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Opinion

Why Voice of America is losing to voice of communist China – at home and abroad

With funding and program cuts, Washington is crippling the truth-telling Voice of America broadcasts in China. Meanwhile, Beijing is aggressively expanding its media campaign to spread untruths – broadcasting from American soil. America can't afford to let the VOA go silent.

By Joseph A. Bosco / April 27, 2012

Master of ceremonies for the Voice of America's Tibetan language service Tenzin Lhundup, left, and Tseten Cho Don broadcast in the Tibetan language in the VOA studios in Washington, March 22, 2001. Op-ed contributor Joseph Bosco says: 'It is mystifying that America would divert resources from the one communications medium that the Communist Party cannot completely or permanently block.'

Joe Marquette/AP/file

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Washington

In the war of ideas between freedom and authoritarianism, the Voice of America (VOA) broadcast program is losing to the voice of communist China – not because Beijing’s message is better but because its strategic vision and will to win surpass Washington’s.

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The United States government is unilaterally disarming (through funding and personnel cuts) much of its program of speaking truth to the Chinese people. Meanwhile, the People’s Republic is aggressively expanding its campaign to spread untruths, especially about Western anti-China “plots.” Worse, China’s misinformation now openly targets the American people, as well – and does it from American soil.

Yet the Broadcast Board of Governors, which manages and oversees all US civilian international broadcasting, proposes cutting parts of its radio transmissions to China and Tibet as well as Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. The board plans to eliminate dozens of personnel directly or indirectly involved in local language broadcasts to those countries even as it adds scores of administrative positions despite budget constraints.

The board of governors proposed drastic reductions in its Mandarin radio broadcasts until Congress ordered a halt. It is now reviewing its plans for total elimination of the Cantonese program reaching China’s most dynamic and democratic-leaning population. The rationale was that “audiences...prefer digital and social media.”

By contrast, Beijing recognizes the continuing importance of radio and television to tens of millions of Chinese. The government-controlled China Central Television has just opened a new state-of-the-art broadcast bureau in Washington, D.C. as part of a major overseas expansion aimed at boosting China’s international influence.

CCTV America is now producing news programs in English for an American audience – again, notwithstanding the even greater role of digital and social media in the United States. At the same time, CCTV transmits back to China – on radio and television – Beijing’s official version of news and information from the United States.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency is also expanding its overseas television operations. Known as CNC, the station broadcasts Chinese and English-language channels to almost 60 countries in the West and Asia.

Leaving no communications stone unturned, Beijing is not reluctant to utilize supposedly old-fashioned newsprint as well. It publishes the newspaper China Daily USA and distributes it free in America’s cities. It also produces attractive inserts for leading American newspapers such as The Washington Post.

The Associated Press in Beijing reports that “[t]he expansion aims to counter negative images of China, especially over issues such as human rights, one-party communist rule, and Beijing’s policies in the restive western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.”

China effectively employs an audacious two-track media strategy, applying soft power abroad and hard power at home. It extends its strategic communications outreach to the outside world, while tightening its grip over speech and expression within China.

It aims to prevent the Arab Spring from inspiring another Beijing Spring – the last was crushed in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The regime’s fear of its own people reached the point of totalitarian absurdity in May 2011 when whiffs of a “Jasmine Revolution” led it to ban not only public references to the term but even sale of the flower itself.

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