FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog, December 4, 2008, San Francisco – Commenting on the recent terrorist attacks in India, a union representing the Voice of America (VOA) employees said on its website that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a bipartisan body which manages VOA and other U.S. government-funded broadcasts for audiences overseas, has made “at least a half dozen mistakes in the past few months.” One of them resulted in the silencing of the Voice of America Hindi radio broadcasts just a few weeks before the terrorists struck in Mumbai.
VOA Hindi radio broadcasts became the victim of a highly unusual political alliance. James K. Glassman, the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs – a neoconservative Republican who was the BBG’s most recent chairman – joined forces with liberal Democrats led by Edward E. Kaufman, newly appointed to the U.S. Senate from Delaware, in an attempt to terminate VOA radio programs to countries from Russia to India. They succeeded in silencing VOA radio in Russia just 12 days before the Russian army attacked Georgia and have refused to restore Russian radio programs to the previous levels. The BBG also wanted to terminate VOA radio to Georgia and Ukraine, but the events in Georgia forced them to temporarily suspend those plans. They did, however, put an end to VOA Hindi radio in India, brushing aside appeals and protests from members of Congress and press freedom organizations.
Members of Congress, human rights organizations, and foreign policy experts have condemned the BBG actions as major public diplomacy blunders. The American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812, which represents VOA broadcasters, said after the Mumbai attacks that it would take at least a half dozen eggs “to cover the faces of those BBG Board members who voted in favor of ending the VOA shortwave radio broadcasts in Hindi.”
No more proof of their keystone cops-like decisions was necessary but the tragic events in Mumbai this past weekend highlight once again the failed policy of the BBG. That policy -the elimination of VOA shortwave radio broadcasts and their stubborn refusal to admit their mistakes- is once again demonstrable.
The situation between India and Pakistan is not likely to result in a handholding kumbaya songfest any time soon and the United States claims both as allies. In this situation the U.S. needs a trusted voice to clearly articulate its policies. The only solution is to reinstate the VOA Hindi shortwave radio broadcasts.
The VOA employees’ union was one of the many groups and individuals who had earlier warned the BBG not to terminate VOA radio broadcasts to countries like Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, and India. Most Republicans and Democrats serving on the BBG were united, however, in their desire to privatize U.S. international broadcasting, which meant dismantling the official Voice of America broadcasts while steering money to Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television.
Despite being supported by neoconservatives, these two privatized stations were a brainchild of Norman Pattiz, a liberal Democrat who is the founder of U.S. radio syndicate Westwood One and a financial supporter of Vice President elect Joe Biden. Edward E. Kaufman was also an ethusiastic advocate for Sawa and Alhurra. He once served as Senator Biden’s chief of staff and will be taking his place in the U.S. Senate. Some of the privatized broadcasting entities are incorporated in Delaware, which is Biden’s and Kaufman’s home state.
James Glassman, their neoconservative ally and author of the book DOW 36,000, which forecast an unstoppable growth of the U.S. stock market, believes not only in the privatization of U.S. international broadcasting but has also become an enthusiastic proponent of the Internet. His actions while serving with the BBG have deprived radio listeners in war zones and in impoverished regions of access to American news from Washington. Prior to Glassman’s appointment to the BBG, Kaufman voted with other neoconservative Republicans to eliminate VOA Arabic radio service. They created Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television, the two scandal-ridden privatized broadcasting entities which lack VOA’s strict fiscal and editorial controls and are not viewed in the Middle East as a credible and authoritative voice of the U.S. government and the American people.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors had been warned repeatedly not to cut VOA radio broadcasts to countries like Russia and India. Shortly before the BBG implemented some of the program cuts, FreeMediaOnline.org, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, published an article arguing that it was a wrong time to give up Hindi broadcasts to India.
In September 2008, the two Co-Chairmen of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), wrote a letter to the BBG , in which they pointed out that over 70% of the Indian population lives in rural villages, many with no access to TV or the Internet. They expressed surprise that the BBG wants to terminate VOA Hindi radio at the time when the United States is expanding its strategic partnership with India. The BBG ignored their appeal to allow VOA Hindi radio broadcasts to continue just as they had ignored Congressional warnings not to terminate Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia.