Saturday, February 26, 2011

RFA on edge as VOA heads for the block

While all the attention has focused on the likely cuts at the VOA Chinese service, Radio Free Asia, which is expected to fill the vacuum left by its sister service, faces cuts of its own, albeit hidden ones

Proposed budget cuts at Voice of America (VOA), which could spell the end of all its Mandarin shortwave broadcasts and cost dozens of jobs, are leaving Radio Free Asia (RFA), the US’ other main broadcaster to China, hoping for the best.

Earlier this month, the US’ Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) — which is responsible for all US government or government-sponsored, non-military international broadcasting — announced a US$8 million restructuring plan for VOA, a move that, if approved by Congress, would see the elimination on Oct. 1 of traditional radio and TV broadcasting in Mandarin — and an end to all Cantonese operations — by the almost seven-decades-old broadcaster.

As VOA employees reel at the news, the Taipei Times asked RFA, another US broadcaster with a long history of supporting freedom and human rights in China, to share its views on those -developments and what they mean for the future of broadcasting into China.

“The proposed cuts send the message that VOA is changing its strategic approach to Chinese distribution in a challenging economic environment,” RFA president Libby Liu said in an interview from Washington on Wednesday. “If there was an unlimited budget, I’m sure VOA and RFA would be increasing rather than reducing the resources we dedicate to bringing accurate news and information to those who seek it in all of our markets — including China.”

Asked about the vacuum that would be created if the cuts at VOA were approved by Congress, Liu said RFA would be in a position to pick up some of the responsibilities.

“The cuts of VOA, if approved, will create an opportunity for RFA to move our shortwave broadcast hours to higher listening hours, which is what is proposed in the FY [fiscal year] 2012 president’s budget submission” by the BBG, she said.

However, the budget proposal does not altogether spare RFA, which would face constraints of its own.

“Even as RFA could benefit by moving to better listening hours, the RFA Mandarin effort would sustain significant reductions in both broadcast hours and frequencies,” Liu said.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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