Silence of America

WASHINGTON, DC -- For decades, the Voice of America and its sister broadcasting organizations offered a remarkably balanced alternative to state-controlled media all over the world, buoying dissident movements and undermining anti-American dictatorships for a relatively small investment.

Voice of America radio studio

Soviet citizens even learned how to reconfigure their radios to break through the jamming signals their government used to interrupt VOA and British Broadcasting Corp. programming.

Now, with Russian President Vladimir Putin bullying his neighbors, manipulating the Russian media and throwing increasingly audacious anti-American tantrums, one would think U.S. policymakers would have the sense at least to maintain relatively modest VOA operations in and around the Russian Federation.

Yet President Bush's recently released 2008 budget proposal does just the opposite, cutting VOA programming for a range of post-Soviet states to finance programming expansion in other areas of the world.

The White House's proposed reprioritization of VOA broadcasting moves money out of operations aimed at the large and largely Muslim country of Uzbekistan.

Broadcasting into neighboring Kazakhstan is also being cut.

The citizens of both countries live under illiberal regimes, and Uzbekistan's brutal dictatorship is of the sort that incubates religious fundamentalism and anti-Americanism.

Voice of America's half-hour of radio and half-hour of television programming in Uzbek, says a VOA staff member, provide about the only direct contact Uzbeks have with the United States and the only unvarnished news in the region.

Meanwhile, the highly controlled Russian media beam their often misleading programming in with ease.

Mr. Bush's budget also proposes reductions in Ukrainian-language VOA programming to serve a country struggling to Westernize in the shadow of Mr. Putin's increasingly lawless regime.

Mr. Bush should be eager to encourage democratic forces in Ukraine, as well as in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, not further limit their sources of information about the United States.

The price of such programs is so low that federal financial constraints are hardly an excuse to kill them; a relatively tiny increase in the VOA's budget would make a world of difference.

Source: Washington Post

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