BBG Watch Commentary
A Radio Free Asia (RFA) press release shows how surrogate broadcasting, which International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) top executives believe should be merged into one single program under IBB’s global control, plays an important role in countries without free media that cannot be duplicated by any other government or commercial media outlet.
Freedom of the Press 2013 report shows deterioration of freedom of the press in most of the countries and regions to which IBB executives wanted to end or reduce Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts as well as programs from surrogate broadcasters such as RFA and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
They include China, Tibet, Russia, Chechnya (ancestral homeland of the Boston bombings suspects), and Kazakhstan (country of origin of two other suspects in the Boston bombings investigation). These proposed and actual program reductions are believed to be a result of the five-year strategic plan developed by IBB executives who want to merge programs and limit the independence of surrogate broadcasters. Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), who have the ultimate authority over U.S. international broadcasting, have prevented some of the IBB proposed programming cuts, as did members of Congress who are unhappy with the IBB bureaucracy.
Radio Free Asia has been one of the best managed BBG media entities. BBG members have, however, initiated reforms at RFE/RL and are trying to reform the International Broadcasting Bureau whose top leadership is believed to be responsible for most of the problems in U.S. international broadcasting.
RFA Press Release
WASHINGTON – Radio Free Asia (RFA) President Libby Liu today responded to the findings of Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2013 report, which designated all six RFA broadcast countries – China, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea – as “not free” while citing some recent improvements in Burma.
“Sadly, there are no surprises here,” Liu said. “Especially troubling in this year’s survey is the noticeable decline in Hong Kong’s media environment, which may be interpreted as a distressing indicator of things to come. It is also clear that Cambodia is approaching a free speech crisis, with its legal system used as an effective tool of repression of independent journalists and dissenting voices. Burma’s recent progress in media and political reforms offers fragile hope – but only time can tell if those changes stay permanent.”
Freedom House’s survey found that despite general improvement of media freedoms in Asia, trends in the vast majority of RFA countries have worsened. Cambodia, which declined in its ranking, saw an increase of journalists behind bars, including independent radio station owner Mam Sonando, who was convicted of sedition and sentenced to 20 years in prison (he was later released), and the first murder of a reporter since 2008. Burma’s dissolution of its censorship body and release of imprisoned bloggers and journalists led to it receiving the largest numerical improvement in score worldwide.
In China, the report observes the growing use of microblogs in sharing uncensored news among citizens, but also notes a crackdown on newspaper journalists and editors, as well as bloggers, especially during the November Party leadership transition. Hong Kong received a worse score than last year due to “growing government restrictions on journalists’ access to information and several violent and technical attacks against reporters, websites, and media entities” there. North Korea remains at the bottom of the list, tied this year with Turkmenistan. The report comes out just two days before World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
RFA’s mission is to provide accurate and timely domestic news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press. Guided by the core principles of freedom of expression and opinion, RFA serves its listeners by providing information critical for informed decision-making. Radio Free Asia has nine language services delivering content online and via the airwaves and satellite television into its six target countries (China, North Korea, Burma, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia).