Voice of America will celebrate 70th anniversary of broadcasting to China with a reception on Capitol Hill
If it were not for Congressman Rohrabacher and other members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, VOA would not be able to celebrate this anniversary. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency which manages VOA, wanted to terminate all VOA radio and television broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese as of October 1, 2011, which happened to be the anniversary of the founding of communist China. On this year’s Valentine’s Day, BBG managers informed 45 VOA China Branch journalists and broadcasters, most of whom specialize in human rights reporting, that their programs and their jobs would be eliminated. This announcement caused outrage among human rights activists, free media advocates, and members of Congress. An amendment to save VOA broadcasts to China, introduced by Congressman Rohrabacher, received broad bipartisan support and blocked BBG from implementing its plan. Both Democrats and Republicans criticized the bipartisan members of the BBG for lacking transparency and for exercising poor judgment.
BBG members, who are both new and inexperienced and work only part-time, followed the advice of their executive staff and were surprised by the strength of the opposition to their plan. Some BBG members are now beginning to question the wisdom of another plan, also developed by the BBG executive staff, that proposes to merge Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa into a large corporate entity. BBG officials also proposed to de-federalize and privatize Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti. Under the chairmanship of Walter Isaacson, a former CNN executive and author of the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs, several top BBG positions have already been filled by former CNN employees, one of who bragged in an email to a BBG member about displacing “old white guys,” sources say.
These plans are likely to encounter strong opposition in Congress. Critics claim that the proposal would destroy the traditional dual arrangement of the Voice of America and the surrogate broadcasters having different roles and missions. This arrangement, supported by Congress and numerous U.S. administrations, has been very successful due to the independence and specialization of the surrogate broadcasters and the semi-official status of the Voice of America. Centralization and privatization being proposed by the BBG executive staff would undermine both elements on which the effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasting depends and would create a huge, costly, and unaccountable corporate bureaucracy, critics charge.
Members of the BBG were invited to the Tuesday reception on Capitol Hill despite their earlier vote to end VOA radio and TV programs to China.