WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 5) --- Eleven former directors of the Voice of America have issued a joint statement calling on Congress to reverse a Bush administration plan to substantially reduce VOA's English broadcasts and those in 15 other languages.
VOA, the nation's largest publicly funded civilian overseas broadcasting network, may go silent in many areas of the world on radio later this year unless the Congress reverses the action in hearings on the U.S. federal budget for the next fiscal year starting October 1. Among the planned cuts is the shutdown on radio of VOA's worldwide English service. The former Voice directors joining in the appeal to reverse the cuts have served at various times during the past half a century under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
If the cuts go through, the Voice also would eliminate all broadcasts in Uzbek, Croatian, Georgian, Cantonese and Thai, and cease radio transmissions while retaining some television in Russian, Ukrainian, Albanian, Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian, and Hindi (to India.) Schedules would be cut, as well, in Tibetan and Portuguese to Africa.
The directors' statement follows:
We former directors of the Voice of America urgently appeal for a reversal by Congress of planned reductions in VOA that could silence the nation's largest publicly-funded overseas broadcast network in much of the world. Taken together, the cuts would seriously jeopardize our national security and public diplomacy. Further, they would deprive millions of people of access to a fully free and open media, a core value of what our nation is all about.
The Bush administration has proposed to eliminate VOA English in every continent except Africa, abolish services in Cantonese, Croatian, Georgian, Greek, Thai and Uzbek, cease radio broadcasts in Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Albanian, Bosnian, Macedonian, and Hindi (to India), and significantly scale back programming in Tibetan and Portuguese to Africa.
In view of:
- decisions by China, Russia, Iran, France and Al Jazeera TV to broadcast around the clock or increase airtime in our own language, English, spoken or understood by at least 1.6 billion people worldwide
- a 23 percent increase in Russia's military budget as Vladimir Putin muzzles his own as well as foreign news and information outlets
- new media restrictions and arrests or jailing of journalists in China, Tibet and Uzbekistan along with just declared martial law and an upsurge of extremist Muslim activity in Thailand
- the volatile situation in the Balkans as Kosovo moves toward independence, and
- VOA's proven cost effectiveness (more than 115 million listeners and viewers a week)
We urgently appeal for an increase of the proposed $178 million VOA budget to $204 million for fiscal year 2008 beginning October 1. This would be mandated to cover programming and transmission of services listed above, 3.9 percent of the entire U.S overseas broadcasting budget. This is a tiny but essential investment. Surveys show anti-American opinion abroad to be at an all-time high. At this critical moment in the post 9/11 era, the United States simply cannot, for its own long term strategic safety and security, unilaterally disarm in the global contest of ideas.
Mary G. F. Bitterman
Robert E. Button
Richard W. Carlson
E. Eugene Pell
R. Peter Straus
Sanford J. Ungar
March 5, 2007