Voice of America begins broadcasts to Russia

Voice of America begins broadcasts to Russia

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With the words, “Hello! This is New York calling,” the U.S. Voice of America (VOA) begins its first radio broadcasts to the Soviet Union. The VOA effort was an important part of America’s propaganda campaign against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The VOA began in 1942 as a radio program designed to explain America’s policies during World War II and to bolster the morale of its allies throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. After the war, VOA continued as part of America’s Cold War propaganda arsenal and was primarily directed toward the western European audience. In February 1947, VOA began its first Russian-language broadcasts into the Soviet Union. The initial broadcast explained that VOA was going to “give listeners in the USSR a picture of life in America.” News stories, human-interest features, and music comprised the bulk of the programming. The purpose was to give the Russian audience the “pure and unadulterated truth” about life outside the USSR. Voice of America hoped that this would “broaden the bases of understanding and friendship between the Russian and American people.”

By and large, the first program was a fairly dry affair. Much of it dealt with brief summaries of current events, discussions of how the U.S. budget and political system worked, and a rousing analysis of a “new synthetic chemical substance called pyribenzamine.” Music on the program was eclectic, ranging from “Turkey in the Straw” to Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” In addition, due to bad weather and technical difficulties, the sound quality for the Russian audience was generally poor. According to U.S. officials in the Soviet Union, Russians rated the program “fair.”

VOA broadcasts into Russia did improve somewhat over the years, primarily because music played an increasingly prominent role. U.S. observers had discovered that the Soviet people’s appetite for American music, particularly jazz, was nearly insatiable. How many Russians actually ever heard the broadcasts is uncertain, but reports from behind the Iron Curtain indicated that many VOA programs, specifically the music segments, were eagerly awaited each night. By the 1960s, VOA was broadcasting to every continent in several dozen languages.

READ MORE: Cold War History

VOA was organized in 1942 under the Office of War Information with news programs aimed at Europe and North Africa occupied by Germany. [3] VOA began broadcasting on February 24, 1942, [4] but VOA noted in its site that it began broadcasting on February 1, 1942. [5] Transmitters used by VOA came from shortwave transmitters used by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and National Broadcasting Company (NBC). Voice of America began to transmit radio broadcasts into the Soviet Union on February 17, 1947.

During the Cold War, VOA's budget was reduced. On August 1, 1953, VOA was separated from the Department of State and it was included under the Information Agency. VOA moved its headquarters from New York to Washington, DC. next year. [3] In 1959 VOA started "Special English" programs. [3] In the 1980s, VOA also added a television service, as well as special regional programs to Cuba, Radio Marti and TV Marti.

One of VOA's famous programs was remembered as "Jazz Hour" presented by Willis Conover. [6] This program continued for 40 years, and its record remains at the National Museum of American History, also known as ""Smithsonian". [7] [8]

The Voice of America broadcasts in 46 different languages. [2] Television broadcasts are marked with a star:

Why Voice of America matters outside US

A US government-funded news service says editorial independence won't be at risk amid a raft of changes. Journalist Adam Harris looks at what Voice of America means to Americans and the rest of the world.

The director of the Broadcast Board of Governors (BBG) is promising the staff of Voice of America (VOA) and other partners that their editorial "firewall" with US policy makers "remains sacrosanct" despite a legislative change to its structure.

A new defence bill has raised concerns about the oversight of VOA and its affiliates, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network.

The BBG was created to act as "a firewall between US government policymakers and the journalists", as a way to protect editorial independence.

But the new legislation concentrates power within the BBG in the hands of a chief executive, appointed by the president and approved by the Senate.

The change caused alarm that future presidents could use the networks, which reach an audience of 287 million people across 100 countries in 61 languages, as a powerful propaganda tool.

In the e-mail, which was provided to the BBC, VOA director Amanda Bennett told staffers that the "legislation makes no change to BBG's statutory firewall," meant to act as a buffer between the government and the newsroom.

