News from theCenter for Security Policy

No. 97-D 79

12 June 1997
For Immediate Release
(202) 466-0515

Freeing and Strengthening Freedom RadiosMay Be Helms-Biden Reorganization Initiative's Most Important Achievement

(Washington, D.C.): The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduledthis afternoon to complete work on legislation intended to reorganize andstreamline the institutions responsible for formulating, conducting andexplaining the Nation's foreign policies. Long a priority of the Committee'schairman, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), this initiative received criticalmomentum when -- as part of the Clinton Administration's bid to secureSenate approval of the controversial Chemical Weapons Convention -- Secretaryof State Madeleine Albright agreed to eliminate several bureaucracies andconsolidate their responsibilities in the State Department.

Among the entities expected, until recently, to be subordinated to State'smanagerial and budgetary control -- and inevitably, therefore, to its policydictates -- is the Broadcasting Board of Governors. This organizationwas created in 1994 to oversee the range of U.S. government and government-supportedinternational broadcasting operations. The former (i.e., the Voice of America,Worldnet and Radio and Television Marti) are currently run by the U.S.Information Agency.

Importantly, the 1994 legislation recognized the necessity of preservingthe bureaucratic and editorial independence of the latter (i.e.,Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia) -- a featuredeemed critical to the ability of such "Freedom Radios surrogate broadcastingRadios" to attract and retain their respective audiences. During theCold War years, this feature of "surrogate" broadcasting (affordingaccess to accurate news and other information to populations denied itby their own, communist-controlled media) was assured by an independentBoard for International Broadcasting.

But for the leadership of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), now the ForeignRelations Committee's ranking minority member, the Freedom Radios wouldhave been a victim of the naive notion that -- with the collapse of theSoviet empire -- such surrogate broadcasting no longer was needed and couldnot be justified as a government expenditure. At the time, faced withintense pressure from Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), who made terminatingthe Freedom Radios a personal cause célèbre, and inthe absence of appreciable support from Republicans, the best Sen. Bidencould do was to provide a stay of execution for the Freedom Radios: a newinstitutional arrangement that more closely tied them to USIA and thatset arbitrary timelines for eliminating government subsidies to RFE/RLand the national foreign language services they provide.

Changed Circumstances

It has become increasingly apparent in recent years that, if anything,the post-Cold War world is one in which U.S. interests require increasedcapability to provide factual information to the peoples of Eastern andCentral Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East in a form that is not discountedby the audience as propaganda put out by the mouthpieces of the Americangovernment. One painful case in point has been the Balkans,where control of most information sources by totalitarians bent on aggressionand genocide contributed greatly to the popular support for ethnic cleansing.It is nothing less than tragic that U.S. government policy toward the formerYugoslavia prevented Radio Free Europe from broadcasting to that regionin Serbo-Croatian at a time when the truth may have undercut the senseof grievance on which the likes of Slobodan Milosevic relied to justifyand sustain his war machine.

A similar opportunity beckons today: The recent, overwhelming defeatin Iran of the candidate of the fanatic clerics is proof that thepeople of that long-suffering country are yearning for an end to "Islamic"tyranny. What they largely lack, however, is information that makesclear that such change is not only necessary but possible; thatfreedom-loving peoples elsewhere support this goal and are willing to dotheir part to help -- at a minimum, through the dissemination of news andanalysis which both encourages and equips the growing opposition to theIranian government. This could be easily and cost-effectively accomplishedvia the creation of a Radio Free Iran service providing broadcasting, ideally,in Farsi, Arabic, Kurdish and Balouchi via the organizational structureand equipment of Radio Free Europe.

(In fact, such an effort should be just one part of a largerU.S. government effort to facilitate the emergence of unified democraticopposition to the extremist Iranian theocracy. In this connection, Congresswould be well-advised to provide government support comparable tothat going to private institutions engaged in such democracy-building effortselsewhere to the Foundation for Democracy in Iran -- an organizationthat has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to forge a common frontamong various Iranian religious, political and ethnic constituencies towork for change in their homeland.)

The Clinton Administration's signaling that it sees in the electionof a relatively "moderate" Iranian cleric as "hopeful"evidence that change is afoot in Tehran, however, underscores the importanceof keeping surrogate broadcasting as far away as possible from the StateDepartment. That is the only reliable means of mitigating the danger thatthe U.S. government's policy du jour (for example, one that indulgesyet again in the absurd delusion that Iranian "moderates" whooperate in a government under the thumb of radical clerics is one withwhom the United States can safely do business) will constrain the flowof factual news and pro-change/pro-democracy editorials and analyses fromreaching the people of Iran.

The Bottom Line

The State Department reorganization legislation affords an importantopportunity to enhance one of the most powerful and least expensiveinstruments for promoting freedom around the world: surrogate broadcasting.Senators Helms and Biden are to be commended for their bipartisan effortsto put the Freedom Radios and other instruments for international broadcastingon a footing that continues -- and builds upon -- the enormous progressmade to date by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in reducing its costs whilesignificantly increasing their reach and influence. To do so will requireboth institutional independence from the policy-making apparatusesof the U.S. government and a continuing commitment of public funding forthe operations of the Freedom Radio.

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