Chen Guangcheng says he listens to Voice of America radio which IBB executives claim almost no one can hear in China

BBG Watch Commentary

“[B]lind activist Chen Guangcheng … the youngest of five brothers, began grade school at age 17. He was inspired to tackle injustice by listening to U.S. broadcasts on Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. Chen took up the cause that would take his freedom: thousands of victims of forced sterilizations and abortions under China’s draconian family planning policies.” — Calum MacLeod and Oren Dorell reporting for USA Today, May 3, 2012.

Chen Guangcheng with his family

There is at least one person in China who does not want to agree with the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives. The blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng listens to Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin radio broadcasts in his semi-imprisonment at a government hospital in Beijing.

When the Voice of America Chinese reporter Yibing Feng interviewed Chen Guangcheng on his cell phone Monday, Chen said he just listened to VOA Mandarin live radio news show Sunday night (Beijing time) and thanked the Voice of America Chinese broadcasters for reporting on his plight.

When the reporter asked him how he managed to listen to VOA, he said mysteriously: “There’s always a way.”

How about that?! If Chen can listen to VOA Mandarin in his Beijing hospital, who else can’t?

But according to BBG and IBB officials almost no one in China does listen to VOA radio and these broadcasts should be eliminated. Needless to say, the BBG Public Affairs office did not issue a press release about Chen Guangcheng listening to VOA Mandarin radio broadcast.

Why not?

On the same day Chen was listening to VOA evening radio program, the Broadcasting Board of Governors and International Broadcasting Bureau executives have replaced live VOA Mandarin morning radio broadcasts with repeat programming without even a five minute live newscast. This was done silently, with no press release to announce the change.

When asked about it, the International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard M. Lobo said that this change will have no impact for radio listeners and does not violate the Congressional directive to maintain VOA radio and television to China, know as the Rohrabacher Amendment.

According to Mr. Lobo, everything is the same despite the fact that there is now a 17 hour VOA Mandarin radio news silence in China. Some BBG members said privately that they were not briefed by Mr. Lobo about this change.

IBB executives tell Congressional staffers that the change they made to VOA Mandarin radio is in any case irrelevant because there is no shortwave radio listening in China. To prove their point, they play recordings that show heavy jamming of VOA radio by the Chinese authorities. And yet, Chen Guangcheng is able to listen to VOA Mandarin broadcast in Beijing where the jamming of VOA shortwave transmissions is presumably the most intense. It is easier to listen to VOA shortwave radio in rural China, where many of Chen Guangcheng’s supporters live and where he was kept under house arrest until his recent escape.

Earlier, the same executives working for Mr. Lobo, who was appointed to his position by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate, have done everything possible to terminate VOA Mandarin and Cantonese broadcasts and to fire several dozen VOA Chinese journalists and broadcasters. They insisted that using only the Internet to deliver VOA news to China is quite sufficient and can be done with low-paid contractors. This, despite the fact that the Chinese authorities effectively censor the Internet and block VOA and other Western news websites.

Meanwhile, these executives gave themselves bonuses, which were approved by Mr. Lobo, created new bureaucratic positions and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for foreign and domestic travels. The elimination of broadcasts to China and the firing of VOA journalists would have allowed them to continue their extravagant spending on themselves.

These IBB bureaucrats nearly succeeded in silencing Voice of America in China. At first BBG members agreed with them. But the Congress did not. Their plan was blocked by bipartisan votes in Congressional committees.

Later, the same executives working for Mr. Lobo tried again to carry out their plan by targeting for elimination VOA radio to Tibet and the VOA Cantonese Service, but this time BBG members changed their mind and decided to keep VOA broadcasts to China and Tibet.

Now, these bureaucrats will pretend that live radio news to China in the morning is not important for a news organization like VOA. They will also pretend that the VOA interview with Chen Guangcheng did not happen. It was not worth issuing a press release. The BBG also did not issue a press release when Radio Free Asia (RFE) interviewed Chen. And these BBG and IBB staffers will definitely try to ignore and hide Chen’s statement that he listens to VOA Mandarin radio.

The BBG did not pick up on the USA Today report that Chen Guangcheng “was inspired to tackle injustice by listening to U.S. broadcasts on Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.” They had also ignored an earlier National Public Radio (NPR) report that Tibetan Buddhist monks secretly listen to VOA Tibetan radio programs on shortwave. The BBG Public Relations Office did not have a press release on this NPR story either. At that time Mr. Lobo’s team was trying hard to silence VOA radio to Tibet and to eliminate the VOA Cantonese Service with all its broadcasts and Internet news.