"The firewall remains sacrosanct and completely in force, and will continue to ensure, without exception, the professional independence of our journalists and broadcasters," Bennett wrote, adding that the chief executive would be "legally required to abide by and oversee the firewall".

Voice of America launched in 1942 as an alternative designed to combat Nazi and Japanese propaganda. Its first broadcast - made on a transmitter loaned to the United States by the BBC - stated a modest purpose.

"Today, and daily from now on, we shall speak to you about America and the war," said journalist William Harlan Hale. "The news may be good for us. The news may be bad. But we shall tell you the truth."

They held fast to that mission even in the grim early days, according to former Voice of America director David Ensor.

"For the first year or two, the news was bad. There were several losses, but VOA faithfully reported it," Ensor says.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed the VOA's public charter, safeguarding the organisation's editorial independence, and by 1994, the BBG, with oversight over non-military broadcasting, was established.

In 2013, a shift in legislation allowed VOA and affiliates to begin broadcasting in the United States.

"Some people suggest that VOA is, or should be, a propaganda arm of the government. But VOA is not in the propaganda business, it's in the truth business," Ensor says.

"There have been efforts to rethink VOA," he continued, "but the audience growth comes from building credibility. And the only way to build credibility is by telling the truth."

The legislation that has fuelled the most recent concerns is buried within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2017. The NDAA, which authorises defence spending, can "from time to time authorize certain non-defense related activities," according to VOA director Bennett's e-mail to staff.

The new measure, as a part of the NDAA, was passed by a 92-7 vote in the Senate and shifts power of the Broadcasting Board of Governors into the hands of a chief executive appointed by the president.

It also eliminates the role of the Board as the head of the BBG.

Current members of the board are allowed to complete their terms in office in an "advisory capacity," but will no longer hold any "decision-making, policy-making, or managerial responsibilities".

Once approved, the chief executive will serve for a term of three years and is answerable to the White House.

The change was led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce, a Republican from California, and had bipartisan support.

According to Republican congressional aides, Chairman Royce was alarmed by independent audits which suggested inefficiencies with the part-time BBG board.

The reassurance from top management at BBG has not quelled all fears.

Both current and former newsroom staffers are concerned about breaches of the firewall regardless of political affiliations. Some cited the uptick in BBG town halls to discuss impending changes as a sign top brass is worried as well.

"Honestly, I don't care if it's a Democrat or a Republican in the White House," says Carolyn Presutti, Washington correspondent for VOA.

"We cannot be a part of the administration if we want to stay unbiased, if we want to stay credible, if we want to stay trustworthy."

During November's board meeting, current BBG chief executive John Lansing said the firewall "allows us to be credible around the world where credibility is in decline".

"To the extent that the BBG networks are the only credible, or the primary credible source of news and information in parts of the world starving for news and information, that's the critical mission that we're here to protect."

Therein lies the real value of BBG, says Sarah Kendzior, a writer and researcher on Central Asia.

Much of the best reporting done by VOA and Radio Free Europe (RFE) is not in English or about America.

In the case of Uzbekistan, forced labour and child labour would have gone unreported if not for Radio Free Europe and VOA, Kendzior said.

She says the greatest consequences of the prospect of VOA and RFE losing editorial independence will be faced by their foreign reporters "who are trying to report on the conditions of their country" and the populations they serve.

"All of these issues, in countries that don't have independent media, aren't being covered within the country," she said. "But [they] are being covered by the bridge operation of Radio Free Europe/Voice of America."

"If that's taken away you're just going to have a black hole of information."

Jeff Swicord, a 25-year veteran of Voice of America, has seen BBG network journalists who work in hostile countries face consequences.

"I've been overseas quite a bit, and the stuff we report on gets out there," Swicord says. "We've had people targeted. This agency has had people who've worked for them killed, quite frankly, for their affiliation with Voice of America."

Despite some of the fears, VOA director Bennett remained hopeful.

"It's a different structure, it has some good things it has some bad things," she says of the new legislation. "But we really believe in our mission."

