- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

The Voice of America will end its foreign-language service to 10 Eastern European countries under its 2004 budget, officials said this week.
The U.S. government-run service will shut down its services in Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovene, Slovak and Romanian, the officials said. There will also be substantial cuts in its Ukrainian and Armenian services.
According to VOA management, the changes are motivated by strategic rather than economic reasons. VOA's budget for 2004 was increased by 9.5 percent to $563.5 million.
But VOA wants to use the increased funding to develop programming aimed at the Middle East and Southeast Asia. A total of $30 million will be used to initiate the Middle East Television Network, a new satellite service in Arabic. Indonesian programming will be doubled to five hours a week.
"Our world is changing," said VOA Director David Jackson in a telephone interview. "Ever since VOA was created 62 years ago our countries have changed as the geopolitical situation has changed."
Some analysts agree it's time for VOA to rethink its strategy. Simon Serfaty, director of European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he was sympathetic to the decision to reduce the European division.
"In the conditions of scarce resources, Europe doesn't hold that kind of priority for pursuing such activity as other parts of the world," he said.
VOA, supervised by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), beams about 1,000 hours of news, information, and educational and cultural programs every week to an audience of about 94 million people worldwide in more than 50 languages, according to the VOA Web site.
"We operate much like the private media journalistically," Mr. Jackson said. "However, part of our mission is to report on the U.S. government and its policies."
The BBG also oversees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Sawa and Radio Farda in Arabic, Radio Free Asia , Radio and TV Marti, and Worldnet Television.
RFE/RL, which was created to broadcast local news in countries where free speech is suppressed, will also drop services in six languages: Bulgarian, Croatian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Slovak. Operational costs of Armenian, Georgian, Serbian and Ukrainian services will be reduced as well.
In a statement to VOA staff this week, BBG Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson said the victory in the Cold War was a direct result of VOA broadcasts to Eastern and Central Europe.
He said that "the goal these services struggled and sacrificed for has been achieved, and they should take great pride in the role they played in this historic mission."
Mr. Jackson said the broadcast service is doing its best to help workers find new jobs. However, according to union leaders, many VOA employees believe the European services are still needed.

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