Broadcasting Board of Governors misleads Congress on shortwave radio reception in China
BBG Watch has learned that Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) executives were on Capitol Hill last week trying to convince Congressional staffers that Voice of America shortwave radio broadcasts to China are a waste of money. As it is usual for these BBG bureaucrats, they presented incomplete and misleading evidence, a well-informed source told us.
When talking to Congressional staffers about shortwave radio reception in China, BBG executives put together about ten random samples of Voice of America Mandarin shortwave transmissions which showed that between the Chinese government’s jamming and co-channel interference about 95% or more of what VOA broadcasts can’t be heard.
These BBG executives could have just as well do a demonstration for Congressional staffers of Internet access in China to Voice of America Mandarin and Cantonese websites. It would have shown that the Chinese government’s blocking and censorship of VOA Chinese websites is about 99% effective unless one is a computer whiz kid who can access proxy servers before the Chinese cyber police discovers and blocks them.
The truth of the matter is that these BBG executives want to eliminate the Voice of America as a U.S. broadcaster in China and to fire dozens of VOA journalists specializing in human rights reporting. Their argument about developing new media program delivery is a hoax, since using new media is by and large free or inexpensive and the Voice of America Chinese Branch already makes a good use of it. What these BBG bureaucrats want is to take money and resources from serious Voice of America journalism and to use them for themselves and their private contractors.
The demonstration put together by these BBG executives for Congressional staffers was purposely incomplete and misleading. Voice of America shortwave radio broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese can in fact be heard outside of the main metropolitan areas in China and even in some big cities at certain times. National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent reported recently that Tibetan Buddhist monks in Tibet secretly listen every night to VOA Tibetan shortwave radio programs. BBG executives should be asked how these Tibetan monks manage to listen to these shortwave broadcasts if jamming is 95% effective.
Recently, a group of Voice of America radio listeners in China put together a video to show how important these VOA broadcasts are to them and to many disenfranchised and oppressed political, social, religious, and ethnic groups. The Broadcasting Board of Governors wants to pretend that groups like these do not exist and that VOA would be better off producing noncontroversial programs, such as English lessons, that would appeal to a mass audience and be approved by the Chinese censors.
BBG executives are so obsessed with faulty audience research that they don’t see the big picture. English lessons are designed to attract listeners to substantive news on VOA. They are not an end in themselves. These bureaucrats have no idea why Tibetan monks and others in China want Voice of America radio.
Women’s Rights in China (WRIC) NGO has produced a short video showing that both very young and older persons in China continue to rely on Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts for uncensored news and information. Their comments, recorded in China, point to the censorship of the Internet by the Chinese authorities and the fact that hundreds of millions of Chinese cannot use the Internet to access VOA websites, which are being blocked in China, or can’t afford to have Internet access of any kind because they are too poor.
The Voice of America celebrated last year the 70th anniversary of broadcasting to China. Its supporters in China seen in this video wish VOA happy birthday, which almost could not have been celebrated as the U.S. agency responsible for these broadcasts wanted to stop them shortly before the 70th anniversary date.
Thanks to numerous protests in China and in the United States, members of Congress from both parties prevented the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) from implementing its plan to end VOA radio and TV programs to China on October 1, 2011, which happened to be the anniversary of the founding of communist China. The BBG again wants to end VOA radio and television in Cantonese. BBG executives also want to terminate VOA Tibetan radio programs.
Women’s Rights in China Video was recorded in China by WRIC volunteers. Those appearing in this video have shown a lot of courage by admitting on camera that they are listeners to VOA radio broadcasts, but please note that their names are not used. They know that listening to VOA radio is safer than using the Internet.
Link to the Women’s Rights in China video on the 70th anniversary of Voice of America broadcasting to China.
The BBG staff’s presentation on Capitol Hill was highly misleading. Here are some counter-arguments:
1. Since the samples are all from urban or built-up areas, what about samples from the countryside? What anecdotal evidence do they have regarding jamming from Chinese individuals who have listened to VOA from rural areas that have either escaped or emigrated to the U.S.?
2. What active measures have the IBB taken to overcome jamming? Have they shifted frequencies or bands on a random or radical basis? Have they transmitted from various transmitter sites to change the incoming angle (i.e., North – South, East – West, over the Eural mountains, etc) in order to make jamming more difficult? By not attempting to overcome jamming, isn’t this a form of “surrender” in the War of Ideas? Does the BBG believe we are involved in a War of Ideas with China or that they have a role to play in its prosecution?
3. Have they experimented with “twilight” transmission (within an hour before and an hour after sunrise and sunset) when propagation patterns change and make jamming more difficult?
4. Do they see any potential with digital transmission in the shortwave (DRM)? Have they conducted any experimentation whatsoever with DRM in China?
5. If shortwave transmission to China is so poor, why is the BBG intent on continuing – if not upgrading – RFA shortwave transmission while eliminating VOA transmission?
6. Is the BBG in agreement that VOA and surrogate programming have entirely different purposes and that neither should be “homogenized” nor turned into a hybrid service or not?
7. Have they distributed or proliferated shortwave radio receivers, particularly to individuals in these disenfranchised communities? Do they see any value in giving poor populations more shortwave access?
8. Shortwave is the only way to communicate with the economic and politically disenfranchised desparate individuals in China. These are people that suffer the most from human rights abuses and the ones that are most in need of VOA programming. As Dr. Lenczowski so eloquently states, it is VOA programming that helps reduce the “atomization” of politically disenfranchised individuals that are separated from each other by the totalitarian regime and they cannot coalese political power. Most of these individuals continue to live in poor areas where there are no electrical infrastructures in their communities. Therefore, it is impossible to communicate with them on the Internet or via social media since they have no electrical access whatsoever let alone the economic wherewithal to purchase Internet products. Does the BBG still consider this demographic group as a target population for VOA programming or are they only interested in reaching the “movers and shakers” and youth populations that have Internet access in the urban areas?
If the BBG is not interested in continuing an appeal to this particular demographic group, there is a serious disconnect between the BBG leadership and the journalists in the various language services. From my observation, the disenfranchised demographic in our target areas is the one that most of the journalists in most of the language services are most interested in reaching. If this is not the same concern of the BBG then there needs to be a serious re-education of either the BBG leadership or the journalists. If this is the case, this disparity between the preferred target audience of the BBG leadership and the target audience of the majority of the VOA journalists is a contributing factor to the low morale in our building. There is no wonder the BBG ends up at the bottom of the list of Federal government agencies in the Human Capital survey of employees.
This is how Jing Zhang, a former political prisoner in China who now lives in the United States and runs Women’s Rights in China, explained the importance of Voice of America radio broadcasts for the audiences that the Broadcasting Board of Governors wants to forget about:
The Internet offers undeniable advantages. However, it cannot replace radio broadcasting. In today’s China, foreign radio broadcasts in Chinese are still a crucial source of outside information for the majority of the population who lack access to the Internet. Voice of America not only provides indispensable and truthful news reporting, it also upholds the image of the United States and is a valuable antidote to the Great Foreign Propaganda Plan of the Chinese regime. Not only would the elimination of VOA’s Chinese language service be contrary to the spirit and values of America’s Founding Fathers, it would inflict irreparable harm on generations of dissidents and advocates of freedom and democracy, and silence the most vulnerable groups in Chinese society—the women and children.
READ MORE: Former Chinese political prisoner says VOA must not retreat from China of Ms. Zhang’s appeal.