CUSIB Calls for Matt Armstrong to Step Aside as Chair of the BBG’s Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting

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July 21, 2014

For Immediate Release

CUSIB - Supporting journalism for media freedom and human rights

CUSIB Calls for Matt Armstrong to Step Aside as Chair of the BBG’s Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting

In response to the sudden and serious damage done to the Broadcasting Board of Governors short wave and medium wave radio services to countries without free media, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting Executive Director Ann Noonan has issued the following statement:

Matt Armstrong’s work as Chair of the Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting continues to raise critical concerns. Listeners throughout the world – especially poor and oppressed people in China, Tibet, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Belarus who lack media freedom and Internet, and journalists who provide these services – are now denied several essential broadcasts by Voice of America (VOA) in English and several other broadcasts by VOA, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in other languages. These loyal listeners in the repressed listening areas deserve much better than what has been done by Matt Armstrong in his capacity as Chair of the Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting. He has cut off their link to free press without notice and without concern.

Matt Armstrong has proven to be inexperienced and dangerously reckless with these serious matters, and has admitted recent errors, writing them off as “learning experience.” The significant part of the audience left without any other option to get VOA, RFA, and RFE/RL news was collateral damage to him.

Matt Armstrong was quoted as saying that “you can’t censor the Internet.” Of course it can be censored and it is being censored in China, Tibet, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, Syria and in many other countries. It is alarming that he does not know this. Armstrong should be at the top of his game. He is not.

Matt Armstrong must step aside. Someone in his position of authority should understand the fundamental importance of short wave and medium wave radio as the effective, and ultimately the only safe and inexpensive alternative to Internet censorship. His mishaps cannot be glibly written off with a smug remark that it was a “learning experience.”

Despite his resistance to respond to CUSIB, we persisted. If CUSIB had not continued to ask him, and to confront the issue, all of his grievous errors would have gone unrecognized. Going unrecognized would be consistent with Matt Armstrong’s caustic and dismissive replies to inquiries from the public.

Since he called an NGO request for a public discussion “absurd” and insists on off the record communication, CUSIB also recommends that Matt Armstrong should no longer be entrusted by the BBG to reply to future inquiries by the American public or to make decisions on transparency issues.

Rather than wait for Matt Armstrong to spend another season being responsible for creating more disastrous and devastating mistakes that he can just write off as more “learning experiences,” CUSIB requests that BBG Chair Jeff Shell select someone more forthright and more seasoned to assume authority for short wave and medium wave radio – or to select someone who can appreciate the input of those who do have experience to serve as Chair of this very important committee.

CUSIB co-founder and Director Ted Lipien has issued the following statement:

In addition to already implemented cuts to short wave transmissions to nations without free media in Asia and Middle East, which were not properly announced in advance to radio listeners or even to surprised and outraged Voice of America (VOA) program hosts, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) has ordered also the cessation of critical broadcasting of the Belarusian language programs of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) on the medium wave (AM) frequency 612 kHz as of August 17. Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe. These cuts make no sense.

If anything, the BBG should be launching new medium wave (AM) broadcasts in Russian to European Russia, eastern Ukraine and Crimea from the same AM transmitter or similar transmitters in friendly countries in response to President Putin’s shutdown of VOA and RFE/RL medium wave and FM affiliate transmissions in Russia, his massive propaganda and disinformation offensive, legal restrictions and threats of further Internet censorship, illegal annexation of Crimea, destabilization of eastern Ukraine, and the killing of 283 passengers, including three infants, and 15 crew of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 by rebel forces armed and supported by the Kremlin.

Belarus is very much on President Putin’s radar screen. Radio listeners with no other options should not be abandoned by the U.S. to Lukashenka’s and Putin’s propaganda. According to recent research data, 27 % of the RFE/RL audience in Belarus (approximately 430,000 listeners) listened on 612 kHz AM.

There are 3 million radio receivers and 3.5 million of motor vehicles in Belarus, nearly all equipped with AM/FM radios. Altogether, over 6 million radios in Belarus alone are capable of receiving medium wave broadcasts.

CUSIB urges BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, BBG members and BBG’s oversight congressional committees to stop the announced termination of RFE/RL AM broadcasts to Belarus on August 17 and to launch immediately new RFE/RL and VOA medium wave transmissions in the Russian language to European Russia, eastern Ukraine, and Crimea as part of the surge response to the Kremlin’s growing aggressive moves against Russia’s neighbors. Medium wave broadcasting of RFE/RL Russian language radio programs to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus could reach 90 million home radio receivers and 40 million cars and trucks with AM/FM radios in the sky-wave coverage area of AM transmitters located in the Baltic states.

We also urge all concerned to reverse all recent cuts to Voice of America and Radio Free Asia short wave transmissions to Asia and the Middle East. The estimated savings of $1.6 million from these cuts can easily be found elsewhere in the BBG’s budget of over $700 million, including some $240 million controlled by the International Broadcasting Bureau, which does not produce any broadcasts but has cut many VOA, RFA, and RFE/RL transmissions and programming jobs while increasing its own IBB staff positions by nearly 40% in the last seven years. The poorest and the most oppressed audiences should not bear the cost of budget cuts. Program delivery should not be cut. Budget cuts should be taken out of the bureaucracy which has grown at the expense of programs and program delivery.

Almost concurrently with short wave and medium wave radio cuts decision affecting nations without free media critical for U.S. foreign policy and national security interests, the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau issued a solicitation, BBG50-R-14-0053, to hire On-Site Fitness Trainers “to perform fitness training instruction and related services for the Broadcasting Board of Governors.” This is yet another example of how disconnected the bureaucracy has become from BBG’s mission, political repression in countries like Belarus, Russia or China, and economic hardships of ordinary American citizens who instead of paying for delivering uncensored news to people living under dictatorships are being asked to pay for fitness training for growing numbers of IBB officials and executives and decreasing numbers of overworked broadcasters with little time left for rest and exercise.

We venture a guess that most if not all BBG broadcasters would gladly exercise without a personal trainer to pay for even one hour of shortwave or medium wave broadcasting to a nation without free press. While the fitness training contract would cover only a small portion of these transmission costs, it is telling that the ever growing IBB bureaucracy can find money for fitness trainers but must cut the information lifeline to the most underprivileged and oppressed people in Belarus, Vietnam, Laos and other countries ruled by authoritarian regimes.

For further information, please contact:

Ann Noonan, co-founder and Executive Director
Tel. 646-251-6069

Ted Lipien, co-founder and Director

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) is an independent, nongovernmental organization which supports free flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries without free media.

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