VOA Through the Years

In 1939, the American playwright Robert Sherwood, who would become a speechwriter for President Franklin Roosevelt and later, the "father of the Voice of America," predicted the impact of international broadcasting when he said:

"We are living in an age when communication has achieved fabulous importance. There is a new decisive force in the human race, more powerful than all the tyrants. It is the force of massed thought--thought which has been provoked by words, strongly spoken."

In that year, the United States was the only world power without a government-sponsored international radio service. The Netherlands had been the first country to direct regularly-scheduled broadcasts beyond its own borders, inaugurating shortwave programming to the Far East in 1927. Seeing radio as an instrument of foreign policy, the Soviet Union built a radio center in Moscow and was broadcasting in 50 languages and dialects by the end of 1930. Italy and Great Britain started their respective "empire services" in 1932, followed by France the next year. Nazi Germany built a massive network of transmitters in 1933 and began to beam hostile propaganda into Austria. In the same year Berlin started shortwave broadcasts to Latin America. Meanwhile, Japan was using radio to promote its national ambitions in the Far East.

Despite the efforts of many prominent figures, including New York Congressman Emmanuel Celler (who introduced bills in 1937, 1938 and 1939 to create a government station that could respond to German propaganda), the United States entered the 1940s with no plans to establish an official U.S. presence on the international airwaves.

The United States' shortwave resources consisted of just over a dozen low-powered, commercially owned and operated transmitters.

In 1941, several of these private transmitters were leased by the U.S. Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) to broadcast to Latin America. In mid-1941, President Roosevelt established the U.S. Foreign Information Service (FIS) and named speechwriter Sherwood as its first director. Driven by his belief in the power of ideas and the need to communicate America's views abroad, Sherwood rented space for his headquarters in New York City, recruited a staff of journalists and began producing material for broadcast to Europe by the privately-owned American shortwave stations. Sherwood also spoke with officials in London about the prospect of relaying FIS material over the facilities of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

With Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war against the United States, Sherwood moved into high gear. He asked John Houseman, the theatrical producer, author and director, to take charge of FIS radio operations in New York City.

In December 1941, FIS made its first direct broadcasts to Asia from a studio in San Francisco. On February 1, 1942— less than two months after the United States entered World War II--FIS beamed its first broadcast to Europe via BBC medium- and long-wave transmitters. Announcer William Harlan Hale opened the German-language program with the words: “We bring you Voices from America. Today, and daily from now on, we shall speak to you about America and the war. The news may be good for us. The news may be bad. But we shall tell you the truth.”

From the beginning, VOA promised to tell its listeners the truth, regardless of whether the news was good or bad. As John Houseman said later, "In reality, we had little choice. Inevitably the news that the Voice of America would carry to the world in the first half of 1942 was almost all bad. As Japanese invasions followed one another with sickening regularity and the Nazi armies moved ever deeper into Russia and the Near East, we would have to report our reverses without weaseling. Only thus could we establish a reputation for honesty which we hoped would pay off on that distant but inevitable day when we would start reporting our own invasions and victories."

By June 1942, VOA was growing rapidly and had a new organizational home--the Office of War Information (OWI). Twenty-three transmitters had been constructed and 27 language services were on the air when the Allied summit took place in Casablanca.

As the war drew to a close, however, many of VOA's broadcast services were reduced or eliminated. Then in late 1945, a State Department-appointed committee of private citizens chaired by Columbia University professor Arthur McMahon advised that the U.S. government could not be "indifferent to the ways in which our society is portrayed to other countries." Consequently, on December 31, 1945, the VOA's and CIAA's broadcast services to Latin America were transferred to the Department of State, and Congress reluctantly appropriated funds for their continued operation in 1946 and 1947.

The reluctant support for international broadcasting disappeared in 1948. That year, Members of Congress were heavily influenced by the escalation of the Cold War and hostile international broadcasting by the Soviet Union and Soviet-controlled countries. The Berlin Blockade in 1948 confirmed the need for an American radio voice to the world. The enactment of the Smith-Mundt Act that year permanently established America's international informational and cultural exchange programs, a function VOA had already been carrying out for the past six years on its own.

