The Latvian service of Radio Free Europe would be among a number of U.S.-sponsored broadcasts to Eastern and Central Europe eliminated under President George Bush’s proposed 2004 budget.
The White House released its proposed budget, due to take effect in October, on Feb. 3.
The USD 2.2 trillion budget proposes USD 525 million in spending for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent federal government agency that overseas Radio Free Europe and a number of other broadcasting services, including the Voice of America.
But even though that’s USD 41 million, or 9.5 percent, more than the board is expected to receive in the current fiscal year, shifting foreign relations priorities signal the end of many services.
“The budget means an end to most Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasting to the democracies of Eastern Europe where free speech is practiced and where the process of joining the NATO alliance is under way,” Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, said in a statement released Feb. 3.
A total of USD 30 million of the board’s budget would be set aside for creation of a new Arabic-language satellite television network, which the administration foresees reaching up to 50 million viewers in the Middle East.
Although Radio Free Europe and Voice of America officials had been mum about the proposed cuts, the end of the Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian services has been rumored for weeks. In January, leaders of all three Baltic republics sent letters to President Bush urging that Radio Free Europe’s services be maintained. In addition, supporters of the station have begun rallying to fight the cuts. The president’s budget must still be approved by Congress.
For Radio Free Europe’s Latvian service, the cuts could mean that at least 15 journalists based in the broadcaster’s Prague headquarters and the Rīga bureau might lose their jobs.
“The closing of these services, whose employees have so gallantly served the cause of freedom, will bring a moment of sadness to many of us who saw victory in the Cold War as a direct result of these radios,” Tomlinson said in his statement. “But we should remember at the same time that the goal these services struggled and sacrificed for has been achieved, and they should take great pride in the role they played in this historic mission.”
President Bush’s budget also slashes USD 180 million is foreign assistance to Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. A total of USD 435 million is proposed to be spent in fiscal 2004, down from the USD 615 million expected to be spent in the current fiscal year.
The funds, according to the budget document, have focused on efforts such as “economic restructuring, democratic transition, and social stabilization.” But, the document adds, money set aside under the heading of “Assistance for Eastern Europe and the Baltic States” is now focused largely on Southeast Europe, especially Serbia.
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