Moral principles need to guide U.S. international broadcasting

by Ted Lipien

I strongly urge the Broadcasting Board of Governors to reverse cuts to Voice of America Tibetan, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Burmese, and Lao broadcasting services.

These VOA services offer uncensored news and hope to nations ruled by communist and authoritarian regimes. It’s the least the United States can do for these oppressed nations.

People who are denied freedom need VOA radio broadcasts and America’s moral support. As great and as needed as Radio Free Asia is, it can’t offer what VOA represents to those who lack political freedoms. I say this from my own personal experience and from years of covering pro-democracy and dissident movements abroad.

Voice od America broadcasts offer not only uncensored news. They offer hope that some day these countries will experience freedom and democracy with America’s continued support for these ideals and principles.

I would like to offer the following analysis to guide some of these important decisions by BBG members who are the guardians of U.S. international broadcasting.

It would have been inconceivable during the Cold War to eliminate Voice of America broadcasts to communist-ruled nations and to say that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasts would be enough. As long as these nations were ruled by communist dictators and were subject to Soviet domination, Voice of America broadcasts in their languages were preserved.

The BBG should adopt the same rule, which I would call the Baltic principle of U.S. international broadcasting.

It is the same principle that guided US diplomatic relations with certain countries annexed by the Soviet Union. The United States never recognized the forcible incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union and throughout the Cold War allowed the pre-war Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian embassies to operate in Washington.

Just as the American non-recognition of an illegal Soviet invasion and the U.S. diplomatic support for the continuity of the independence of the Baltic States, Voice of America broadcasts have the same moral, symbolic and practical meaning for the Tibetans, the Chinese and other nations that have lost their freedom.

It’s a politically sound principle that would win the BBG approval in Congress, among human rights organizations and other  groups and communities supporting U.S. international broadcasting. Right now, the Broadcasting Board of Governors is at war with its natural and strongest supporters.

The BBG operates now on the commercial audience research principle. It’s a completely wrong approach because U.S. international broadcasting was not created to be commercially-driven.

Of course the BBG can reach a much larger audience in China or any other undemocratic country if it compromises with the local regime and makes its programs politically meaningless. That’s how the commercial principle works.

But even more dangerous is the bureaucratic control of the BBG by a small group of unelected officials who deny Board members critical information and make important decisions affecting national security and public diplomacy.

These executives don’t subscribe to the moral principles of international broadcasting and U.S. foreign policy. Their only and favorite solution to budget constraints is to cut critical language programs while leaving the bureaucratic structure untouched.

BBG members should be the guardians of moral and foreign policy principles. These principles are the only ones supported by Congress and the American people.

These principles are also the only ones that have deep meaning to the oppressed people in Tibet and China. For them, VOA broadcasts are the symbol of freedom and America’s moral support. They would like to keep it that way. The Broadcasting Board of Governors must not let them down.

Ted Lipien

I also strongly support keeping Voice of America broadcasts to other nations, particularly to Latin America, as well as preserving robust VOA broadcasting in English. These broadcasts also advance principles of democracy and are the best investment in American public diplomacy. They are far more important and valuable to the United States than the jobs of the Broadcasting Board of Governors bureaucrats who push for these cuts and reductions in VOA programs.