FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog, November 28, 2008, San Francisco – Voice of America, a U.S. taxpayer-funded international broadcaster, was off the air with shortwave Hindi radio broadcasts to India during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
The decision to silence these radio broadcasts was made earlier this year by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a U.S. Government agency.
The BBG had also stopped Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia just 12 days before the Russian military attack on Georgia in August of this year and is refusing to resume shortwave transmission that could reach listeners in the conflict area.
Ending VOA shortwave radio broadcasts to India was not an isolated lapse of judgement. The Broadcasting Board of Governors has established a long record of silencing or reducing VOA radio programs to countries without free media as well as countries vulnerable to ethnic conflicts and terrorist attacks.
BBG members who are appointed by the White House and confirmed by the Senate had previously tried to reduce radio broadcasts to Tibet shortly before major pro-human rights demonstrations there. The BBG also wanted to end Voice of America radio broadcasts to Georgia but that decision has been put on hold after the Russian attack.
When given a chance to reconsider their decision, BBG officials ignored appeals from members of Congress who urged them not to terminate Voice of America radio broadcasts in Hindi to India. BBG officials insisted that short and infrequent TV reports and a VOA website will be sufficient for audiences in India.
Democrats selected for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, including Ted Kaufman who was recently appointed to be the US Senator from Delaware, joined forces with neoconservative Republicans to steer money away from Voice of America broadcasts and use them to finance highly controversial and scandal-ridden operations broadcasting to the Middle East, including Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa.
Kaufman and former BBG chairman James K. Glassman, a neoconservative Republican who is now the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, repeatedly voted to end VOA Hindi radio transmissions to India, Russia, and other countries. They were joined by other Democrat and Republican BBG members.
For years, both Democrats and neoconservative Republicans on the BBG have been in favor of privatizing US international broadcasting. Only one Republican voted against the cuts in VOA radio broadcasts, which also included reductions in Voice of America English programs.
Critics point out that the BBG has established a solid record of terminating and reducing programs to countries shortly before major wars, conflicts, demonstrations or terrorist attacks. Ted Lipien, president of a media freedom nonprofit, FreeMediaOnline.org, said that based on the BBG performance so far, the National Security Council, the CIA, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security can study BBG decisions on program cuts to reliably predict where the next international crisis will take place.
Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Tibet, China, Uzbekistan and India have all been at one point either completely terminated or targeted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors for cuts and reductions. The BBG was forced to abandon or scale down some of these cuts due to outside criticism, but VOA Hindi radio programs were already off the air when the terrorists struck in Mumbai.