challenge. I understand that. I understand.

UNIDENTIFIED TIBETAN WOMAN: The mandate is different for Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. I listen to both services.

Voice of America covers international news and news related to America.

MODERATOR FROM GALLUP: Ma’am, this is not the time for a debate.

BBG GOVERNOR MEEHAN: Let me finish my point on this. If the Congress … the Congress came to us and said you’ve got to cut the whole place by ten percent, and then they cut us by five percent.

So some cuts have to be made.

80 percent of funding that goes to US international broadcasting are for people.

[At this point the Tibetan woman’s mike is cut off by Gallup. Some of her comments cannot be heard clearly.]

UNIDENTIFIED TIBETAN WOMAN: Only a minute percentage of people.

BBG GOVERNOR MEEHAN: But Ma’am, if the other 99 countries that we cover came and made the same point you make, we’d be talking about five, and seven, and nine employees as well.

MODERATOR FROM GALLUP: Next question. Ma’am, we’re going to move on.

BBG GOVERNOR MEEHAN: The Board is expanding our efforts in Tibet. We’re expanding our efforts, Mam.

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