Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Termination is proposed of key VOA broadcast services

The entity that governs America's global broadcasting operations is proposing to do away with much of its English-language programming and to axe broadcasts in languages spoken in parts of the world vital to US interests.

The proposal comes in the form of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) budget request for Fiscal Year 2007, and a notice that the board sent to offices throughout its jurisdiction.

The cuts are a combination of smart realignment to stay abreast of technology developments and global listener/viewer/user trends, and further cannibalization of US broadcasting capabilities to stretch resources for enhanced programming in priority areas. The board has drastically curtailed or canceled entire broadcasts in several languages rather than ask the public and Congress for the resources it really needs, and it plans to do so again in FY 2007.

The board proposes to eliminate VOA's 24-hour "News Now" program in English, and all radio programming in Bosnian, Croatian, Georgian, Greek, Hindi, Russian, Serbian, Turkish and Thai.

The board envisions keeping some non-English-language broadcasts on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (which are not "Voice of America" but gray propaganda with news about the countries where each language is spoken), and/or making TV the main medium for the US to reach people who speak those languages.

FourthWorldWar.com publishes the text of the notice below.

Message from the Board of Governors on the Budget Request for FY 2007

Today, the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2007 has been sent to the Congress. In light of all of the press reports about the tight budget environment, you are all aware of the pressures on the discretionary budget and the post-Katrina and Iraq conflict requirements that have helped to shape it.

In spite of this difficult budget environment, the Administration’s FY ’07 request contains a 4.3 percent increase for the BBG – and a 5.3 percent increase for the Voice of America. This increase specifically recognizes the importance of VOA’s broadcasting to Iran and Afghanistan as well as the role television increasingly plays in what we do.

In a clear vote of confidence in the role of VOA’s satellite television in the war on terror, the President’s budget provides close to $10 million to upgrade VOA’s television production facilities. The budget funds FY ’06 expansion of VOA television to Iran – where Persian television news programming is being increased from 30 minutes to four hours – and radio and television expansions in Afghanistan. The FY ’07 budget continues radio broadcasting to Zimbabwe (previously funded by USAID) and adds a Spanish television news magazine show that would air five days a week.

To fund these and other war-on-terror related enhancements, we will be facing significant reductions in other areas. With increased emphasis on television and the continued drop in shortwave radio listening worldwide, we foresee a significant reduction in transmission operations devoted to shortwave broadcasting. The budget projects elimination of News Now English radio broadcasting in FY ’07, but Special English and English to Africa will not be affected by the cuts, and VOA’s popular Internet site will become the major English outlet for our worldwide news-gathering operation.

Other proposed program reductions include the elimination of VOA
Croatian, Turkish, Thai, and Greek. VOA Georgian and VOA and RFE/RL radio broadcasts in Macedonian would also be eliminated. VOA would continue to broadcast in Macedonian via television, and RFE/RL would maintain its radio broadcasts in Georgian. This budget request also proposes that VOA pursue a television-only strategy in its Albanian, Bosnian, Serbian, Russian and Hindi services. RFE/RL would continue to serve radio audiences in Albanian, Bosnian, Serbian and Russian.

However, RFE/RL would eliminate six hours of its Russian radio
broadcasts as it realigns to pursue an UKV (FM) broadcast strategy in Russia. None of the VOA reductions would take place until fiscal year 2007.

The proposed language service reductions are not a reflection of the quality of the programming of these services. In many cases, these programs are better than ever. And not all of the proposed budget cuts would come at the expense of the language services. More than half of the budget reductions assumed in the FY ’07 request result from reductions in IBB support and engineering. This budget is about positioning our international broadcasting effort for the future. In order to set VOA and other BBG services on a path for growth and enhanced impact, we must respond to changing viewing habits, adopt new technology, and efficiently respond to the nation’s most immediate and vital national security challenges.

The Administration’s FY ’07 request for $671.9 million for the BBG will fund technological innovation as well as highly visible programs in support of the war on terror, and it continues to cement international broadcasting’s key role in the overall U.S. foreign policy effort. These are programs where VOA’s successful implementation will be highly anticipated and, as it has in the past, we are confident that VOA will succeed.

We know that this budget will also bring hardship to the agency. It assumes a loss of positions in parts of the agency, and gains in others, in 2007. To address some of the hardship of realignment, we will try to implement personnel reductions by voluntary means as much as possible.

We are seeking buyout authority and early out authority to try to soften the impact on affected employees. We would like to stress, however, that there will not be any elimination of VOA positions associated with this budget until fiscal year 2007.

As you know, the submission of the President’s budget request to the Congress is just the beginning of this process of charting the agency’s course for FY ’07. Of course, none of the proposed reductions may be implemented until the agency’s final budget is fully vetted by the Congress and signed into law. Until that time, agency management will do its best to keep you informed of our progress in gaining personnel authorities necessary to help moderate the potential impact of the proposed budget reductions inherent in the budget request.


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