For the next two years, officials in the U.S. government debated the proper role of America's official international broadcasting service. Was it to report the news and reflect America, or was it to be used as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy and as a "weapon" against the Soviet Union? Congress saw it increasingly as fulfilling the latter role. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, VOA added new language services and developed plans to construct transmitter complexes on both the east and west coasts of the United States.

In early 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy chaired several weeks of hearings to investigate programming and engineering practices at VOA and allegations that there were "subversives on the staff guilty of negligence favoring communism." The inquiry also examined management practices and plans to build new VOA transmitters. While the charges of subversive activity were never proven, widespread dismissals and resignations followed. In the wake of the congressional hearings, VOA's budget was reduced, the transmitter construction program was halted and a number of language services were terminated.

Even before the McCarthy hearings ended, however, a commission appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower had begun a review of U.S. foreign information activities, including the Voice of America. The commission, chaired by former President Herbert Hoover, concluded that these programs should be separated from the Department of State. On August 1, 1953, the United States Information Agency was established, and VOA became its single largest element. A year later, VOA moved its headquarters from New York City to its present site on Independence Avenue, SW, not far from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

The crises in Hungary and Suez, the beginnings of American-Soviet summitry and the dawning of the space age in the late 1950s and the early 1960s offered new opportunities for VOA to provide reliable and comprehensive reporting of world events. New and creative programming reflecting America was introduced. In 1959, VOA inaugurated Special English--slow-paced, simplified English broadcasts--to facilitate comprehension for millions of listeners.

In 1960, USIA Director George Allen endorsed the VOA Charter that had been drafted by VOA staff members between 1958 and 1959 to put in writing a formal statement of principles that would govern VOA broadcasts. The Charter said in part that:

(1) VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective and comprehensive.

(2) VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.

(3) VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.

In July 1976, Representative Bela Abzug and Senator Charles Percy sponsored legislation making the VOA Charter Public Law 94-350. President Gerald Ford signed the legislation on July 12, 1976.

A complete roster of the men and women who formed and nourished the Voice of America in its infancy, John Houseman recalled, "would reveal a collection of U.S.-born and foreign luminaries in their various fields--journalists, publishers, executives, actors, directors, economists, philosophers, poets, artists, musicians, educators and financiers--of such celebrity in their past and future lives that it is almost impossible to believe they were all ever assembled under one roof.'"

Twenty-five years later, former Director John Chancellor wrote, "There's a peculiar sort of ramshackle excellence about the Voice of America. I came to work there with the standard conceptions and misconceptions of an outsider. I did think of it as a calm and dignified group of broadcasters. To my surprise, I found that I had misjudged the spirit--indeed, the clamor--that exists inside the Voice. It was like walking into a stately building to find the residents holding up the walls with broomsticks while carrying on a terrific argument. There is a fine, antic sense of madness about the place and after a year and a half of taking my turn at the broomstick, I view the Voice and its employees with a feeling of pride and affection."… He continued, "They are, to a remarkable degree, people of spirit and intelligence, whose passion is to represent the United States in the best possible manner."

In the 1960s and 1970s, VOA took giant steps toward becoming the world's leading international broadcaster. During the tenure of Director Henry Loomis from 1958 to 1965, the VOA Charter was written, and technical facilities and programming for every part of the world were expanded.

When NBC newsman John Chancellor took up the reins in 1965, he promised that VOA broadcasts "would swing a little." VOA began to produce livelier and more creative programs in both English and its language broadcasts. News-gathering resources were increased, making possible more live, on-the-scene reporting. In 1969, when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, nearly 800 million people were tuned to the Voice of America or to the hundreds of stations around the world that were relaying VOA's live coverage. In 1977, VOA became the first international broadcaster to use a full-time satellite circuit to deliver programming from its own studios to an overseas relay station--in this case, the VOA Arabic programs from Washington to the Voice transmitters on the Greek island of Rhodes.

