America is jamming itself
By Laszlo Dosa
Global Beat Syndicate
JUPITER, Fla.—In the early months of WWII, on February 24, 1942, a new radio station went on the air in New York City. Using transmitters borrowed from the BBC, the station began its first shortwave international broadcast in German, saying, “Here speaks a voice from America. Everyday at this time we will bring you the news of the war. The news may be good. The news may be bad. We shall tell you the truth.”
Over the ensuing 63 years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Voice of America became the most respected and trusted source of news from the United States to the rest of the world. For years, its credibility and listening audiences matched or exceeded those of the BBC in many regions. Despite occasional pressure from one administration or another, VOA’s journalists and editors have lived up to the Charter that protects the organization, providing comprehensive, “balanced, reliable and accurate news” in more than 40 languages, reporting “warts and all” on national and world news from Washington headquarters and from as many as 30 correspondents at home and abroad.
VOA proved its mettle in the 1970s when, defying pressure from the Nixon White House, it reported to the world the sad story of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Those “warts” were more than balanced by news of our exploration of the solar system and moon expeditions.
It was Ronald Reagan, the “Great Communicator,” who began muzzling VOA. He installed Charles Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency, VOA’s administrative supernumerary, to direct all U.S. international communication programs. A Hollywood friend of Reagan’s best known for producing “Snow White and the Three Stooges,” Wick moved to replace many in top management with de facto political appointees. I was Science Editor then, and vividly recall being told not to talk about AIDS because “it affected only unsavory people.”
Criticism of “Star Wars,” Reagan’s anti-missile defense plan, was also frowned upon.
Two decades later, the Reagan era seems like a golden age compared to what the Bush administration has done to destroy VOA. Mr. Bush and his team have eliminated news broadcasts to Central and Eastern Europe, greatly reduced the round-the-clock global English language programming, replaced the Arabic news broadcasts with popular music programs and—one addition—insists on broadcasting television programs to Cuba that nobody can receive.
The latest bombshell came two months ago, when Director David Jackson announced that VOA’s overnight central news operations would be outsourced to Hong Kong, now part of the People’s Republic of China. He wants to transfer eight news writing positions, manned by U.S. and Australian expatriates and English-speaking Chinese citizens, supervised by an editor in Washington. Ignored is the fact that Beijing could pull the switch whenever it chooses, knocking VOA off the air.
The proposal has enraged VOA’s news professionals. Current staff members are understandably afraid to speak out.
Ted Iliff, now in charge of VOA news operations, dismissed any complaints coming from “a core of VOA diaspora” as based on ignorance. Shane Harris, reporting in GovExec.com, says, Iliff didn’t know what the reaction of Beijing would be to the increased VOA presence” in Hong Kong. (China regularly jams VOA broadcasts and Internet traffic.) Iliff said he “presumed that the Chinese would learn about VOA’s new plans through the news media.”
The Washington Post quotes an unnamed VOA journalist wondering what will be written by outsourced staffers in Hong Kong if the Chinese invade Taiwan. Will the story say, “One million brave Chinese volunteers, responding to desperate pleas for help from their cousins in Taipei, crossed the Taiwan Strait this morning”?
A fellow member of the “VOA diaspora” said, “Nothing will erase that image that part of VOA’s news broadcasts are coming from China. What will be the reaction now? Raised elbows and snickers? I feel sick.”
Alan Heil, former deputy director and VOA historian, says, “The two major U.S. government-funded overseas networks most credited with providing hope and intellectual reinforcement to the Walesas, Mandelas, and Havels of the past century [VOA and Radio Free Europe] are now being systematically muted at precisely the wrong time.”
America is jamming itself. This must be stopped if we are to support and enhance urgently needed reforms and budding democracy movements in the Muslim world today.