Purging of the Voice of America by the Broadcasting Board of Governors



by Quo Vadis (Marie Ciliberti)

The recent and most devastating Reduction-in-Force proposed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in the FY-2013 budget is the latest in a series of frontal attacks against the basic mission of the Voice of America.   For FY-2013, the BBG has stepped up the pace of these annual onslaughts proposing to cut almost 200 broadcasters from an ever-shrinking staff, sapping the strength of America’s voice to the world and draining what’s left of the morale of its broadcasters. At the same time, the BBG is busy feathering its bureaucratic nest with the number of past, present and future management positions exploding.

Time and again, over the last few years, the BBG, on the recommendation of its Executive Staff, has marched in lockstep up to Capitol Hill with its proposals to cut important and vital VOA language broadcasts, including English. Only through the direct intervention of Congress have VOA broadcasts been spared. But like a toddler in a perpetual temper tantrum, the Executive Staff of the BBG persists in its relentless anti-VOA animus trying to prove to Congress that they, like the Enron folk, are “the smartest guys in the room.”

Let’s take a swing through the past starting with 2007, when the BBG proposed closing a number of services including Cantonese, Croatian, Georgian, Greek, Thai and Uzbek for FY2008.  In addition, the BBG planned to cut 14 hours of radio broadcasts in English, plus ending radio in Hindi, Russian and to the Balkan countries.  Reductions were proposed for broadcasts in Portuguese to Africa, Tibetan, and Ukrainian.

Nothing doing, said the Congress. The decision was helped along by an unprecedented bipartisan letter to save the VOA in March 2007 signed by eleven (11) former Voice of America Directors who served over the years under both Republican and Democratic administrations.  (see letter at link: http://www.publicdiplomacy.org/78.htm)

Fast forward to the final version of the appropriations bill for FY2008, in which Congress overturned the BBG’s slash-and-burn plan with the following language:

Language Service Reductions.- The Committee recommendation supports continuing broadcasting which the administration proposed for language service reductions in fiscal year 2008, particularly Albanian, Bosnian, Cantonese, Croatian, English, Georgian, Kazakh, Macedonian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, South Slavic, Tibetan, Thai, Ukrainian, and Uzbek.

True to form, the powers that be at the BBG paid no attention to the will of the Congress which picks up the tab for U.S. broadcasting and proceeded to cut radio/TV broadcasts to Russia in July of ’08, just three weeks before Russian troops invaded Georgia.  The VOA Georgian Service narrowly escaped the same fate thanks to the efforts of a Congresswoman who headed the Congressional Georgian Caucus.

Even though rebuffed in the appropriations for FY2008, the Executive Staff of the BBG was at it again the very next year. In the FY 2009 budget process, the BBG  requested the implementation of the FY2008 cuts which Congress prevented them from doing the previous year.

“Nay,” said the Congress in a bipartisan vote.

The House version of the 2009 appropriations bill included the following language:

The Committee recognizes VOA for its essential contribution to United States public diplomacy.  The VOA’s English-language radio programming is especially important since it provides accurate, objective and comprehensive news to a potential English-speaking audience of 1.6 billion people worldwide.

The U.S. Senate concurred. In its appropriations bill for FY 2009, the Senate wrote:

The Committee provides $693 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an increase of $23 million above the FY08 enacted level and $ 6 million below the request.  The bill provides funding for broadcasting in languages which the Administration proposed to eliminate in FY09, such as Russian, Uzbek, Tibetan and to the Balkans, where freedom of speech remains restricted and broadcasting is still necessary.

Same old, same old reduction proposals for FY 2010, but this time, less drastic: Croatian, Greek (a perennial target) and Hindi.  In spite of the outcry from listeners in India, BBG executives  closed down VOA Hindi radio/TV broadcasts, arguing that VOA English could substitute for those language broadcasts.  Reductions were also proposed to Radio/TV Marti newscasts and on that basis, the BBG conducted an illegal RIF of 23 employees which was overturned in 2011 by an Arbitrator.  Since the Agency has appealed the Arbitrator’s decision on restoring the fired Marti employees, that situation is still in limbo.

Interestingly enough, although the availability of VOA English broadcasts was used as a justification to close VOA Hindi in 2010,  the BBG proposes to cut VOA English programs to the area in FY2013.

