Ted Lipien’s April 1 piece on the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) efforts to realign U.S. international broadcasting in China neglects the available facts (“Don’t silence Voice of America radio to China,” Commentary).
Independent research demonstrates a dramatic drop-off in shortwave listening in China, not just to American broadcasters but to all international broadcasters, including the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio France International. To date, no one, including Mr. Lipien, has produced research that contradicts these findings.
The Chinese government has jammed shortwave radio broadcasts for many years, and shortwave listening is in dramatic decline while TV, Internet and mobile use are all increasing. Meanwhile, the Internet is censored but not completely blocked. VOA Mandarin-language streams had 432,000 views in January 2011. Its English websites and media content are not blocked by the Chinese government.
The correct approach to China is not an either-or strategy, but one that concentrates VOA’s resources to reach a larger audience on the Internet and mobile devices while hedging our bets with strengthened shortwave broadcasts by America’s other broadcaster to China, Radio Free Asia (RFA).
But Mr. Lipien insists that RFA shortwave broadcasts “are far less known, less popular than VOA programs and more successfully jammed by the regime.” Presumably Mr. Lipien knows all of this on the basis of the audience research he dismisses because it doesn’t aid his argument.
The BBG believes that RFA is one of America’s most effective and dynamic networks. As part of this realignment, the BBG will bolster RFA with the best available frequencies and times for broadcasting in Mandarin. RFA produces hard-hitting news and analysis about China and the world, which may be why the Chinese find it particularly bothersome. Regular citations of RFA’s breaking news by the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and many others are clear indicators that RFA is a news leader in China.
The BBG’s new strategy increases America’s competitive advantages while maintaining its legacy capabilities within a tight budget environment. This presents the Chinese with a tougher, not an easier challenge. In contrast, Chinese authorities no doubt find comfort in Mr. Lipien’s strategy, which is to keep pouring scarce resources into broadcasts that have virtually no audience.
S. ENDERS WIMBUSH
Strategy and Budget Committee
Broadcasting Board of Governors