More Than A Small Tempest In A Small A Teapot

FreeMediaOnline.org, September 3, 2008, San Francisco — The Broadcasting Board of Governors’ decision to stop Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to Russia may seem like “a bit of a small tempest in a small teapot,” as Monroe Price, director of the Center for Global Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication, described it in his article “South Ossetia, Georgia and Information Warfare” in “The Huffington Post,” September 3, 2008. He also said that “(one of the biggest brewers is Ted Lipien of freemediaonline.org).”

The BBG’s decision has, however, grave implications for media freedom in Russia and elsewhere. It has to do with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists based in Russia becoming increasingly vulnerable to intimidation by the secret police. An independent journalist from Ingushetia has just been killed in police custody. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported that at least 291 journalists have been killed or have disappeared in the country since 1990 with only a handful of perpetrators being convicted. Yet the BBG pretends there is no problem and stops VOA Russian radio broadcasts from Washington.

Anna Politovskaya, one of the prominent independent journalists who criticized Mr. Putin’s policies, was murdered in 2006. The head of RFE/RL Moscow bureau commented shortly after Politkovskaya’s murder that she believes in “the common sense of the current Russian leadership.” Russian Service director at the RFE/RL home office in Prague also expressed confidence that the radio’s future in Russia looks good.

Another example that proves that under the current BBG strategy RFE/RL cannot be a “surrogate broadcaster” in Mr. Putin’s Russia was a recent protest from the Moscow Human Rights Bureau against RFE/RL’s decision to give extensive airtime to a Russian nationalist politician whose “chauvinist and racist views are well-known.” This would not have happened when RFE/RL journalists worked protected from the pressure of the KGB and practiced genuine “surrogate broadcasting.”

If the BBG cannot save RFE/RL from the clutches of Mr. Putin’s secret police and the influence of extreme nationalists, these distinguished Americans with a lot of political and business experience but little experience in defending human rights, can at least let VOA journalists broadcast from Washington, D.C. It is a much safer place for journalists and media freedom than Moscow.

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