Voice of America radio to China – the sounds of news silence from Broadcasting Board of Governors

Voice of America radio to China – the sounds of news silence from Broadcasting Board of Governors by Ann NoonanThe Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of US international broadcasting, has eliminated two hours of live Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin radio broadcasts and replaced them with repeat programming without live news or news updates of any kind while the blind Chinese human rights activists Chen Guangcheng is still prevented from leaving the country and his family and supporters face daily harassment from the Chinese authorities. BBG Watch is republishing the commentary by Ann Noonan, the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) Executive Director.

Voice of America radio to China – the sounds of news silence from Broadcasting Board of Governors
by Ann Noonan, Executive Director, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – www.cusib.org)

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) management team have finally accomplished their goal of cutting into Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin radio broadcasting into China, sub silentio.

As of May 6th, Voice of America’s 2-hour live Mandarin radio morning (Beijing time) broadcasts have been replaced with repeat programming from the previous day. These repeat broadcasts come without live newscasts. There are no timely, current news reports in the previously-taped taped content — not even a five-minute live news update.

All this is happening as Chinese and Tibetan radio listeners and rest of the world await news of the fate of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and learn daily about new violations of human rights in China and Tibet.

While the International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard M. Lobo and his managers may want to quash any inquiry about these VOA Mandarin Service radio broadcasting changes by accusing those expressing concerns of spreading baseless rumors, news silence is in fact what is happening. This report may be the first time that some individual members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors are even hearing about this change with its nuances and implications.

While these broadcasting changes may potentially save the BBG some unknown amount of money to add another hour of satellite television program in Mandarin at some future date and to simulcast it on shortwave radio, activists inside China, who need constant radio news updates especially now during this critical time with the Chen affair and all the repercussions for his family and supporters, understandably may feel abandoned.

Some believe that these Voice of America Mandarin Service broadcasting changes put the BBG in contempt of a Congressional directive. Last year, the Rohrabacher Amendment passed with full bipartisan support to keep VOA China broadcasts on the air and to prevent BBG/IBB executives from eliminating VOA Mandarin and Cantonese radio and TV programs and transferring news reporting to the highly-controlled and blocked Internet, as these managers had proposed.

And then there are those like Director Lobo and his team who might argue that the BBG has not actually jettisoned the radio time and that they haven’t cut anything because they are merely repeating the previous programming.

However smooth that rationalization sounds, without a newscast and with only repeats of often outdated content, there is now a gap of 17 hours in live VOA Mandarin radio news at a critical time with the Chen affair.

It is a well-known fact that if the news, information, and commentary are old, listeners are going to switch elsewhere to get the information they want and need. They could still listen to Radio Free Asia (RFA), but since RFA programs are even more heavily jammed by the Chinese authorities than VOA radio, these listeners may be left with nothing but official regime propaganda.

These repeats of old VOA programs without the news are a far cry from live broadcasts from a studio with up-to-the-minute breaking news. Just a few days ago, the VOA Mandarin Service managed to reach Chen Guangcheng by phone and interviewed him about threats to his family and supporters. With the latest elimination of live programs, radio listeners in China may have to wait almost a full day to hear from VOA about such threats and the US government’s official responses.

With Chen Guangcheng’s future uncertain and the US reputation tarnished by the handling of his case, could there possibly be a worse time to implement such a drastic change?

Ann Noonan, Executive Director of the Committee for International Broadcasting (CUSIB)Ann Noonan has been active in human rights organizations, including those working for religious freedom. She is the former President of the New York Chapter of the Visual Artists Guild. In 1999, Ann founded Free Church for China, an NGO which researches and documents religious persecution in the PRC. Ann was also a Senior Advisor at the Laogai Research Foundation, an NGO founded by another CUSIB member, Harry Wu, to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Laogai system of prison labor camps in China. Ann Noonan has been active in promoting women’s rights and religious freedom worldwide. She serves as the CUSIB’s Executive Director.

3 Comments

  1. BBGWatcher says:

    The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting has provided BBG Watch with a response CUSIB received to its inquiry from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) spokesperson:

    “This agency’s broadcasts go around the clock. But since we’re unaware of anyone in our target audiences who tunes in to them 24-7, some programming is repeated.

    Whereas VOA Mandarin goes off the air at 11 p.m. and offers repeat hours at 6 and 8 a.m., RFA goes off the air at 6 a.m. and provides repeat broadcasts at 7 and 9 a.m. VOA’s next live, Mandarin-language news broadcast is at 5 p.m.

    So if someone wanted to portray this schedule in a stark light, he could say that between 11 p.m. and 5 p.m. there’s the interval that you mentioned, but that would be only part of the truth, a part that doesn’t acknowledge this agency’s whole mission. And it’s worth noting that VOA has a 24-hour website in Mandarin that is updated regularly.

    A final note: This plan for broadcast hours in Mandarin was formed in consultation with Congress.”

  2. BBGWatcher says:

    BBG Watch responds to BBG spokesperson:

    Even if some Congressional staffer or staffers were consulted on the VOA Mandarin program changes, we are sure they did not tell Broadcasting Board of Governors and International Broadcasting Bureau managers to run repeat programming WITHOUT any live news updates.

    It’s true that many broadcasters, including NPR, repeat some programs, but they all have at least one, three or five minutes of live news in addition to repeat programming, at least every few hours, sometimes every hour. No one repeats old news reports.

    We are also quite sure that no Congressional staffer told BBG and IBB executives to implement this change during the crisis in US-Sino relations over the treatment of the blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

    We are also sure that if IBB managers bothered to fully brief BBG members about their plan, most if not all BBG members would have told them that this is the worst possible time to make this change. Any news professional would have also told BBG/IBB executives that at the minimum there should be live newscasts in repeat programming and options for going live with important news reports.

    Director Lobo should pay closer attention to what his staff is doing and he should keep BBG members fully informed about any significant and sensitive programming changes.

  3. Edite Lynch says:

    It is beginning to be perfectly clear that all of the Broadcasting Board of Governors executives and managers need to be hauled in front of a Congressional committee to explain and justifiy their actions vis-a-vis their strange decisions on broadcasts to China, especially the latest one to replace two hours of live Voice of America Mandarin morning radio shows with a lot of repeat programming. They need to explain why they would not even include a live newscast with up-to-date reports on current events, particularly about Chen’s welfare. These Broadcasting Board of Governors and International Broadcasting Bureau officials have created a 17 hour news silence about Chen and his wish for him and his family to be released so he can travel to America to continue his studies there.

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