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/24-7PressRelease/ - SAN FRANCISCO, CA - August 19, 2008 - FreeMediaOnline.org, a media freedom NGO, has called for saving the Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to Georgia from cuts by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and for immediate restoration of VOA Russian broadcast to preserve the ability of Americans to communicate with Russians in times of crisis and during peacetime.
Since Russia invaded Georgia earlier this month, four (4) Voice of America Georgian broadcasters in Washington, D.C. have fought exhaustion to keep programming on the air. With VOA Russian radio programs already shut down as a result of cuts ordered by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, they are the only broadcasters left in the Voice of America to respond to the Russian attack on Georgia with on air radio broadcasts to the war zone.
The ranks are thin because, for several years now, a small group of political appointees, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, has been diverting funding for broadcasts to countries like Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Tibet to their own pet programs. They include plans to hire a media celebrity for a new BBG public relations operation (presumably to explain the BBG's termination of VOA Russian radio broadcasts shortly before Russia's military attack on Georgia) and funding for scandal-ridden Alhurra television broadcasts to the Middle East. The BBG is a bipartisan entity charged with overseeing U.S. taxpayer-funded international broadcasts. As such, it controls the allocation of resources between U.S. taxpayer-funded broadcasting services, as well as requests for funding amounts.
A few days before the Russian invasion, the Board quietly ordered the elimination of all Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia despite a warning from the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senator Patrick Leahy to continue "broadcasting in languages which the Administration proposed to eliminate in FY09, such as Russian, Kazak, Uzbek, Tibetan and the to the Balkans, where freedom of speech remains restricted and broadcasting is still necessary."
FreeMediaOnline.org has warned the BBG against destoying the U.S.-based Voice of America on air Russian broadcasts and placing all U.S.-funded radio to Russia with the Prague and Moscow-based semi-private Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). RFE/RL managers and reporters working and living in Russia as Russian citizens are open to intimidation and recruitment by Mr. Putin's secret police. Knowing Mr. Putin's record of silencing independent media in Russia, sabotaging of Internet sites, and using the KGB's successor agency (Mr. Putin's old employer) to intimidate and shut down TV and radio stations, the BBG actions harm media freedom and pose a serious risk to U.S. national security.
Many BBG meetings are closed to the public, but FreeMediaOnline.org sources say that a majority of the board continues to favor cutting broadcasts to media-at-risk countries, including Georgia and Russia. VOA journalists who wanted to resume Russia radio broadcasts after Russia invaded Georgia were told that the BBG considers their plea "a non-starter."
The current BBG members are: Joaquin Balaya, chairman of Balaya Media Inc.; Jeff Hirschberg, a partner of in Kalorama Partners, a consulting firm that deals with corporate governance and risk assessment, also identified on the BBG website as being a director of U.S.-Russia Business Council; Edward E. Kaufman, president of Public Strategies, a political and management consulting firm based in Wilmington, Delaware; and Steven J. Simmons, chairman and CEO of Patriot Media and Communications, LLC. A fifth member, Blanquita Cullum, a radio broadcaster, opposed the reductions, according to FreeMediaOnline.org sources. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice serves as an ex officio member. Three seats on the board currently are empty, after the recent departure of former Board Chairman James K. Glassman. Glassman, who reportedly also supported the cuts, is now the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
FreeMediaOnline.org is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization supporting media freedom worldwide with free news and resources for independent journalists.
For further information, please contact us at 1-415-793-1642 and visit our website: www.freeemediaonline.org. Please e-mail, write or call your members of Congress and ask them to stop the Broadcasting Board of Governors from shutting down the Voice of America Georgian Service and to restore VOA broadcasts to Russia.
To support this campaign and our other actions on behalf of media freedom worldwide, please send your tax-exempt contributions to: FreeMediaOnline.org, 2247 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117.
ALL AMERICANS SHOULD BE CONCERNED THAT THEIR RESOURCES TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE IN TIMES OF CRISIS HAVE BEEN PLACED WITHIN CLOSE REACH OF MR. PUTIN'S SECRET POLICE
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