A Thanksgiving Message to President Elect Barack Obama About the Voice of America

VOA building in Washington, D.C.
VOA building in Washington, D.C.
FreeMediaOnline.org Logo. FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog  QuoVadis Commentary, November 19, 2008, San Francisco — Free Media Online Blog is publishing an open letter to President Elect Barack Obama drafted  on behalf of current and former Voice of America employees who are concerned about the mismanagement of U.S. international broadcasting by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).  The BBG, which had been responsible for eliminating VOA radio broadcasts to Russia shortly before the Russian military attack on Georgia, was also severely criticized in a recent report by the Public Diplomacy Council.  See FreeMediaOnline.org article.


And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.
                     Barack Obama Acceptance Speech, November 4, 2008



The above quote from your acceptance speech is absolutely correct:  for years people from beyond our shores have huddled around their radios in distant forgotten corners of the world to hear America’s message. Many did so at their peril.  They still try to do so. 
Perhaps with that in mind, you issued a plea, on the eve of the Iowa caucus, to the people of Kenya to stop the violence that erupted in the wake of the country’s disputed presidential election. To reach the maximum number of people in your father’s homeland, you issued that plea for stability through America’s global voice to the world, the Voice of America.  And you did so on the most reliable medium to reach the greatest number of people in that area of the world: radio.
Unfortunately, over the past decade, that proud and inspiring global voice has become but a whisper and, in its wake, the prestige of the United States of America has plummeted.
How did VOA’s disintegration happen?  Dissolved during the last two administrations, there are no longer any substantive Voice of America broadcasts to much of Eastern Europe even though those countries in transition to democracy were and are in dire need of information about America and the world. 
Despite an outcry from thousands of listeners who depend on VOA for news and information,  there is no longer any Voice of America radio to India because the Broadcasting Board of Governors recently terminated broadcasting in Hindi. 
Most egregious, the people in Russia now have no radio broadcasting communication with America through VOA because the Broadcasting Board of Governors ceased all VOA Russian broadcasts on the eve of the Russian attack on Georgia in August, leaving only the Internet for the relatively small number of people who have access to computers.  Do the people of Russia still need objective and credible information from America? The answer is yes and especially now with a more emboldened and aggressive Russian leadership on the scene.
Your story, as outlined in your acceptance speech,  is America’s story.  How sad that Russians could not hear and be inspired by that story on VOA Russian radio which had carried presidential speeches live in Russian translation over many years.
Fortunately, through the concerted efforts of those who still care in this country, VOA radio broadcasts to Ukraine, Georgia, Tibet, and many other languages marked for elimination in September ’08 were spared the guillotine, at least for the time being.
Why and how was the VOA muted?  The answer:  unfortunate mistakes by successive administrations, one Democrat, one Republican.  Since 1999, all decision-making power has been vested in the Broadcasting Board of Governors whose compounded errors have diminished the U.S. broadcasting voice to the world.
As your new administration embarks on possibly turbulent seas, we encourage your transition team to go beyond the rehashed, perhaps rosy facts and statistics inevitably served up by the outgoing team, just as the Bush transition team was presented with some arguable facts and figures regarding international broadcasting by the outgoing Clinton team. 
We hope this time around that your team will uncover the real truth. For instance,  your transition team could ask: 
1) Why does the Broadcasting Board of Governors resist attempts for a strategic multimedia platform combining radio, TV, and the Internet to reach the world?

 2) Why have 24/7 radio and TV broadcasts into the Middle East produced little or no results in a region of the world of vital strategic importance to the United States? And why does the BBG squash all negative reports about the inadequacies in U.S. broadcasting to the Middle East?
 3) Why does the Broadcasting Board of Governors persist in trying to curtail worldwide English-language broadcasts when research shows the emerging dominance of English in the world?
The members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors have made many mistakes over the past decade.  As President, you will have the unique opportunity to reverse those mistakes.  And if you do, America’s Voice can once again be heard loudly and clearly throughout the world and regain its place as the beacon of liberty to the world.
If, by some remote chance, you do say “yes, we can,” it would surely be a Happy Thanksgiving for many Voice of America employees.


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