Effort to save Baltic broadcasts stumbles

Baltic-American supporters have suffered a setback in their attempts to convince Congress to continue funding Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcasts to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

A subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on July 9 failed to restore funding for the broadcasts in the fiscal 2004 budget for the State Department proposed by the Bush Administration.

Now supporters are asking Baltic-Americans to lobby members of the full Appropriations Committee before its July 16 meeting in Washington, D.C. Besides independent efforts, the Washington-based Joint Baltic American National Committee issued an “action alert” to the Baltic-American community.

“It is vital that America’s voice be heard,” JBANC said in a press release. “Baltic language broadcasting offers objective news and analysis about America and the world.”

The subcommittee, in its review of the fiscal 2004 budget proposed by the Bush Administration, approved USD 564 million for U.S. international broadcasting, the same amount requested by the White House. But that amount foresees slashing fudning for the Eastern European language services of Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America—including the Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian—and shifting the money to new programming aimed to the Middle East.

Without extra funding, the Latvian services would cease in October and the editorial staffs would lose their jobs.

In January, before the Bush Adminstration’s proposed budget was announced, government leaders in all three Baltic republics sent letters to U.S. President George Bush asking him to maintain support for Radio Free Europe broadcasts to their countries.

Both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have bills before them that include continued support for the Baltic broadcasts.

The Senate’s Foreign Relations Authorization Act forbids the Broadcasting Board of Governors from dropping broadcasts to 13 Eastern European countries, including the Baltics, for one year. It also calls for the secretary of state to report within six months on the state of democratic governance and freedom of the press in those countries.

In the House, a similar bill calls for a two-year prohibition on cutting the Eastern European language services.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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