FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog, September 11, 2006, San Francisco — Sources at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) have told FreeMediaOnline.org, a media freedom nonprofit, that at least one of the Board members, most likely Blanquita Cullum, has requested a formal vote Thursday on restoring the Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia, Ukraine, and other countries. A source told FreeMediaOnline.org that BBG executive director, Jeff Trimble, tried to prevent the vote from taking place on the restoration of broadcasts requests, but as of now it is still scheduled to be taken on Thursday.
Jeff Trimble was said to have worked with Senator Biden’s Senate staff over the summer to quickly and quietly implement the shutting down of VOA radio to Russia in late July without alerting other members of Congress. Many in Congress have been strongly opposed to this move on national security grounds and see it as a blow to media freedom in Russia. 12 days after the VOA program went off the air, Russian troops attacked Georgia. Since then, Vice President Cheney visited both Georgia and Ukraine. President Bush announced a $1 billion aid package to Georgia.
Jeff Trimble is a former acting president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which would benefit from the shutting down of VOA Russian-language and Ukrainian-language programs. RFE/RL is incorporated in Senator Biden’s home state. One of the BBG members, Edward E. Kaufman, was formerly Senator Biden’s chief of staff.
Jeff Trimble and another BBG member, Jeff Hirschberg, who is also a director of the U.S.-Russia Business Council, had traveled to Russia in previous years and conducted negotiations with Russian officials and associates of President and now Prime Minister Putin. They reportedly discussed the status of RFE/RL large news bureau in Moscow, which still operates despite the closing down of most independent Russian broadcasters. Most of the major electronic media outlets in Russia are now in the hands of Mr. Putin’s associates and other media is subject to secret police monitoring and intimidation.
FreeMediaOnline.org president Ted Lipien has warned that Prague and Moscow-based RFE/RL cannot be a replacement for VOA Russian-language radio broadcasts from Washington, D.C. The Moscow Human Rights Bureau, a pro-democracy NGO, has recently criticized Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for giving extensive airtime to an extremist politician who is known for making racist comments about immigrants and other groups. Last year, shortly after the murder of independent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the head of RFE/RL bureau in Moscow had publicly expressed her confidence in “the common sense of the Russian leadership.” Human rights activists also criticized RFE/RL for airing these comments shortly after the brutal murder the most prominent journalist who was critical of Mr. Putin.
Ted Lipien has also warned that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists working and living in Russia are subject to intimidation by the Russian secret police and that their safety and their work has been put in severe jeopardy by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Lipien has called for immediate restoration of VOA Russian-language radio broadcasts as a matter of great urgency for U.S. national security and public diplomacy.
According to FreeMediaOnline.org president, if the BBG vote takes place on Thursday as expected, the BBG members will be on record as either supporting or opposing the restoration of VOA radio programs at a time of growing nationalism and militarism in Russia. They will have a chance to reverse their earlier decisions made before the Russian attack on Georgia. If they don’t, the shutting down of VOA Russian radio broadcasts could become an election campaign issue because of Senator Biden’s presumed role in that decision, and is likely to be examined in Congressional hearings this fall.