Welcoming the end to VOA's Chinese broadcasts

Updated: 2011-02-18 10:51

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Voice of America's announcement that it would pull the plug on its Chinese language radio broadcast in October was a decision made by the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA's parent company, out of budget concerns. However, it is a ruling that has evolved with time despite regrets and protests these days among some in Washington.

Established in 1942 during World War II under the Office of War Information, VOA had its heyday in the Cold War years under the State Department when communication and information flow between the East and West was molasses.

Now that more than 20 years have lapsed since the end of the Cold War, the world is obviously different. China and the United States have not only set up diplomatic ties, their exchanges are overwhelming in almost every aspect, spanning the fields of government, business and academia.

There's also a significant people-to-people relationship. Every day about 7,000 to 8,000 people travel between the two countries, totaling more than 3 million a year. Around 120,000 Chinese students are studying in the US while more than 20,000 American students are studying in China.

The number of Chinese Internet users has exceeded 420 million and that figure is growing fast. In many hotels and foreign language bookstores, Western publications, such as Time, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times, are readily available. Many in China find it cheaper and more efficient to read them online. That has not included many Chinese who watch Western television, such as CNN and BBC, via satellite, legally or illegally. The Chinese news media has also become more sophisticated and diversified.

Despite the fact that there is still much to be desired in China's news media, progress has been phenomenal over the past three decades. At an Asia Society seminar in New York last month, former deputy assistant secretary of state Susan Shirk, Columbia University law professor Benjamin Liebman and Barnard College professor Yang Guobin all talked positively about the new media's role in transforming the Chinese society.

VOA, a product designed for countries with little communication and interaction, no longer makes much sense in this context. The US taxpayers' money could also be better spent, such as sending more American students to China. The same is true with the BBC World Service, which announced it would end several of its foreign language broadcasts, including Chinese.

VOA's bias is obvious. Ironically, the US Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, better known as the Smith-Mundt Act, forbids VOA to broadcast directly to American citizens. The legislation, an attempt to protect the American public from propaganda actions by its own government, speaks much of VOA's credibility.

It also raises the question of why some people believe that information harmful to Americans is going to be good to Chinese or other nationalities, especially in a global village with numerous other instant sources of information.

At a time when misunderstandings and misperceptions between China and the US still abound, what is truly needed between China and the US is a radio or other news outlet that focuses on facilitating understanding between the two nations.

What is also needed is more representation from the developing world, such as China, Brazil, India and the Middle East in a global news media market now dominated by American and European companies.

For VOA and the BBC World Service, time has come for them to sign off on their Chinese language broadcasts.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA. He can be reached at


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