The Corner

Rohrabacher’s Radio Rage

One thing Obama’s budget proposal does cut: $8 million for radio broadcasting of Voice of America in China. And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.) doesn’t like it. “It’s basically dramatically reducing the amount of information available to people in China,” he tells NRO.

A representative of the Broadcast Board of Governors, which oversees the international broadcasting of the United States government, disagrees: “The concept is to use our resources wisely, and to navigate away into an online, mobile-friendly news source, in Mandarin.” Their research suggests radio broadcasts are having almost no effect: “Only 0.4 people [in China] use shortwave [radio] on a weekly basis.” China does have, however, “the largest internet-user group in the world. “ The spokesperson concedes, “there’s censorship of the internet. There’s also long-term persistent jamming of short-wave radio.” The Board of Governors “run a web anti-censorship program,” which they will augment as communications efforts go online. “Where places are still using shortwave — Afghanistan, North Korea, etc. — we’re sticking with shortwave,” the spokesperson adds.

Rohrabacher doesn’t buy it: “It’s hard for me to believe that this big-spending administration is cutting $8 million out of foreign broadcasting for being fiscally responsible.” Instead, he suspects that, “the fact that this announcement was made so short after the visit of Mr. Hu Jintao — there’s every reason to believe that this is being done to curry favor with an authoritarian.” He admits, “I’m not an expert on the issue.” But there’s reason to believe online dissemination could backfire: “This gives the ability to track who’s reading — and they’ve already demonstrated that they will go to great lengths to find out who is using the computer system to find out who is against the regime.” There are two faces to new media.

Voice of America’s own employees in China take Representative Rohrabacher’s perspective. The Tapei Times quotes several employees suspicious that Chinese pressure was involved, and that this could set back human rights in China.

So far, the Broadcast Board of Governors’ story — that they’re streamlining operations for maximal effectiveness, not cowering before Hu Jintao – accords with the data they’ve provided. But you never know what goes on behind the scenes…