U.S. considers VOA and RFE/RL programs to Ukraine ‘ very valuable’ and ‘very important’

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January 16, 2014

U.S. considers VOA and RFE/RL programs to Ukraine ‘very valuable’ and ‘very important,’ but more funding from Congress and more oversight from BBG are needed

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) applauds a statement by a high-level U.S. State Department official who told a U.S. Senate panel it is “very important” to continue “very valuable” Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) programs to Ukraine.

CUSIB urges Congress to work with the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to approve additional emergency funding for VOA and RFE/RL Ukrainian services. Their media freedom news reporting has become even more urgent in light of today’s decision by the Ukrainian Parliament to restrict the right to peaceful protests and free speech, and to stifle independent media and NGO operations. We welcome U.S. State Department’s spokesperson Jen Psaki’s statement today expressing deep concern over these undemocratic legislative measures in Ukraine.

Sen. Bob Menendez

Sen. Bob Menendez

Responding to a question from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, during a committee hearing Wednesday, January 15, to consider the implications of the crisis in Ukraine for U.S. foreign policy in the region, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Melia said that Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty “are very valuable and continue to provide important voices of honest reporting that gets accessed by the Ukrainian people.”

“It’s very important to continue these services,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Melia told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Inquiring specifically about Ukrainian services of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Senator Menendez asked what the U.S. is doing to support journalists and civil society activists as the Yanukovych family takes over TV channels and newspapers in Ukraine and intimidation of independent journalists increases.

Thomas O. Melia

Thomas O. Melia

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Melia responded by saying that the U.S. is training independent journalists and helping media watch organizations, which have reported more than 100 attacks and cases of intimidation against journalists in 2013 . Referring to VOA and Radio Liberty, Thomas O. Melia said that in this kind of environment these two U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlets are very much needed.

CUSIB fully agrees with these statements, but more concrete steps are also needed from the U.S. Government in response to increasing violence toward journalists, not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia, which recently barred RFE/RL journalist David Satter from entering the country as a reporter.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Melia also told the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that Ukraine’s government “has failed to consistently respect the rights of freedom of speech and press.”

Thomas O. Melia: Ukraine’s ratings for media freedom by international groups, such as Freedom House and Reporters without Borders, have declined for three years in a row.

Interference with and pressure on media outlets by the government has increased, including the government’s tolerance of increased levels of violence toward journalists. Both media owners and journalists at times yield to government pressure and intimidation by practicing self-censorship. There is also an emerging pattern of targeted intimidation and violence against journalists and activists brave enough to speak out.

According to the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a respected Ukrainian media watchdog, there were more than 100 attacks and cases of intimidation against journalists in 2013 – nearly half of these occurred in December. In addition, IMI recorded 120 cases of obstruction of journalists’ professional activities, 51 cases of censorship, 44 cases of economic and political pressure, and 5 arrests and detentions. The U.S Government will continue to speak out frankly and forcefully against violence, intimidation, and repression whenever and wherever it occurs, as we have in recent weeks with regard to the appalling and brutal beating of Tatiana Chornovol on Christmas Day.”

Such attacks on journalists must not remain without a specific response from the United States. CUSIB is encouraged by the bipartisan support for Ukraine’s independence and would like to see it used to help Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty expand their reporting on the current crisis.

Sen. Bob Corker

Sen. Bob Corker

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that more assertive U.S. leadership is needed vis-a-vis Russia in response to the events in Ukraine.

CUSIB applauds Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland’s statement at the hearing that “the coercive actions of Russia, not only against Ukraine but also against Moldova and Georgia, are violations of many undertakings that they have made including Helsinki principles and in some cases [World Trade Organization] obligations.”

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was also right in saying that “Ukraine is a country that wants to be European.”

The Committee also heard testimony from Dr. Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, a former U.S. National Security Advisor, who stressed that the U.S. must not remain indifferent to the crisis.

Congress and the Broadcasting Board of Governors can respond by increasing funding for both Voice of America and Radio Liberty. Journalists at VOA’s and Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian services have done an outstanding job reporting uncensored news despite their limited resources. They need more support from Congress and BBG.

CUSIB also urges Congress and BBG to address continuing central management problems at VOA which prevented the news of yesterday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from appearing on the VOA English website and websites of many VOA language services directing news programs to countries without free media.

Full video on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing “Implications of the Crisis in Ukraine” can be seen on C-Span HERE.

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) is a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization working to strengthen free flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries with restricted and developing media environments. CUSIB supports journalism in defense of media freedom and human rights by the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio and TV Marti, Radio Sawa, Alhurra TV and other U.S. taxpayer-funded media programs for international audiences produced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). We are working to make these programs more effective and better managed. CUSIB also advocates for better working conditions for broadcasters and other media professionals delivering news to countries without media freedom and defends their journalistic independence.

For further information, please contact:
Ann Noonan, co-founder and Executive Director
Tel. 646-251-6069

Ted Lipien, co-founder and Director
Tel. 415-793-1642

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