During Kenneth Giddens' tenure as director from 1969 to 1977, the longest of any VOA director, VOA dramatically enhanced its credibility through its straightforward reporting of two events that traumatized the nation--the war in Vietnam and the constitutional crises posed by Watergate. VOA's reporting not only drew praise from the American press, but also from listeners in every part of the world, as tens of thousands wrote to express their admiration for VOA's comprehensive and objective coverage.

The cessation of Soviet- and Soviet-bloc jamming, which took place throughout the Cold War an expanding audience in China and the introduction of new and expanded programming for listeners in Iran, Afghanistan and Poland were opening up vast new audiences for VOA. As Giddens had predicted, however, VOA's potential to reach an ever-increasing number of the world's citizens was being handicapped by insufficient resources. As the 1970s came to an end, the gap between VOA's extensive programming requirements and the level of funding had led to serious deficiencies in both personnel and facilities. Almost every language service was short-staffed. It was not unusual to find translator-announcers working two and three weeks without a day off. VOA's antiquated studios and master control complex were breaking down with increasing frequency despite the best efforts of a dedicated technical staff skilled in fabricating spare parts no longer manufactured.

Listeners in many parts of the world were complaining that VOA signals sounded weak and distorted. By the early 1980s, many VOA transmitters were more than thirty years old and some were over forty. Few were capable of producing the 500,000-watt signals being generated by VOA's leading competitors. And the competition itself was increasing. In the mid-1980s, some 160 stations were crowding the international spectrum with upwards of 25,000 hours of programming a week.

In 1983, VOA launched a $1.3 billion program to rebuild and modernize VOA programming and technical capabilities. However, due to government-wide budget constraints at the time, VOA was forced to reduce the funds devoted to this project. Despite less funding, major new and upgraded radio transmission facilities were completed in Botswana, Morocco, Thailand, Kuwait and Sao Tome over the next several years. In Washington, nineteen "state-of-the-art" studios were constructed, a new Master Control complex was installed and a Network Control Center was built to coordinate and direct VOA's domestic and overseas relay transmitter stations.

At the same time radio facilities were being upgraded around the world, USIA took on another directive from the president - to introduce interactive television to the world using growing satellite systems. At the end of 1983 VOA’s sister agency, WORLDNET Television, was born, with a two-hour interactive broadcast connecting studios in Barbados, New York, and Washington DC, with embassies in Bonn, London, the Hague, Rome, and Brussels.

In 1985, Congress established a special service to Cuba known as Radio Marti, which broadcast news of that country. Although Radio Marti followed VOA editorial guidelines, it operated separately from the Voice and its own Washington studios. A television service, TV Marti, went on the air in 1990, and in 1996, Radio and TV Marti began to transfer their operations to Miami, a move that would be completed by 1998.

VOA Mandarin and Cantonese broadcasts were increased in 1989 to bring tens, and perhaps hundreds, of millions of Chinese listeners accurate reports of the pro-democracy movement that filled Beijing's Tiananmen Square and the streets of dozens of Chinese cities. In the fall and winter, VOA reported the historic changes that were sweeping Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union--changes that some have ascribed, at least in part to the Voice and other western international broadcasters. And with the arrival of the 1990s, VOA Russian covered the attempted August 1991 coup against then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the same year.

Following the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.) and the collapse of communist governments throughout Eastern Europe, VOA continued a daily flow of news and information to the region. All of these newly formed governments have been trying, with varying degrees of success, to embrace democracy and its underlying principles. East European leaders such as the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel asked the West to help them understand how to establish the infrastructure of democratic institutions. VOA responded with programming designed to explain how democracy works in the West and how market economies function.

While there was a great need to maintain VOA broadcasts to the C.I.S. and Eastern Europe, the Voice of America continued to provide news and information to people in other parts of the world. On March 25, 1991, VOA launched a 15-minute Tibetan program, which the Chinese government promptly started to jam. Kurdish-language broadcasts to listeners in Iraq and Iran went on the air on April 25, 1992. Somali broadcasts started on December 27, 1992, but were discontinued shortly after the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from that country.

