Other Matters: Obama And The VOA

Murray Fromson has issued the first plea I’ve seen from a heavyweight journalist to president-elect Obama for a rescue of the Voice of America. Rifftides has often written about that 

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broadcast agency’s central role in cultural diplomacy during the Cold War, particularly about the vital part Willis Conover played. I have deplored the Bush administration’s attempts to dismantle the VOA at a time when the United States needs friends around the world. Here are two excerpts from Fromson’s column today on the Huffington Post web site.

Barack Obama has the capacity to overcome the recent image of a global bully by restoring America’s reputation as a peace-loving, progressive nation. But he faces far greater priorities during his first weeks and months in office as president than say the future of the Voice of America. An entire generation may well be perplexed by just what the VOA means. But the international buzz caused by President-elect Obama earlier in the month offers him an opportunity to revive what had been a valuable American resource for so many years. In short, the reputation of the Voice needs to be revived and treasured — not squandered as it has been by the Bush Administration the past eight years.

It was the regularly scheduled broadcasts of Willis Conover, the music maestro who spread the love of American jazz around the world. During the worst of times in the Soviet Union I remember Russian musicians taping Conover’s daily programs and then transcribing the music to sheet music for jam sessions of their own. There also were often countless days when Soviet Jews and other political dissidents who had heard VOA programming, would thank me for telling their stories to the outside world in my CBS News radio broadcasts from Moscow that were repeated by the Voice of America.

To read all of Fromson’s column, go here. For two of the many previous Rifftides postings about the VOA and Conover, go here, here and here. To be repetitive in an area in which repetition is needed, allow me to suggest that if you’re a US citizen, you send to your senators and congressman a letter or message something like this one, which I sent nearly two years ago:

I urge you to fight the Bush administration’s budget cuts that would result in the Voice of America stopping or reducing English Language news broadcasts. At a time when the US image around the world is soiled, we need continuation of the objective shortwave news programs whose very existence has informed millions about our nation, not to mention helping them learn English so that they might better understand what The United States of America stands for. This proposed budget cut would effectively disable one of the few official cultural exchange vehicles left to us. Please discuss this with your Senate and House colleagues and do all that you can to preserve the VOA.

The influential Public Diplomacy Council, a coalition of foreign policy specialists including diplomats and academics, has joined the chorus urging the new administration and the Congress to move quickly to resuscitate the VOA. For a report, click here.

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Comments

  1. John Birchard says

    As a retired newscaster from the Voice of America – and occasional contributor to Rifftides – I want to thank you for continuing to focus attention on the plight of VOA. I agree that readers should write their congresspeople.
    But I also must tell you this: I wrote some months ago to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), urging her to try to head off the further dismantling of the Voice. Her response? “Thank you for joining me in support of English lessons for immigrants.”! No mention of VOA.
    That’s the unfortunate state of affairs on The Hill. But don’t let that deter you from pursuing the lawmakers. Remember – quitters never win.

  2. Marie ciliberti says

    Somewhere, someone, somehow will realize the vast impact of the Voice of America. There’s no one in Congress with the fire in the belly to restore VOA to its lofty perch in the international broadcasting sphere. And the Broadcasting Board of Governors the TERMINATORS of VOA broadcasts, has relegated jazz to a seat in the back of the bus preferring to hoist Britney Spears and a host of other “talents” on the world as our contribution to arts diplomacy.
    Willis Conover did not broadcast propaganda. He didn’t have to. The music said it all about America’s inventiveness, humor, curiosity and yes, freedom and liberty, overused words maybe but nonetheless powerful ones. It was a privilege to have worked with him and have been his friend for 30+ years.
    Thank you RIFFTIDES for keeping the memory of Willis and JAZZ USA alive and on the radar screen.
    And wouldn’t it be great if we could get a commemorative stamp in honor of Willis, one for overseas postage since he was known all over the world, but unfortunately, not here.