AS East-bloc governments fell during 1989 and 1990, activists in those countries noted how radio news reporting, particularly from services such as Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), provided one of the catalysts for change.
While the cold war is over and some adjustment in US international broadcast efforts are justified, the need for such services hasn't diminished. That is why a recent recommendation from the bipartisan Commission on Public Diplomacy that the United States pull the plug on Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty is misguided.
Indeed, the need for these particular services is as great as ever and is likely to remain so for some time. From Russia and the Baltic states to the breakaway republics that were Yugoslavia, many of those in power continue to tighten their grip on the print and electronic media, stifling independent voices.
Czech President Vaclav Havel has underscored the continuing need for RFE/RL, which he notes provide a more balanced source of news than many of the local outlets.
The US government's shortwave outlet Voice of America (VOA), which focuses on presenting the US to the world, doesn't enjoy that reputation to the same degree that RFE/RL do.
The commission's recommendations are among several aimed at scaling back some of the government's global broadcasting activities and consolidating them under the US Information Agency, which oversees the VOA.
RFE/RL currently are independent of the USIA. That the Commission on Public Diplomacy was established to support USIA activities suggests that its recommendation is based as much on budgets and turf as on questions of whether America's Europe-based foreign-language radio services have outlived their usefulness.
They have not.