The Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Radio Marti and Asian Democracy Radio are not household names among American audiences. Yet U.S. taxpayers finance those huge global broadcasting operations which have become steadily more complex and expensive since their inauguration during World War II.
Since the Soviet Union collapsed, it has been crystal clear the U.S. government's costly Cold War radio operation must be overhauled. But how? Each of those stations jealously protects its turf, organizing partisans to fight any streamlining.
President Clinton has now ended a lengthy internal policy struggle and proposed a merger of overseas broadcast operations. Each station is to retain its special character but a common board would provide oversight and policy. Annual savings: $150 million by eliminating duplication and unnecessary projects.
This is a good start but only a start. When the seven-member bipartisan board of governors is created, its top priority item ought to be a total review of the government's overseas transmitter capacity needs. Both the VOA and the RFE-RL operate huge and costly relay stations that were designed to penetrate Soviet jammers but are no longer needed. U.S. government stations can use local AM and FM outlets in Russia and Eastern Europe for rebroadcasting their programs.
This is a mode of program distribution that is effective and cheap. It should be encouraged by providing local broadcasters with satellite dishes and other equipment needed for picking up the programs from Washington.
Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has been successfully operating Worldnet television service which is available on many European cable systems. As direct satellite broadcasting becomes more common throughout the world, that mode of transmission offers exciting new prospects for the U.S. government's overseas radio and television operations that should be fully explored.