In response to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991 into several republics, VOA divided its Yugoslav Service into two separate language services--Croatian and Serbian--on February 21, 1993. Both services expanded their broadcast hours to the region and along with VOA's Slovene Service, maintained a constant flow of news and information to the listeners in the Balkans. A Bosnian Service was added in 1996 and a Macedonian Service in 1999.

VOA also established a network of Croatian and Serbian local radio stations to carry VOA-produced programming. On October 1, 1996, Radio 101 FM began to carry VOA Croatian, making it the first station in Zagreb to include programming from an international broadcaster in its schedule. That same year, VOA Serbian increased its daily broadcasts to two and a half hours when it added a 30-minute, medium wave radio broadcast. By the end of 1996 when anti-Milosevic demonstrations erupted, VOA Serbian launched its 30-minute TV show, Open Studio.

A live 15-minute VOA Bosnian "feed" service, which was transmitted to local radio stations via satellite, was established on April 22, 1996. VOA later increased the Bosnian-language program to 30 minutes and launched the direct TV broadcasts in Bosnian late the same year.

When the Milosevic government in Belgrade banned broadcasts of Radio B-92 and other independent local radio stations on December 3, 1996, VOA included reports on its newscasts from stringers in Belgrade, many of whom also worked for Radio B-92. Realizing that it could not stifle the flow of information, the Milosevic government allowed Radio B-92 to resume broadcasts two days later on December 5. On the same day that B-92 resumed its broadcasts, VOA began pilot simulcasts on radio and TV of its 11:30 p.m. (Serbian local time) newscast. Serbian independent TV stations with a potential viewership of four million carried the program.

On July 15, 1996, the Voice of America added broadcasts in Tigrigna and Afan Oromo--its 49th and 50th languages--for listeners in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Tigrigna is one of the working languages of the independent nation of Eritrea, and the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia speaks Afan Oromo. The two languages joined VOA Amharic, which has been on the air since 1982.

On the same day, VOA introduced Kirundi- and Kinyarwanda-language programming for listeners in conflict-ridden Central Africa. VOA, which was already broadcasting in English, French and Swahili to the region, increased its audience. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the two services--VOA's 51st and 52nd languages--went on the air on July 15, 1996 with a 30-minute weekday program. The following November they expanded the show to seven days a week and one month later increased their Saturday and Sunday programs to one hour.

VOA also established refugee hotlines in both the Balkans and Central Africa in 1996. VOA Serbian and Croatian launched their hotline on August 14, and Kirundi and Kinyarwanda on November 30. VOA language broadcasts to both regions offered listeners a means through which they could be reunited with friends and family separated by war and personal hardship.

When citizens in Tirana and other Albanian cities protested the proliferation of illegal financial schemes in February 1997, VOA Albanian broadcasts were a prime source of news for the people of that country. By March 1997, the crisis had deteriorated into civil conflict, and the Albanian government cut off VOA Albanian program feeds to local affiliate stations in Tirana, Elbasan, Gjirokaster, Shkoder and Kukes for a short time. VOA expanded its broadcast hours both on shortwave and medium wave at the height of the crisis to provide the maximum news possible to the people of Albania.

In 1997, an agreement signed between the International Broadcasting Bureau and Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company (AsiaSat) gave the Voice of America and other U.S. government civilian international broadcasters access to AsiaSat 2, a satellite with a footprint reaching more than sixty percent of the world's population. By satellite, VOA, WORLDNET Television and Film Service, Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, provided 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service to listeners and viewers in more than 53 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Australia and much of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Affiliated stations and listeners and viewers using small satellite dishes could receive stereo radio and television programming.

Starting in 1990, all U.S. government international broadcasting services began to work more closely together. That year the U.S. Information Agency, VOA's parent Agency, established the Bureau of Broadcasting to consolidate its three programming services--the Voice of America, WORLDNET Television and Film Service and Radio and TV Marti--into one cohesive and efficient broadcasting element, supported by a single Office of Engineering and Technical Operations.

