RFERL broadcasts to continue into January

Latvian broadcasts from the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty will not end Dec. 31 after all, but will continue into January, a spokesman in Washington, D.C., has told Latvians Online.

Before recessing Dec. 9 for the holiday season, the U.S. Senate failed to take action on a USD 820 billion omnibus appropriations bill that includes funding for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees RFERL, the Voice of America and other radio stations. Congress has instead approved a continuing resolution to keep the U.S. government operating.

That means Latvian broadcasts, as well as transmissions in six other Central and Eastern European languages, will remain on the air into January, said Mārtiņš Zvaners, associate director of communications for RFERL.

However, the broadcasts will be “sharply reduced,” Zvaners said. The Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian broadcasts on Jan. 1 will decrease to 15 minutes Monday through Friday, while the hour-long weekend programs will be dropped from the schedule. In addition, the RFERL bureaus in each country will close.

What happens after that depends on what happens with the omnibus appropriations bill.

In proposing its fiscal 2004 budget, the Bush Administration pushed for ending RFERL and Voice of America broadcasts to nations that are set next year to join the NATO defense alliance and the European Union. The money saved would be diverted to radio broadcasts targeted to the Mideast.

Apparently anticipating the appropriations bill would be passed, RFERL Director Thomas Dine on Nov. 28 announced to his staff in the station’s Czech Republic headquarters that broadcasts to Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovakia would cease Dec. 31.

The government’s fiscal 2004 began Oct. 1. Because appropriations for a number of departments have not been passed, Congress has had to approve a continuing resolution to allow the government to continue operations at last year’s funding level.

The Senate is expected to take up the omnibus appropriations bill on Jan. 20, but some senators are saying the legislation may be tough to pass because of growing concerns over “pork,” or funding of programs that benefit legislators’ home districts.

The House of Representatives passed the bill Dec. 8.

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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