A senior Republican member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) publicly questioned the BBG decision to end Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to Tibet.
At an open BBG meeting Thursday, Ambassador Victor Ashe said that he and other board members received numerous protests about the proposed cut of VOA Tibetan radio programs. Ashe did not mention numerous protests against proposed cuts and reductions to other VOA programs, including the elimination of the Voice of America Cantonese Service and reductions in broadcasting to Vietnam and Laos.
BBG Watch has learned that at least some board members feel that they were not fully briefed by the BBG staff about the proposed VOA program cut to Tibet and were caught by surprise by the protests. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has already introduced an amendment to prevent the BBG from reducing VOA radio broadcasts to Vietnam. Last year, Rohrabacher led a successful effort in Congress to stop the BBG from terminating VOA radio and television programs to China.
The board did not make an announcement at the Thursday meeting to reverse the Tibetan program cut, but BBG Watch has learned that the Voice of America Tibetan Service was very much a topic of yesterday’s closed discussions among BBG members and in recent weeks. According to one reliable source, more than one Governor had taken an active interest in the matter, and the discussion was substantive. According to our sources, at least some BBG members believe that the staff did not provide them with sufficient information when they approved the FY2013 budget proposal.
The BBG’s proposed budget allows VOA to keep the VOA Tibetan satellite television program, which is popular among Tibetans living in exile. The VOA TV program, however, is not easily received in Tibet, where the Chinese authorities ban private ownership of satellite dishes without special permission. The VOA Tibetan website is also blocked in Tibet by the Chinese authorities.
National Public Radio (NPR) reported recently that Buddhist monks in Tibet secretly listen every night to VOA Tibetan radio broadcasts. BBG staffers claim that Radio Free Asia Tibetan radio broadcasts are sufficient in times of tight budgets. They propose to eliminate seven radio broadcasting positions in the VOA Tibetan Service. This move would effectively prevent the Voice of America from reaching any substantial audience in Tibet due to local Internet and satellite TV restrictions.
Critics of this decision point out that BBG executives who now work for the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) director Richard Lobo failed to consider strategic, public diplomacy, foreign policy and human rights reasons for keeping Voice of America radio broadcasts to one of the most repressed populations in the world today. Critics charge that these BBG staffers also failed to explain to board members that the VOA Tibetan television program is not likely to reach the vast majority of Tibetans living in Tibet.
But these critics also believe that the majority of Broadcasting Board of Governors members is not opposed to eliminating Voice of America language services if surrogate broadcasters also have programs in the same language. According to one expert, the current membership of the BBG does not consider the Voice of America and its brand name to be of any special value and meaning to people who live under dictatorships or want to learn about the United States and its policies. These BBG members apparently believe that any BBG-managed semi-private broadcaster putting out programs under other names can do Voice of America’s job, the expert said. He added, however, that this assumption is highly questionable and is not supported by the historical record, personnel selection policies, and mission objectives of surrogate broadcasters. Voice of America’s mission is different from their and the two missions cannot be easily combined without losing effectiveness, he said.