In December 2011, the Broadcasting Board of Governors issued a proclamation in observance of Voice of America’s 70th anniversary of Mandarin and Cantonese Services, boasting: “Mandarin and Cantonese language services have been key components of U.S. international broadcasting for all these 70 years and have brought news to China where the free flow of information is restricted.” A copy of their proclamation is available on the BBG website.
On December 6, with bipartisan support from senators and congressmen who signed a resolution to keep VOA China alive, the VOA China Branch celebrated its 70th anniversary at a festive reception in the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill. Attendees also celebrated the exemplary work of both the VOA Mandarin and Cantonese Services in bringing news and information to the people of China over the past decades.
Instead of using these opportunities to promote the successful language services and wishing the Voice of America staff continued success and growth, the public-relations opportunities were used to puff up the BBG’s image and award BBG management with $10,000 bonuses — while quietly planning to cut (off) Voice of America services from the airwaves.
During this same time, as Beijing embarked on an effort to obliterate the Cantonese language in its own domestic media, the BBG and their International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) inquired with Voice of America’s Cantonese Service staff about what kind of equipment they might have at home to use for work, suggesting that they would provide training in early 2012 for those staffers to work from home. The management selected Voice of America’s Cantonese Service to participate in a “re-location operation” exercise in case there might be a dirty-bomb attack in the Cohen Building and the Voice of America’s Cantonese staff were unable to go to work. Almost as soon as that conversation began, it ended.
This information is not available on their website.
What is available on their website is their FY2013 budget, wherein the BBG proposes to completely eliminate the Voice of America’s Cantonese Services to China. The BBG proposal completely disregards congressionally-mandated Public Law 94-350 which directed VOA to inform the people in China who speak Cantonese by providing them with news broadcasts that promote freedom and democracy. It also disregards pleadings from inside China, where postings such as these are made at great risk:
I have listened VOA in Chinese for more than 28 years, it will break my heart if the government cuts the radio broadcast China branch.
As college students growing up in China, we relied daily on VOA for objective news and different world views. Stopping broadcast would mean that a window to the outside world would be shut. It is a huge loss for long term as well.
Last year the U.S. Congress soundly defeated similar attempts by the BBG to cut VOA Chinese services, but even during this election year, the BBG seems undeterred and emboldened. The latest BBG cuts were announced to the Voice of America staff on February 13, one day before China’s next president met with President Obama in the White House.
The BBG FY2013 budget also dropped the ax on Tibetan Voice of America radio broadcasts to Tibet. This comes as a real surprise, as American compassion for the people of Tibet and respect for their spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is at an all-time high.
Last March, the BBG/IBB celebrated Voice of America Tibetan services by marking their 20th anniversary. The BBG celebrated VOA’s invaluable weekly 42 hours of Tibetan-service radio. VOA’s website reported how “in Tibet, as in other parts of China, citizens have limited access to objective news.” This year National Public Radio reported that “The [Buddhist] monks [in Tibet] listen secretly to Voice of America’s Tibetan service news every night, despite feeling almost physical pain at the bleak news.”
BBG proposals to cut Tibetan services disregards another act of Congress, Public Law 101-246, signed into law on February 16, 1990, “to provide Voice of America Tibetan language programming to the people of Tibet”
One Tibetan rights leader stated: “It appears they want to run the VOA as a soulless business (for private gain) rather than as a government initiative (for public good) and that’s sad.”
The BBG proposals to isolate Tibetans and Cantonese-speaking Chinese must be demoralizing and discouraging to VOA staff.
And so the fight is on. Let’s hope that once again, the U.S. Congress will prevent these cuts from taking place. Let’s also hope that the Broadcasting Board of Governors will use what remains of their tenure to clean house and get rid of the management staffers who seem to oppose their own mission: to promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding by broadcasting accurate, objective, and balanced news and information about the United States and the world to audiences abroad.
— Ann Noonan is the executive director of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting.