Kudos to the House Appropriations Committee for protecting U.S. international broadcasting against the eviscerating cuts in language services and personnel contained in the President’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget. If the budget passes—a big “if,” of course—it could reverse a direction that can only be described as self-defeating for American foreign policy and public diplomacy.
In its newly released draft of the FY 2013 budget, the House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee gave the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) about $26.98 million more than it asked for. In the Operations account, BBG asked for $711.56 million and got $740.10 million. In the Improvement account, BBG asked for $8.59 million and got $7.03 million.
The proposed cuts extend across Voice of America’s (VOA) language services:
- 70-plus positions from broadcasting in English and the English newsroom, which will result in the elimination of Worldwide English, turning it into an Internet and social media feed.
- Total elimination of the Cantonese service, which takes the VOA out of the political and information arena in big chunk of China. This is at a savings of only $965,000.
- Cuts of 10 positions in Dari and Pashto, the primary languages in Afghanistan.
- Cuts of a major part of the Tibetan service, which will signal to the Chinese that the U.S. has effectively abandoned Tibet.
- Cuts in Turkish, which at this point is operating only on the Internet.
- Cuts in Georgian, a major buffer region and a country that Russia invaded in 2008. This is also at this time an Internet-only operation.
- Cuts in Azeri, which at this point is Internet-only.
- Major cuts in Spanish, affecting both the Latin Service of VOA and Radio Marti, which is likewise owned by the U.S. government but is located in Miami, broadcasting to Cuba and federally funded. This comes at a time when Iran is extending its broadcasting throughout the region.
- Cuts in the Bangladeshi service, part of a region that remains highly volatile.
VOA Director David Ensor now has the opportunity to revisit the issue of the targeted language services. As a veteran journalist, formerly with CNN, Ensor knows the importance of protecting VOA’s most important assets, its seasoned reporting and editing staff. The Broadcasting Board of Governors must allow him to do so.