Last updated: April 18, 2011 - 8:47am
[Commentary] China's state news agency, Xinhua, is building a broadcasting headquarters in New York's Times Square as part of Beijing's $7 billion investment in global propaganda, including a 24-hour news channel in English. Meanwhile, Congress recently held hearings on a plan for Voice of America to cut its Chinese- language news broadcasts in order to save $8 million a year.
If public diplomacy helps determine which countries are on the way up and which are on the way down, U.S. actions speak louder than the broadcasts themselves. "We are in an information war, and we are losing that war," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted to Congress last month. That's the predictable result of unilateral disarmament. As China, Russia and Islamist groups have accelerated their efforts, America has been withdrawing. Reductions in VOA, including an end to Arabic-language programming in the Middle East, are especially dismaying given the leading role the broadcaster played in winning the Cold War against earlier information-suppressing ideologies.
A focus on the Web for VOA, especially reinforced with circumvention tools, makes some sense, but it's wrong to think that new media completely replace what came before. The Web is important, but radio remains an essential medium in China, where most people still don't have access even to the censored Web. Firing the journalists who create the content in languages like Mandarin undermines both Web and radio efforts. "The Chinese people are our greatest allies, and the free flow of information is our greatest weapon," says Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). This is a simple but persuasive argument for restoring planned cuts to VOA and re- engaging in the information war.
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