Fox News reported — Lawmakers Scramble to Keep Voice of America On Air in China — that Congressional lawmakers are scrambling to prevent America’s international media arm from going off-air in China, arguing that a plan to shift much of its reporting to the Internet won’t do much good in a country notorious for its web censors.
In a full bipartisan rebuke to the BBG, which manages the Voice of America and other U.S. international broadcasts, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously for an amendment, introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., containing a provision that would allocate nearly $14 million exclusively for Voice of America’s Mandarin and Cantonese radio and satellite TV programs to stay on the air. The funding must now be approved by the House Appropriations Committee and agreed to by the Senate.
Fox News reported that in a bipartisan letter to the House Appropriations Committee in May, Rep. Rohrabacher and several House colleagues urged the panel to follow suit as it crafts the funding bill. They argued that the radio and satellite broadcasts remain “one of the best ways to communicate directly” with the Chinese people. “We believe the administration’s proposal will hinder indigenous democracy movements in China and damage the long-term security of our own country,” they wrote. “Sacrificing U.S. broadcasting abilities while China’s authoritarian regime expands its broadcasting and public diplomacy efforts in the United States is the wrong answer.”
Speaking at a hearing on religious freedom, democracy and human rights in Asia, Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy Director of the Human Rights Watch told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs that the Human Rights Watch urges the U.S. to “maintain funding not only for Tibetan language programs for RFA and VOA, but also for the Mandarin, Cantonese, and Uighur services.”
Ms. Richardson said that these services “are irreplaceable means of transmitting information into and out of all regions of China.”
Speaking at the same hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hollywood actor Richard Gere, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the International Campaign for Tibet, also called for saving Voice of America broadcasts.
Fox News reported that “Ted Lipien, a former VOA executive who now runs Free Media Online, complained in an op-ed earlier this year that aside from the threat of censorship, two-thirds of China’s population does not even have Internet access. He accused the BBG of turning its back on human rights activists who rely on radio for information.” In a Washington Times editorial published last March, Lipien wrote:
“The Internet is inaccessible for 750 million Chinese. A listener to VOA radio programs in China is not likely to be a Chinese with an iPhone who goes on shopping trips to New York but someone like Liu Xia, wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Kept under house arrest, she once succeeded in sending an email to a friend, in which she wrote, ‘I don’t know how I managed to get online.’ She then warned her friend, ‘Don’t go online. Otherwise my whole family is in danger.’ BBG officials turn their backs on people like Liu Xia when they claim that ending VOA radio to China would help them develop new media tools to reach a younger, Internet-using audience.”
Lipien ended his Washington Times op-ed with a comment about the BBG executive staff, which claims to be able to overcome Internet censorship in China but had failed to protect VOA websites from an Iranian cyber attack:
“The ability of the BBG executive staff to make wrong decisions has been so uncanny that simply by examining their program-cutting proposals, members of Congress easily could have predicted new outbreaks of unrest and assaults on free media shortly before they happened. Congress should not allow this group of managers to commit yet another blunder with a gift to the Chinese Communist Party as it celebrates its national holiday on Oct. 1, the proposed date for ending VOA radio to China.”
Free Media Online has criticized the BBG executive staff for misleading members of Congress and the media with claims that the termination of VOA radio and TV broadcasts to China and the firing of about 40 journalists specializing in human rights reporting are needed to create online presence in China, when in fact VOA already has an active online outreach, which is limited only by the Chinese regime’s censorship of the Internet.
The idea that millions of dollars are needed to expand VOA’s online presence in China is also highly misleading, Lipien said. He pointed out that the beauty of the Internet is that it is inexpensive, as proven by millions of news websites run by individuals and NGOs.
“Only BBG executives, consistently rated year after year in government-wide surveys conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as the worst managers in the federal bureaucracy, could claim that they need to fire 40 journalists who are experienced in reporting about human rights abuses in China so that they can give millions of dollars to consultants and private contractors, and that this will make the Voice of America more effective.”
“The truth is,” Lipien said, “that the same BBG executives could not even protect VOA’s own websites from a successful attack by Iranian Islamists, and the idea that they can overcome Chinese censorship of the Internet is completely unrealistic.”
“What BBG executives will do,” Lipien said, “is to make easier for the Chinese cyber police, which reportedly number over 40,000, to track down human rights activists in China by forcing them to switch from safe listening to radio or watching satellite TV to using the Internet to access the VOA Chinese website, which may not even be accessible.”
Free Media Online president pointed out that the same executives sent three BBG members on a negotiating mission to Ethiopia and were responsible for censoring Voice of America programs and for the dismissal of a VOA journalist who revealed that the Ethiopian regime demanded that human rights activists be banned from VOA programs.
Link to the demonstration video 1
“The spectacle of BBG members negotiating with repressive regimes, followed by censorship of VOA programs, shows that members of Congress are absolutely right in demanding the continuation of VOA broadcasts to China and calling BBG executives incompetent,” Lipien said.
The BBG is a bipartisan board comprised of nine members. Eight, no more than four from one party, are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate; the ninth is the Secretary of State, who serves ex officio. In addition to Chairman Isaacson and Secretary Clinton, they include Victor H. Ashe, Michael Lynton, Susan McCue, Michael P. Meehan, Dennis Mulhaupt, Dana Perino, and S. Enders Wimbush.
A former BBG member Blanquita Cullum also observed the tendency of the current leadership to favor communicating with rulers rather than the people who listen to VOA programs because they offer uncensored information and hope. “Now is the time to increase worldwide access to information … This is not the time to pull the plug,” warned Cullum in a Washington Times editorial published last February. She accused the BBG of seeming “more intent on communicating with rulers than with the people.”
Human rights and media freedom advocates in the U.S. have been reposting this Tiananmen Anniversary video. Free Media Online urges further reposting and linking to this powerful video.
This report was originally published by FreeMediaOnline.org Truckee, CA, USA, August 5, 2011.