It didn’t get any better in 2011 with the BBG’s proposed reductions for FY2012. A huge battle erupted last year to save the VOA China radio/TV programming in Mandarin and Cantonese as the BBG proposed closing down the radio/TV broadcasts and transferring their functions to the Internet, which is totally blocked in China and policed by a 50,000+ person cyber-army.

In a decisive maneuver, an amendment was proposed for the FY2012 House Appropriations bill by Congressman Rohrabacher and approved unanimously in a bipartisan vote by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:.

Limitation: Of the funds authorized to be appropriated to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, 13.76 million is authorized to be appropriated only for Voice of America Mandarin and Cantonese language radio and satellite television broadcasting.  Such funds may not be used for any other purpose.

Although the U.S. Congress once again came to the rescue of VOA,  the victory was bittersweet because the BBG, like the Energizer Bunny, was cranking up for the legendary Big One in its FY2013 budget plans with the most sweeping Reduction-in-Force ever proposed for VOA.

Battle-weary broadcasting employees are still determined to fight to the end whatever that end may be and have turned again to Congress to petition for redress of grievance.

Congressional staffers often ask VOA employees why they think that the BBG is so intent on cutting the Voice of America.  The only answer seems to be that the BBG and its Executive Staff must truly believe that they, and not the Congress or VOA broadcasters, are “the smartest guys in the room.”  Exactly what the executives at Enron in their corporate arrogance thought as well.


Marie Ciliberti


  1. Avatar
    Edite Lynch 4 April, 2012 at 18:52 Reply

    “Purging” as it is being applied to what is happening to the Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts is a correct term because the term itself is very closely allied with what totalitarian governments, like communists, autocrats, or imperial Presidents do when they feel threatened by any group of people who do not adhere or march to the tune of their trumpets.
    This word resonates sharply with what has been an ongoing activity by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in its efforts to decimate U.S. broadcasting to many countries of the world, among them Tibet and China. Anyone who has a modicum of interest or understanding of what it means to live under an oppressive regime would be appalled by the direction in which the BBG is taking the Voice of America.
    The explanations given thus far that the Internet is a more useful tool for addressing America’s public diplomacy are lacking in truth and common sense. Everyone knows that totalitarian regimes and their leaders are aggressive players in boycotting and in censorship of any Western influence or talk of freedom, human rights, living and breathing with dignity.
    In spite of Congressional budget allotments for specific broadcasting, the BBG has acted in direct opposition to what Congress has dictated that must be done.
    It would seem that the Executives leading the BBG do not agree with what Congress stipulates and are actively pursuing their own inexplicable agenda, which is even more worrisome. It appears that advancing the humanitarian goals of American public diplomacy abroad is not required by those in charge of the BBG. They are quite content to throw billions of people under the bus, deny them access to news from America and prevent them from learning that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also applies to those souls who live under repressive and communist regimes.
    With the advent of a new President in 2008, the activity and misdirection by the BBG has multiplied and moved quickly in spite of what Congress has said and done. They are behaving like autocrats themselves and influencing the editorial of direction of the Voice of America. They are exercising judgement that lacks humanity or compassion for the unfortunate people around the world who yearn to listen to VOA.
    President Obama has shown his disdain for the relevancy of the three branches of government. The BBG executives are acting in the same manner and obviously are taking lessons from their patron. How disheartening for all those selfless persons who for seventy years made a huge difference in the lives of billions around the world. A bunch of highly paid wonks want to destroy the bedrock of American public diplomacy around the world to people who really need to hear its message of freedom and hope.

  2. Avatar
    BBGWatcher 4 April, 2012 at 20:17 Reply

    The Internet is great where it works for those who can afford it. The Internet is also almost free for millions of originators of news websites, particularly in the West, although not free enough for the poor and the oppressed in the rest of the world.
    So where does all the money go at the BBG from destroying radio if not to the bureaucrats and their big contractors.
    The people who most desperately want to listen to uncensored radio broadcasts from America in their own language are neither free nor rich. They often can’t afford the Internet. If they can afford it, they may not use it to access Western news sites out of fear of being discovered, or their Internet access is effectively censored by the cyber police in countries like China.
    Radio can be jammed but never with complete effectiveness. Radio is free and listening to radio is both anonymous and safe. The poor and the oppressed will rely on radio to overcome censorship and be assured that America has not forgotten them.
    But being poor and living under an oppressive regime is not something that Broadcasting Board of Governors and International Broadcasting Bureau bureaucrats worry on a daily basis.

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