“There’s a lot of anger,” said an employee at the Voice of America (VOA) Chinese service who, like dozens of others, could find herself out of a job if plans by the US government to drastically cut its funding proceed as planned.
Under a proposed restructuring plan, the US Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) budget submission for the VOA Mandarin service for the next fiscal year would include a US$8 million cut, which would be achieved in large part by eliminating traditional radio and TV broadcasting and shifting to a Web-only platform utilizing new media technologies.
In addition, VOA’s Cantonese service would be eliminated altogether, with Radio Free Asia continuing broadcasts in the language.
The budget, which has been submitted to US Congress, has yet to be approved. If the cost-saving measures are approved, the VOA Chinese service would go off the air on Oct. 1 — which would coincide with National Day in the People’s Republic of China.
As the US Congress debates the matter, angered employees at the VOA Chinese service have launched a petition drive and plan to send letters to Congress, as part of efforts that are being replicated by a number of individuals and groups — including a prominent US-based human rights organization — that oppose the service’s likely fate.
However, even prior to the announcement morale at the service had long been suffering, sources at VOA told the Taipei Times in an interview on Thursday night, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of their positions.
In recent years, one source said, not only did employees at VOA Chinese service work terrible shifts, but occasionally they would be reprimanded for failing to provide what management called “balanced” reporting on China.
One instance involved the invitation of World Uyghur Congress leader Rebeiya Kadeer for a show, which resulted in the show’s host being slapped on the wrist afterward for failing to invite a Chinese official to provide the other side of the story.
“The Chinese propaganda is already available for all to listen to,” the source said, adding that VOA did not need to serve as a platform for the views of the Chinese Communist Party and in many cases VOA served as one of the few means for minorities to voice their message out.
The source also said it was highly unlikely that Chinese officials invited to participate on a VOA show would have agreed to do so.
Eventually, employees discovered that the pressure from management, which on certain occasions resulted in self-censorship, was the direct result of a sustained campaign of complaints from Chinese diplomats.
“[Yielding to their pressure, and now shutting us down] sends the wrong strategic message to Beijing,” a source said, adding that regardless of whether Congress passed the budget cuts or not, “this should serve as a warning to management at VOA not to give up on human rights in China.”
Earlier this week, VOA Chinese service staff held a meeting with their editorial staff to discuss future content and were scheduled to sit down with human resources yesterday morning.
Although efforts are being made to transfer some employee who would be affected by the restructuring to different positions, it remains unknown how many would find themselves unemployed.
As many as 45 Chinese-language broadcasters could eventually lose their jobs.
VOA staff are barred from protesting or engaging in letter campaigns during work hours.
Amid the great uncertainty surrounding the future of the service, one young Taiwanese reporter at VOA Mandarin spoke his mind and told management how he regarded the situation.
“So do you just want me to apply for a job at Xinhua?” — the state-owned Chinese news service, which has now gone global — a source quoted him as saying earlier this week.
The BBG budget document opens with a quote from an address given by US President Barack Obama at the Oval Office on May 17 last year, which reads: “All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face; who are the frontlines against tyranny and oppression.”
In its Freedom of the Press 2010 global ranking, US-based Freedom House placed China 181st out of 192 countries.
The BBG is responsible for all US government or government-sponsored, non-military international broadcasting.
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