FreeMediaOnline.org and Free Media Online Blog October 22, 2008, San Francisco — Voice of America (VOA) has taken a small step to restore radio broadcasts to Russia which were terminated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) shortly before the Russian military attack on Georgia. Responding to criticism from Congress and media freedom organizations, the BBG staff has allowed VOA to start producing a 30 min. radio news program in Russian for online placement. The new program, “Panorama,” is described on the VOA Russian website as a daily broadcast but it has not been updated within the last 24 hours and its future remains unclear. The BBG staff was reported to have gone into great lengths to prevent VOA from engaging in serious radio production and reporting for Russian-speaking audiences.
Of the six BBG members, only political radio host Blanquita Cullum was said to have opposed VOA radio cuts to countries with limited free media. Critics of the BBG argue that VOA is more likely to attract an audience in Russia with substantive political news content for radio and the Internet than with the current BBG-favored formula of entertainment programming, video blogs and online contests.
VOA Russian service journalists continue to be underemployed and are still being forced by the BBG staff to produce mostly noncontroversial short video clips and text for the Internet.
The new radio program has some political news content but it is a far cry from the longer-format news radio and political call-in shows which the Russian service was producing before the BBG pulled the plug on VOA news radio operations for Russia.
FreeMediaOnline.org has learned that the BBG may also be under pressure from some elements within the Bush Administration to restore VOA Russian radio programs to what they were before the Russian attack on Georgia. The BBG had also taken steps, some of which were later temporarily suspended, to eliminate VOA radio broadcasts to Georgia, Ukraine, and India.
One of the strongest supporters of cutting VOA radio has been the BBG’s most recent chairman, James K. Glassman, who is now the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. An enthusiast of the Internet and web contests, Glassman is perhaps best known for co-writing the book Dow 36,000, published in 1999, which predicted that the stock market was greatly undervalued and would at least triple within a few years. On December 11, 2007 Glassman was nominated by President George W. Bush to replace Karen Hughes as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
A critic of Glassman’s approach to international broadcasting and public diplomacy wrote for the Free Media Online Blog that “the latest manifestation of the endless reservoir of fantasy is a video contest on the subject of democracy in which the State Department is soliciting amateur video entries worldwide. It doesn’t matter that this subject gets broad treatment on such video websites as YouTube. But then again, originality has become one of the casualties in the fool’s paradise of mediocrity in the U.S. public diplomacy bureaucracy,” claims a critic of Glassman’s record as the former BBG chairman.