Despite growing protests, the US government’s Voice of America (VOA) broadcasting system is determined to go ahead with budget cutting plans and cancel shortwave radio broadcasts into China.
“This is another alarming sign that America is cowering before China’s gangster regime,” Representative Dana Rohrabacher said.
“The Chinese people are our greatest allies and the free flow of information is our greatest weapon,” said Rohrabacher, a Republican and member of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee.
To save about US$8 million, VOA is firing 45 of its 69 Chinese-speaking journalists and as of October next year will stop all of its radio and TV programs aimed at China. Instead, it will expand Internet and other digital media efforts — especially mobile-phone operations — to get uncensored news into China.
Sources say that there is enormous opposition to the plan within VOA and the conservative Washington Times has quoted an unnamed US government official as saying that in Tibet and Xinjiang, “shortwave is a lifeline to those who are cut off from all but the official media.”
“Those who are limited to shortwave still represent millions of highly motivated information seekers,” the official said.
“Beijing puts millions of dollars into jamming shortwave signals to keep out stories about a dissident talking about nonviolent dissent, the Dalai Lama discussing the real situation in Tibet or growing protests throughout China by those who have been displaced by government malfeasance,” he said.
At the same time, China is greatly expanding its own propaganda broadcasting service, especially programming aimed at North America.
Other sources have told the Taipei Times the Chinese government lobby in Washington had been working hard to persuade the administration of US President Barack Obama that VOA broadcasts amount to “an unfriendly gesture.”
“The decision by VOA to end its broadcasts into China is a major victory in the propaganda war for Beijing,” a senior congressional staff member said.
However, although many members of Congress were opposed to the move, it was not considered greatly significant when considered within the whole of Obama’s new budget package, the staffer said.
“There are too many other major priorities to deal with and I’m afraid the VOA’s China decision will just slip through,” he said.
In comments to the Washington Times published on Tuesday, John Tkacik, a former US State Department official and China specialist, said the decision to stop shortwave broadcasts was “ironic” because they “are much more difficult [and labor intensive] to jam than VOA’s digital, social media and satellite broadcasts.”
“The Egypt demonstrations were organized via text messaging and Facebook, but those media are very tightly monitored and censored in China,” Tkacik told the paper. “So, I’m not sure it makes much sense for VOA to divert all its efforts into social and digital media.”
In unpublished comments obtained by the Taipei Times, Tkacik said ending VOA’s Mandarin broadcasts would represent a major victory for Beijing in what he called “the global propaganda wars.”
“Chinese communist media have completely unfettered access to US audiences and Beijing is now building up its US programming, both via cable TV channels as well as via its so-called ‘Confucius Institutes,’” he said. “The Broadcasting Board of Governors [BBG] is cutting American programming to the world’s biggest potential audience … [and] Taiwan has curtailed its free broadcasts into China to avoid antagonizing the Chinese.
The BBG is responsible for all US government or government-sponsored, non-military international broadcasting.
“I’m not sure there is any other news source available in China that the Chinese government cannot manipulate absolutely,” Tkacik said.
He said the VOA Chinese Service served as an effective instrument for China’s policymaking elite to gather open source intelligence on US issues — an important role that he said US policymakers didn’t seem to fully appreciate.
“You can use VOA as a direct line to China’s foreign and military policy elites — not so much to change their minds, but to get your message across at a very high level to policy-level bureaucrats,” he said.