Voice of America radio to China – the sounds of news silence from Broadcasting Board of Governors

Voice of America radio to China – the sounds of news silence from Broadcasting Board of Governors
by Ann Noonan, Executive Director, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – www.cusib.org)
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) management team have finally accomplished their goal of cutting into Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin radio broadcasting into China, sub silentio.
As of May 6th, Voice of America’s 2-hour live Mandarin radio morning (Beijing time) broadcasts have been replaced with repeat programming from the previous day. These repeat broadcasts come without live newscasts. There are no timely, current news reports in the previously-taped taped content — not even a five-minute live news update.
All this is happening as Chinese and Tibetan radio listeners and rest of the world await news of the fate of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and learn daily about new violations of human rights in China and Tibet.
While the International Broadcasting Bureau Director Richard M. Lobo and his managers may want to quash any inquiry about these VOA Mandarin Service radio broadcasting changes by accusing those expressing concerns of spreading baseless rumors, news silence is in fact what is happening. This report may be the first time that some individual members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors are even hearing about this change with its nuances and implications.
While these broadcasting changes may potentially save the BBG some unknown amount of money to add another hour of satellite television program in Mandarin at some future date and to simulcast it on shortwave radio, activists inside China, who need constant radio news updates especially now during this critical time with the Chen affair and all the repercussions for his family and supporters, understandably may feel abandoned.
Some believe that these Voice of America Mandarin Service broadcasting changes put the BBG in contempt of a Congressional directive. Last year, the Rohrabacher Amendment passed with full bipartisan support to keep VOA China broadcasts on the air and to prevent BBG/IBB executives from eliminating VOA Mandarin and Cantonese radio and TV programs and transferring news reporting to the highly-controlled and blocked Internet, as these managers had proposed.
And then there are those like Director Lobo and his team who might argue that the BBG has not actually jettisoned the radio time and that they haven’t cut anything because they are merely repeating the previous programming.
However smooth that rationalization sounds, without a newscast and with only repeats of often outdated content, there is now a gap of 17 hours in live VOA Mandarin radio news at a critical time with the Chen affair.
It is a well-known fact that if the news, information, and commentary are old, listeners are going to switch elsewhere to get the information they want and need. They could still listen to Radio Free Asia (RFA), but since RFA programs are even more heavily jammed by the Chinese authorities than VOA radio, these listeners may be left with nothing but official regime propaganda.
These repeats of old VOA programs without the news are a far cry from live broadcasts from a studio with up-to-the-minute breaking news. Just a few days ago, the VOA Mandarin Service managed to reach Chen Guangcheng by phone and interviewed him about threats to his family and supporters. With the latest elimination of live programs, radio listeners in China may have to wait almost a full day to hear from VOA about such threats and the US government’s official responses.
With Chen Guangcheng’s future uncertain and the US reputation tarnished by the handling of his case, could there possibly be a worse time to implement such a drastic change?
Ann Noonan, Executive Director of the Committee for International Broadcasting (CUSIB)Ann Noonan has been active in human rights organizations, including those working for religious freedom. She is the former President of the New York Chapter of the Visual Artists Guild. In 1999, Ann founded Free Church for China, an NGO which researches and documents religious persecution in the PRC. Ann was also a Senior Advisor at the Laogai Research Foundation, an NGO founded by another CUSIB member, Harry Wu, to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Laogai system of prison labor camps in China. Ann Noonan has been active in promoting women’s rights and religious freedom worldwide. She serves as the CUSIB’s Executive Director.