U.S. to merge Cold War-era radio services

June 14, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- After months of acrimonious debate over the future of government-sponsored broadcasting, the Clinton administration has decided to merge all international radio operations, senior officials said this weekend.

The officials said the gradual consolidation plan, which they expect to announce this week, would save about $250 million over the next few years and put Voice of America and Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty under the same governing board.

The plan was negotiated in recent weeks by top administrators of the broadcasting operations after vigorous lobbying by advocates who feared their extinction.

The Clinton administration indicated after taking office in January that it hoped to shut down Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty because the demise of the Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War seemed to make them redundant. But the new administration had not reckoned with the powerful support those stations still enjoyed in Congress.

"RFE has a very effective lobby," a participant in the negotiations said yesterday. "It was heading for a real confrontation."

President Clinton was informed of the compromise Friday and accepted it, a high-ranking administration official said.

The Voice of America, which was set up during World War II to disseminate American news and the views of the U.S. government, broadcasts in 49 languages to nations around the world. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were created by the Central Intelligence Agency in the early 1950s to beam U.S. government programming to nations in which Communist governments controlled the press and broadcast organizations.

The operations in Washington and in Munich, Germany, have budgets of about $220 million each.

The Office of Management and Budget, which is under orders to reduce government spending, played a major role in the discussions.

Although the networks will survive, the merger will mean closing down a number of services of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty and some Voice of America broadcasts. Other broadcasting units that would fall under the governing board, to be established in 1994, are Radio Marti, which has been transmitting to Cuba for several years, and Radio Free Asia, which has yet to be created and whose main target audience will be China.

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