The problem with BBG and IBB executives is that in addition to trying to expand their bureaucratic control over the Board members and the organization, they believe their own faulty research. According to their research, almost no one in China admits to listening to shortwave radio. They believe it partly because many of them may not know any better and partly because it suits their bureaucratic goals, but the key officials do know that this research is worthless.

Any sensible person can grasp that people in China have a very good reason for not volunteering information about their radio listening habits. But Chen Guangcheng was not afraid to say that he is a listener to the Voice of America Mandarin radio news. At this point he has very little to lose.

Is there much doubt that his supporters and other human rights activists in China also listen to VOA radio? We don’t think there is. They may not want to share this information with local Chinese contractors working for Gallup, but they do listen. Listening to radio is safe. Accessing the VOA Chinese website in China is nearly impossible and carries a risk of being discovered by the Chinese cyber police. But this is what BBG and IBB executives want the people in China to do: to use the Internet.

VOA radio plays a vital role in supporting freedom of expression and democracy in China because it is inexpensive, accessible despite the jamming, and safe. These broadcasts also explain US policies and offer a variety of views and opinions, including those critical of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Chen Guangcheng’s case.

It strikes us as odd that officials working for IBB Director Richard Lobo are doing everything in their power to silence VOA radio news to China. BBG members need to ask Mr. Lobo for answers and the Congress needs to exercise more oversight for as long as the bipartisan, part-time Board is not able to control its own bureaucrats.

3 Comments

  1. BBGWatcher says:

    This comment was sent to BBG Watch by a Voice of America journalist.

    Congress can communicate what it wants but their message continues to fall on deaf
    ears. The BBG’s top officials have proven to be THE FORCE behind a
    strategic plan that benefits no group except the Bureaucrats.

    The top strategist claims VOA has no radio listeners in China, or Tibet or Vietnam or Indonesia or Burma, so radio should be reduced, or there should be no broadcasts to that part of the world. Would you answer yes to the question: “Do you listen to VOA” if you knew you might be jailed for anti-government activities or your family would be beaten or jailed?

    These assumptions are all wrong. If the bean counters ran the State Department, we would have no embassies in the little countries.

    So what does the BBG do? They spend 50 million dollars to hire
    the Gallup organization to do more audience research.

    With the BBG and IBB so very close to shutting down Voice of America English broadcasting on radio via shortwave to large countries with very hostile governments who control the Internet at will and jam satellite feeds to audiences who would give their lives to live in peace, shortwave radio is still the only cost effective means of telling the entire world who America is, our values and our government’s policies.

    Another fact these top BBG/IBB executives and strategists have forgotten:

    English is the world’s language for commerce and the language of diplomacy.

    Out with most of the highly paid bureaucrats, whose number four goal is public diplomacy and reach (the other three are: keeping their jobs, getting a raise and hiring more bureaucrats for advisory panels who meet endlessly to discuss the future).

    Those of us who produce the content for all delivery platforms
    say: Enough with the advisory panels and their advice. Let’s find a
    FEW REAL LEADERS s and provide more employees who create content.

    Here’s the math:

    One of the GMs 15s who make $150,000 or more a year = two content providers.

    One bean counter, who makes nearly $170,000 a year = three entry level content providers.

    One Chief of Staff, who makes nearly $170,000 a year = three more content providers.

    That is my math as a taxpayer and as a veteran VOA employee. I hope the BBG Board and the lower level but very highly paid bureau-bots comprehend this.

    We can live with the proposed budgets. We can’t live with the top-heavy fat-cat bureacracy!

  2. BBGWatcher says:

    This was sent to BBG Watch by a former Voice of America broadcaster:

    “TECHNICALLY, they didn’t jettison the radio time, so they will argue that they are conforming to the Rohrabacher amendment.  They’ll say they haven’t cut anything – it will just be a repeat of the previous programming bloc.  We know that, especially at this critical time with the Chen affair and all the repercussions, you need constant updates.  It would be like VOA instituting repeat programs during the Dubcek crisis (Prague Spring) in Czechoslovakia or the Velvet Revolution in Prague or the Solidarity uprisings (1980), the martial law in Poland (1981) or the situation in the Baltics or Tianenmen Square where the situation was constantly changing and shifting. And some people, especially in the Czech/Slovak services stayed on duty 16-18 hours straight and slept on couches in the building for 3 days.  We all know that if the news/information/commentary is old, listeners are going to switch elsewhere to get the information they want/need.”

  3. Keith says:

    While it’s true jamming is a problem. There are 2 ways to get around it. First and most important is to have more frequencies on air. The Chinese can not effectively jam all frequencies and block out a signal, some will get through. There is also a way to get around jamming by using a very simple design that works and can be built with items you have at home. While I was in China I built one of them and it works well. The original design came from the VOA many many years ago. You can find the plans here http://www.pcjmedia.com/anti-jammng-antenna .

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