Friday, March 21, 2008

Broadcasting to Tibet

Surrogate broadcasting played a very important role in winning the war of ideas during the Cold War. And while surrogate broadcasting by itself is not enough to win today's war of ideas, it certainly is an important tool. The protests and activism by Tibetans in China show how surrogate broadcasting can still be very important and useful and it's good to see the VOA and RFA adapting to the opportunity:

U.S. international radio broadcasts to Tibet will increase by four hours daily beginning tonight at 6:00 p.m. EDT, 6:00 a.m. local time in Lhasa.

"The violent crackdown by Chinese authorities in Tibet compels us to increase our broadcasts," said James K. Glassman, Chairman of the BBG, which oversees all non-military U.S. international broadcasting including the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA). "Our audience clearly will benefit from these trustworthy sources of news and information, which differ sharply from Chinese government sanctioned broadcasts."

At present RFA broadcasts eight hours daily to Tibet via shortwave radio. VOA broadcasts four hours daily, also via shortwave. Each will expand radio programs by two additional hours daily. VOA also will double its weekly Tibetan-language television programming from one to two hours via the AsiaSat 3 satellite.

"RFA's Tibetan service is working around the clock to bring authoritative, breaking news to the Tibetan people. These additional hours will greatly enhance our capacity to deliver this news, including live updates, to people on the ground," RFA President Libby Liu said.

Tibet's media is tightly controlled and most Tibetans are deeply suspicious of Chinese domestic media coverage. BBG audience research, while limited to Tibetan refugees in Nepal, indicates that VOA and RFA are among the most well known foreign broadcasters and an important source of information in a society where word of mouth is the top way to share news.

"We know from experience that Tibetans will tune to VOA at pivotal times such as these," said Danforth Austin, Director of the Voice of America. "For example, a VOA special TV program about the Dalai Lama receiving a gold medal from the U.S. Congress was recorded and widely distributed in Tibetan regions inside China."

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