RFERL’s Latvian broadcasts to end Dec. 31

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty’s programs to Latvia and six other East European countries will end Dec. 31, the U.S. government-funded broadcaster has announced from its headquarters in Prague in the Czech Republic.

But Baltic lobbyists, who have appealed continuously to the federal government to restore funding, are not ready to give up their fight while an omnibus appropriations bill remains under discussion in Congress.

The U.S. Senate may take up a conference committee’s report on the appropriations bill on Dec. 9. The bill includes USD $546 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Washington, D.C.-based agency that oversees RFERL, Voice of America and other U.S.-funded international broadcasters.

RFERL President Thomas Dine announced the pending end-of-the-year closure to his staff in Prague on Nov. 28, according to a press release from the broadcaster. In addition to Latvia, broadcasts to Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia also will cease “under a directive from the White House and the Broadcasting Board of Governors,” the press release said.

VOA broadcasts to Latvia also are expected to end, although a broadcasting board spokesperson declined to comment. “We won’t have any statement about languages until after Congress passes a bill and it is signed into law by the president,” Joan Mower told Latvians Online.

The end to the broadcasts, which will mean the loss of jobs for more than 100 journalists and other staff, is the result of shifting priorities within the Bush Administration. The White House’s proposed fiscal 2004 budget called for cutting broadcast services to those countries—including Latvia—scheduled to join the NATO defense alliance and the European Union, using the money saved to bolster new programs to the Middle East.

“Over the last six years, RFERL has rapidly expanded its operations in Eurasia and Southwest Asia,” Dine said in the press release. “It is now time to focus fully on these very troubled areas.”

When news of the proposed cuts first broke in January, Baltic-American lobbyists and government leaders in the Baltics tried to convince the White House and Congress to save the broadcasts. The Joint Baltic American National Committee, for example, expressed “profound alarm” at the threatened end of both RFERL and VOA broadcasts and what it could mean for U.S. efforts at public diplomacy in Europe.

In addition to continuing their appeals to members of Congress, supporters of broadcasts to the Baltic states are now trying to raise public awareness. Among their efforts are contacting conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and a call-in show on the C-SPAN cable television channel.

Funding for American broadcasts overseas falls under the Foreign Operations budget, which has now become part of HR2673, the Consolidated Appropriations bill approved Nov. 25 by a House-Senate conference committee. Both the House and the Senate have yet to agree to the conference committee’s report.

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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