In 1991, the Bureau created the Office of Affiliate Relations and Audience Analysis (renamed the Office of Affiliate Relations and Media Training in 1996) to establish and maintain a network of "affiliated" radio and TV stations around the globe that would broadcast VOA- and WORLDNET-produced programs. Today, more than 2,500 radio, TV, and digital media outlets received content from VOA and its sister media organizations.

The Office of Business Development was established in 1994 to work with the private sector on a wide range of ventures, including the possible privatization of VOA language services, procurement of corporate underwriting for broadcasts, co-productions with major broadcast networks and fundraising from various foundations. (These initiatives benefited not only VOA, but also WORLDNET Television and Film Service and Radio and TV Marti.) From 1994 through 1996, the office raised $4 million.

U.S. government international broadcasting was consolidated even further when President Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act (Public Law 103-236) on April 30, 1994. The legislation established the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) within the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and created a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with oversight authority over all non-military U.S. government international broadcasting. The Voice of America, WORLDNET Television and Film Service and Radio and TV Marti--the three federally-funded services of the former Bureau of Broadcasting--comprised the IBB. The bipartisan BBG included the USIA Director (ex officio) and eight members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The first Broadcasting Board of Governors was sworn in on August 11, 1995.

The BBG provided oversight for VOA, the WORLDNET Television Service and Radio and TV Marti, as well as two grantee international broadcast services--Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Radio Free Asia (RFA). (RFA was established under the 1994 legislation.) RFE/RL and RFA are private, non-profit corporations that receive annual congressionally-appropriated grants from the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The International Broadcasting Act also centralized the Office of Engineering within IBB, making it responsible for planning and maintaining transmission facilities for VOA, WORLDNET and Radio and TV Marti as well as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia. Transmitter sites that had formerly broadcast RFE/RL programs to the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were integrated into a single network operated by the IBB Engineering.

In 1998, the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act abolished the U.S. Information Agency and made the Broadcasting Board of Governors an independent entity with the mandate to provide oversight for all U.S. government-supported international broadcasting. This included the Voice of America, WORLDNET Television and Film Service, Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia.

In 2002, the Arabic-language Radio Sawa, which means “Together,” was established to reach audiences in the Middle East, particularly the younger generation. Its format was a mix of contemporary American and Middle East artists, along with newscasts broadcast on the quarter hour so that they would not compete with newscasts in the region. Two years later, Television Alhurra was established. Currently, Alhurra broadcasts under the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), which is funded through congressionally-appropriated grants from the U.S. Congress through the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formelrly known as the BBG.

Today, the Voice of America is part of the independent USAGM as well as Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. The USAGM serves as a firewall to protect the independence of U.S. civilian international broadcasting, although at the end of 2016, Congress passed legislation that abolished the nine-member bipartisan board, which had provided guidance and oversight, and replaced it with a five-member board with an advisory role. A Chief Executive Officer will oversee the day-to-day operations of the agency.

Although historically known solely as an international radio broadcaster, VOA began to simulcast programs on TV and radio in the mid-1990s. The first, "China Forum TV," aired on September 18, 1994. This one-hour Mandarin telecast was beamed into the Peoples Republic of China by satellite. Two years later, VOA's Arabic Branch teamed up with WORLDNET Television Service and the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) in London to launch "Dialogue with the West." The success of these two programs encouraged VOA, with the assistance of WORLDNET Television, to build the new TV Studio 47 at its headquarters. The first program, a Farsi simulcast, was telecast on October 18, 1996. Since the first Farsi program, VOA has aired simulcasts in Arabic, English, Farsi, Mandarin and Serbian VOA Russian and Thai services prerecorded programs for local stations in their respective countries.

In 1996 the Office of Engineering and Technical Operations also began a multi-million dollar program to transition the VOA’s broadcast production infrastructure from analog to digital operations. The multi-year program launched a series of improvements which developed a digital news management capability and transitioned VOA’s radio broadcast production systems from reel-to-reel tape to digital.

