Sending Cross-Border Static: On the Fate of Radio Free Europe and the Influence of International Broadcasting

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This interview was conducted amidst a national debate over the role of the U.S. government's overseas broadcasting services, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America (VOA). Noting the absence of the Cold War environment in which the Radios were originally developed, opponents of the services argued that they were no longer necessary, particularly in Europe.

The discussion became especially acute in Spring 1993 after the February release of a Clinton administration proposal to cut $644 million in broadcasting services from the federal budget. This step -- in line with an overall effort to streamline the budget -- would have included phasing out RFE/RL, as well as cutting the potential Radio Free Asia Service, which the Clinton administration previously had supported. Furthermore, the debate was not only about the existence of the Radios, but also about who should control them, as RFE/RL was financed through the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB), and VOA received its funding through the United States Information Agency (USIA).

BIB was created in 1973 to finance RFE/RL Inc., which is privately incorporated. Until that time, those radio stations had received funding from the CIA. After 1973, they received their funds from BIB, to which Congress appropriates money on an annual basis.

In June, President Clinton unveiled a compromise, in which he proposed to continue the "home-service" broadcasting of RFE/RL, VOA and Radio Marti[broadcast to Cuba], but to implement some changes in their structures and budgets. According to the plan, BIB would be abolished, and a new independent, bipartisan Board of Governors would oversee all U.S. international radio broadcasting. Members would be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. The board would be part of the USIA, and would oversee VOA, RFE/RL, Radio Marti and the proposed Radio Free Asia service.

Further, Congress would appropriate funds for each radio-broadcasting program separately. The board members, however, would set the policy and control the budgets of the services. Engineering and technical functions would be consolidated under VOA, but the programming of each of the services would remain separate and distinct. Phasing out several language services from both VOA and RFE/RL is also part of the plan. The compromise, which is pending congressional approval, is designed to achieve savings of more than $250 million over the next four years.

On 7 April 1993, the Journal of International Affairs conducted an interview with Malcom S. Forbes, Jr. It focused chiefly on his eight-year tenure as chairman of the Board of International Broadcasting in the context of this debate. Forbes was appointed to this position in 1985 by former President Ronald Reagan and reappointed to the post in 1990 by former President George Bush. With the entrance of the Clinton administration, Daniel Mica, former Democratic congressman from Florida, was appointed the chairman of BIB in April 1993.

Journal: The rise in new technology has changed the face of the media industry. Information is accessed with more ease and in greater quantities than ever before. How has this new technology affected the way in which the mainstream media disseminate information to the public?

Forbes: People have more sources of hard news. Organizations from Bloomberg [Business News] to CNN are providing information instantly and electronically. The growth of these services is causing newspapers and magazines to ask themselves: "What do we cover? We can't just report events, because everyone already has that information." Journalists have to take it one step further, do what any business does and figure out what the value-added is.

That's why newspapers such as the New York Times no longer just report the news. They assume people already know it. That's why they're running more stories on social trends and more news analyses on the front page. …