Vol. 10, Issue No. 30/2003
Death Knell Sounding for U.S. International Broadcasting to Baltics
Omnibus Bill Does Not Include Money to Fund Radios
Washington, DC (JBANC) ---- Broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and other countries of the region are expected to cease in the coming weeks. With no funding for the services included in appropriations legislation, it appears almost certain that Baltic language services will close by the end of January. It is reported that RFE/RL is already cutting broadcasts by the first of the year.
Congress is in recess until January 20 without having completed work on the Fiscal Year 2004 Consolidated Appropriations bill (H.R. 2673) which includes the Commerce, Justice, State (CJS) appropriations bill, legislation that funds U.S. international radio broadcasting, including VOA and RFE/RL. A Continuing Resolution funds the government at FY03 levels until January 31.
A House and Senate conference committee met on November 19 to negotiate CJS bill language. Despite Senate support for continuing the broadcasts, House GOP leadership prevailed and no provisions to fund the services were included in the bill. The CJS bill and six other uncompleted bills were subsequently rolled up into the omnibus bill.
Even with many lawmakers criticizing the increasing spending levels and numerous earmarks, the House voted December 8 on the massive $820 billion omnibus package. The Senate is tentatively scheduled to vote on the bill upon its return in January. No further changes to the negotiated bill are foreseen. Once passed by the Senate, the bill is expected to be signed by President Bush.
The affected Central and Eastern Europe broadcasting services would require about $8.9 million to remain at current funding levels. These countries have been among the most ardent supporters of the U.S. military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the war against terror.
The broadcasts will end at a time when the flow of information about the United States to overseas audiences, including Europe, is at a critical stage. Both radios serve important functions. For its part, VOA is a vital channel of information by, from and about the United States. RFE/RL provides concise reporting and analysis about the region, with perspectives that local media outlets often overlook.
JBANC is committed to seeing that the U.S. remains involved and invested in Central and Eastern Europe, and that our public diplomacy, particularly, is present and active there. At the same time, there are concerns about Russian intentions - energy politics and political pressures - in bordering countries, including Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and the Baltics. Results of the recent Duma elections have added fears about Russia straying from democracy.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors, along with the White House Office of Management and Budget zeroed out funding for the radios in the original budget plan for FY 2004. Positive results to restore funding were seen in three of the four subcommittees dealing with the issue. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN), for one, continues to stake time and effort to preserve an effective U.S. public diplomacy component and has been supportive of the effort to keep U.S. broadcasting on the air in Europe. Notable support has also come from Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL).
JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc. and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.
JOINT BALTIC AMERICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE, INC.
Estonian American National Council, Inc.
American Latvian Association, Inc.
Lithuanian American Council, Inc.
400 Hurley Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850
Tel: (301) 340-1954
Fax: (301) 309-1406