H. Schiffman sent this article from EurasiaNet.org

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Fri Sep 14 12:29:22 UTC 2007

H. Schiffman (haroldfs at gmail.com) sent you this story from EurasiaNet.org:

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Article on proposed cuts to Voice of America broadcasts to Central Asia


Eurasia Insight:
Deirdre Tynan:9/07/07

Plans to eliminate the Voice of America’s Uzbek language service are likely to be shelved due to opposition in both houses of the US Congress. 

The House of Representatives and the Senate have recommended “sufficient funding to fully restore the reductions proposed in the fiscal year 2008” and “continuing broadcasting which the administration proposed for language service reduction,” including Uzbek.

In June, the House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs recommended a budget allocation of $194 million to the Voice of America -- $22.5 million more than the station’s 2007 budget and $15.7 million more than the 2008 request from the Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG) who manages VOA and RFE/RL. 

In July, the Senate’s Subcommittee for State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs recommended a budget of $187 million for VOA, some $8.7 million more than the 2008 request from the BBG. 

A joint House-Senate conference will address the existing $7 million discrepancy in the two proposed budgets, and come up with a unified spending bill. According to a spokeswoman for the Senate Committee on Appropriations, “the conference committee should definitely happen before Christmas. We can’t say exactly when, but the sooner the better. Senator [Robert] Byrd, [a West Virginia Democrat and the committee’s chairman], is anxious to get the bill through.”

Letitia King, spokeswoman for VOA, said she was hopeful the conference committee would meet soon. “We’ll keep operating under last year’s budget, but we’d like a decision as quickly as possible. Until then, it’s not a done deal,” she said. 

Tim Shamble, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, a labor union representing workers at VOA, said he is “reasonably confident” Uzbek and other language services will survive, but is less optimistic about budget’s rapid progress. “The fiscal year starts in October, but that deadline is rarely met,” he said. “I don’t think the proposed cuts will go through, but it may well be spring 2008 before we find out for sure.”

This year marked the second occasion in which Uzbek-language radio programs faced elimination on VOA. The 2004 budget also cancelled the Uzbek service, but Congress reinstated the funding. 

Joe O’Connell, spokesman for the BBG, said the proposed cuts were part of a wider effort to adapt to shifting global circumstances, and to target new listeners. “We broadcast into areas where it’s most needed,” he said. “Ten years ago it was about Central and Eastern European languages, today there’s only the Balkan languages and Greek. Other than that, the thrust since 9/11 has been the Islamic world,” he said. Uzbekistan, the most populous country in Central Asia, is predominantly Muslim. It is also a country where radical Islamic groups remain active. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/pp081407.shtml 

O’Connell also suggested that Uzbek-language broadcasting was not cost-effective. In the 2007 budget, VOA had $578,000 allocated for Uzbek-language programming. “In Uzbekistan, 21 percent of the adult population listens to FM daily and 45 percent have access to FM, but re-broadcasting on local FM affiliates is prohibited. Only 10 percent of the country own access to shortwave radio,” he said. “VOA Uzbek radio only reaches 0.1 percent of the adult population.” Even with a cutoff of VOA broadcasts, Uzbeks would still have access to Uzbek-language broadcasts by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, O’Connell added. 

Ted Lipien, a former VOA reporter and head of FreeMediaOnline.org, a San Francisco-based group that advocates for press freedom worldwide, characterized the BBG’s audience research as “very questionable,” arguing that, giving the Uzbek government’s repressive practices, “people are afraid to admit they are listening.”“Uzbekistan is a critical country in that part of the world. A Muslim country that has problems with Islamic fundamentalists shouldn’t be omitted from US international broadcasts, it’s wrong to do that,” Lipien maintained. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav011707a.shtml 

“VOA should instead be committing to long-term broadcasting into Uzbekistan,” he continued. “This is a country that clearly has problems with free media, not to mention other political freedoms.” 

Lipien, who was instrumental in distributing VOA programs across Central Europe and the Soviet Union in the 1990s as director of the International Broadcasting Bureau Regional Eurasia Marketing and Program Placement Office, added; “The BBG is a bi-partisan board, but sometimes, members of the board, both Democrat and Republican, have pre-conceived ideas about what programs are important. ... Decisions are made at the BBG based on political expediencies and personal preferences, rather than [taking a] long-term view. I’m glad that Congress has seen the cuts as a mistake.” 

Editor’s Note: Deidre Tynan is a freelance journalist based in Central Asia.	


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