Voice of America Journalists Protest Ending of VOA Radio to China, Part Five

BBG Town Hall Meeting 022411(Voice of America) 537 (1)

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The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and Voice of America Director Dan Austin have told Congress that their plan to end VOA radio broadcasts to China in Mandarin and Cantonese as of October 1, 2011, which — by the way — is the national holiday of the Chinese Communist Party, will allow them to improve and expand Internet and new media presence for VOA in China.

The VOA Chinese Branch journalist in this video exposes the misleading nature of this argument. As she correctly points out, the VOA Chinese Branch already has a vibrant multimedia presence in China. The problem is that the Chinese government censors and blocks VOA websites and is likely to do it even more effectively in the future. BBG and VOA executives will also not admit that their decision to end VOA radio to Russia in 2008, which — by the way — happened just 12 days before the Russian military attack on the Republic of Georgia, has resulted in over 80% drop in audience reach for VOA in Russia between 2007 and the end of 2009. The promised audience gains from the Internet in Russia did not materialize.

The BBG and the VOA director have a profound misunderstanding of what VOA audience in China is, what it should be, and how to reach it.

Their audience are not young, rich Chinese who go on shopping tripts to the U.S. and can access the Internet outside of China or buy a subscription to Newsweek. Their audience are the Chinese whose basic rights are being violated, those under house arrest, 750 million Chinese without Internet access. Yet, these BBG and VOA executives think they know better and want to fire 40 plus experienced VOA Chinese Branch journalists who specialize in human rights reporting and replace them with contractors who supposedly know how to produce slick content for the Internet.

But, as we know, the Internet is censored in China and can be blocked completely if the Chinese authorities decide to do it at the most convenient time for them and the worst time for pro-democracy activists and for the United States.

BBG and VOA executives could learn something from the wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. During a five-minute reprieve from the usual Internet isolation imposed on her, Liu Xia wrote a friend that she is “miserable.”

“Can’t go out. My whole family are hostages,” Liu Xia wrote, as The Washington Post’s Keith B. Richburg reported last month. “I don’t know how I managed to get online,” she also wrote. “Don’t go online. Otherwise my whole family is in danger.

The BBG and VOA executives could also learn something from Freedom House: “”In July, police in Xinjiang forcibly suppressed a peaceful demonstration in Urumqi by Uighurs, sparking an outbreak of violence between Uighurs and Han Chinese. The authorities responded with mass arrests and an almost complete shutdown of internet access, international phone service, and text messaging in the region that remained in effect for several months.”

BBG and VOA executives could also learn something from VOA reporters. From a VOA reporter Heda Bayron: “Freedom of expression in China is already severely curtailed. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and many foreign broadcasters, like the Voice of America, are blocked, as are many foreign news Web sites.”

For more information see Save Voice of America Radio to China Group on Facebook.

View Voice of America Journalists Protest Ending of VOA Radio to China, Part Five

View Part Four

View Part Three

View Part Two

View Part One

All Americans, including members of Congress, who support free press and human rights, should watch this disturbing but highly informative video about the Obama administration’s plan to end Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to China on Oct. 1, 2011, which happens to be the national holiday of the Communist regime in Beijing.

These videos show a group of remarkable journalists from the Voice of America Mandarin and Cantonese radio, TV, and Internet services directing pointed questions to VOA Director Dan Austin and making persuasive arguments against the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) decision to end all on-the-air radio news broadcasting in their languages to China.

It’s now up to the U.S. Congress to save VOA from the BBG’s effort to destroy the Voice of America as a broadcasting organization. VOA radio broadcasts to Russia had already been terminated by the BBG in 2008, resulting in an over 80% drop in audience reach.

The BBG and Voice of America Director Austin makes a claim that Internet-only program delivery strategy prepares VOA for the future by targeting new media and a younger audience when in fact BBG’s own research shows that it has been a failure in Russia and is not likely to reach a vast new audience.

VOA Chinese Service journalists point out that the BBG with the support of VOA Director Austin are terminating VOA radio broadcasts that have a larger audience in China and higher name recognition than Radio Free Asia (RFA) and BBC. The BBG plans to give VOA shortwave frequencies to RFA. One cannot be but impressed with professionalism and expert knowledge of these journalists when they point out to Director Austin that 750 million of Chinese have no Internet access and that the regime in Beijing can block and censor Internet access for those who have it. Director Austin keeps repeating that the strategy will bring a new audience when in fact — as the members of his Chinese services point out — they already have extensive Internet presence. They also pointed out to him and it was obvious from his answers that neither he nor the BBG has a plan to deal with any future blocking of the Internet in China.

Director Austin insisted that the Chinese government is unlikely to block the Internet completely, but as one of the VOA Chinese Branch journalist pointed out, he saw his friends being killed next to him in 1989 on the Tienanmen Square and has no doubt that the Chinese government is fully capable of doing everything possible to prevent the free flow of information if its authoritarian rule is threatened. He also pointed out that while shortwave radio transmissions can be jammed in some limited areas, it is the only way of securely communicating with the Chinese people.

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From Free Media Online.org

“We believe that members of Congress and the American public are being grossly mislead by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials who oversee the Voice of America (VOA) and want to terminate all on-the-air uncensored news radio broadcasts to China on October 1, 2011, which happens to be the national holiday of the Chinese Communist Party. Time after time, BBG officials have shown their inability to understand market research in closed societies and failed to grasp the desperation of people living under authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.

Their earlier decision to cut VOA radio broadcasts to Russia has resulted in over 80% drop in audience reach, and they have shown their inability to expand Internet audience there, just as they could not protect VOA websites from a successful Iranian cyber attack last week.

Members of Congress and American taxpayers should demand from BBG officials to explain why they want to eliminate radio broadcasts by the Voice of America, which has more listeners in China than Radio Free Asia and BBC; why they want to ignore 750 million Chinese; and what they plan to do during any future Tiananmen event in China when the regime in Beijing will completely block or censor the Internet at the most convenient time for them and the most inconvenient time for the U.S. government and pro-democracy supporters in China,” said Free Media Online president Ted Lipien.

Ted Lipien is a former BBG manager and (until 2006) former acting associate director of the Voice of America.

One Comment

  1. Quo Vadis says:

    Video instantly shows the vast gulf in knowledge & intellect between the rank-and-file employee from the China Branch and the management people on stage trying to answer the question.

    In the last Human Capital Survey done by the Office of Personnel Management, the BBG which handles international broadcasting was declared the worst-managed agency in the federal government.

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