FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog September 15, 2006, San Francisco — A top aide to Senator Biden has sent a message to Mr. Putin that politics can be placed ahead of human rights and media freedom if there is little risk of a public outcry. Edward “Ted” E. Kaufman, Senator Biden’s former chief of staff who now works on his vice presidential campaign, blocked attempts last week to resume Voice of America (VOA) radio programs to Russia. As a Democratic member of the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which manages VOA, Ted Kaufman was responsible earlier with other Democrats and some Republican members for terminating VOA Russian-language broadcasts just 12 days before Russia attacked Georgia on August 8. He had also voted for ending VOA broadcasts to Georgia, which the BBG later allowed to continue temporarily.
Last week, a Republican BBG member, radio journalist Blanquita Cullum, had requested a vote on resuming VOA broadcasts in Russian and suspending plans to stop broadcasts to other countries, including Georgia and Ukraine. Ted Kaufman was one of the BBG members who refused to put the proposal to a vote, rejecting arguments that the earlier decision to terminate the broadcasts was wrong and that their resumption would send a strong message to Mr. Putin.
Ted Kaufman and others on Senator Biden’s staff seem to be hoping that the mainstream media will not pay attention to this issue during the presidential election campaign, thus allowing them to play politics with U.S. international broadcasting to the benefit of the senator’s constituents and longtime friends. Taking away radio broadcasting to Russia from VOA benefits another BBG-managed broadcaster, semi-private Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is incorporated in Delaware, Senator Biden’s home state.
Many other members of Congress of both parties, including Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), have been strongly opposed to cutting VOA radio broadcasts to Russia, but Senator Biden’s staff was said to have worked with Ted Kaufman and the BBG staff on quietly implementing the cut before others in Congress could stop it.
In addition to his role on the BBG, Ted Kaufman is also president of Public Strategies, a political and management consulting firm based in Wilmington, Delaware. He is a trustee of Christiana Care Corporation and a member of the Board of Directors of Children and Families First. He worked in various technical, financial, and marketing positions with the DuPont Company. Ted Kaufman appeared in a recent CNN profile of Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
In trying to help RFE/RL at the expense of VOA, Kaufman and members of Senator Biden’s staff have ignored warnings that RFE/RL has lost much of its previous independence and effectiveness it had during the Cold War when it was based in Munich, West Germany. Most of RFE/RL Russian broadcasters now live in Russia with their families. According to media freedom nonprofit FreeMediaOnline.org, RFE/RL journalists in Russia are closely monitored and subject to intimidation by Mr. Putin’s secret police. FreeMediaOnline.org also reported that several years ago the RFE/RL management in Moscow and Prague demanded that stations in Russia rebroadcasting their programs register with the Russian authorities. This action, apparently taken to protect the status of RFE/RL’s Moscow bureau, helped the security services to move faster in tracking down RFE/RL and VOA affiliates and forcing them to stop rebroadcasts of Western news programs.
In a sign that the secret police intimidation is working, the head of RFE/RL Moscow bureau expressed confidence in the common sense of the current Russian leadership and the head of RFE/RL Russian service in Prague said that the future of RFE/RL in Russia looks good. These statements were made in late 2006 shortly after the brutal murder of independent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Many former and current VOA journalists viewed these comments by RFE/RL managers as offensive to the memory of the slain Russian journalist, as did human rights activists in Russia. Earlier this year, a Moscow-based human rights organization criticized RFE/RL for giving extensive airtime to an extremist Russian politician known for his racist and anti-immigrant views.
Voice of America broadcasters, who are based in Washington, D.C., are seen as far less vulnerable to intimidation that could limit their criticism of Mr. Putin. Senator Biden’s staff’s role in terminating VOA radio broadcasts to Russia is likely to be well received in Moscow as a sign that business as usual would be possible with the Obama-Biden administration. U.S. international broadcasting plays an important role in explaining America to the world and in helping to overcome press censorship in many countries but is not high on the agenda for most Americans — something Ted Kaufman may have counted on in blocking the resumption of VOA radio news broadcasts to Russia. Mainstream U.S. media has not reported on this story.