The official WORLDNET merger with VOA in 2004, completed the integration of TV and Radio production within Services that had been percolating within the VOA since the early 1990’s. This unified and enhanced VOA’s broadcast efforts resulting in a rapid expansion in VOA’s TV audience. To keep up with this “explosion” in the shift to TV, a full-scale modernization effort was launched, this time led by VOA’s Operations Directorate. New studios were constructed and a full analog to digital conversion of the television technical infrastructure was completed. Today the VOA produces and broadcasts more than 120 weekly hours of original TV programming over eight satellite network channels, with TV being the largest percentage of audience share by platform. VOA operates 50 radio studios and 14 television studios for live broadcasts and for producing programs.

VOA’s early steps into digital media were met with caution starting in 1993, when VOA began to explore the possibility of placing its content on the Web. A couple obstacles had to be overcome. The first was the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 that prohibited distribution of VOA content inside the United States. The General Counsel’s Office at the U.S. Information Agency, VOA parent agency at the time, objected because placing VOA content on the web violated Smith-Mundt’s prohibition of distribution of content in the United States.

Chris Kern, then chief of the VOA Computer Services Division, had several meetings with a USIA attorney to convince her that traffic on the Internet was not “directed explicitly from sender to recipient.”… Kern recalls, “I ultimately persuaded her that putting VOA program product on the Internet was analogous to transmitting it via shortwave radio: residents of the United States could receive our shortwave broadcasts if they wanted to, although they weren't the intended audience and we didn't do anything to encourage them.”

The next hurdle was unexpectedly from inside VOA. The News Division didn’t want their correspondent reports automatically uploaded to the Web. “On rare occasion, an error would be discovered in a report after it had been transmitted on our internal newswire, and the newsroom would issue a "kill" notice informing the VOA broadcast services that it could no longer be used,” Kern recalls. “The kill notice immediately put an end to any further dissemination via radio, but obviously that wouldn't work with an erroneous report that had been posted to the 'Net.”

The issues surrounding posting VOA content were eventually ironed out, and in January 1994, the Voice of America became the first international broadcaster to offer its material through the Internet. Initially, select files were offered through FTP and Gopher protocols, the primary way of disseminating files at the time. In August 1994, audio files were added, also sent by FTP and Gopher.

In November 2000, VOA launched the website VOANews.com. From the time of the Iraq War in 2003, the English language site attracted new readership during important news events or crises. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April 2020, traffic increased by 94%. In its 20th year, the VOANews.com site attracted an average of 2.6 million unique visitors per month.

Today, VOANews.com is VOA’s English-language site from which user can navigate to anyone of VOA’s 47 language sites. It offers traditional text and photo content, as well as content on demand and live-streamed, providing the user with a multi-media experience.

Up until 2013, VOA continued to turn down any requests from the US public for VOA content and did not promote the fact that VOA was on the internet, viewable by all. This changed when the President signed into law, the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act in January 2013, which would become effective 6 months later on July 2, 2013. Now American citizens would be free to not only view programming on VOA’s many language service websites and mobile platforms, but are able to request VOA programming for re-broadcast to audiences in the United States. VOA is no longer restricted by national borders. For the first time since 1948, VOA and the U.S. international broadcasters were able to provide content on demand to American citizens.

Since the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 much has changed at VOA. The Greek language service, one of the oldest at VOA, was shut down in 2014 in response to rising levels of freedom of press and speech in that country. Three new services - Bambara, Lingala and Rohingya – were added to reach the growing number of speakers of these languages – many of them refugees - in Central Africa and Southeast Asia. In addition, VOA increased its broadcasts to Russia and Iran by launching two 24/7 broadcast news networks: Current Time (Russian) and VOA365 (Persian). Voice of America established a press freedom beat in 2019, covering the status of a free press and journalists’ ability to cover news in the nations where VOA broadcasts.

The Voice of America is a multi-media international broadcaster providing products in 47 languages on multiple platforms. VOA’s audience accesses programming content on radio, television, the Internet, social media, and through more than 2,200 radio and television stations around the world that receive VOA programming by satellite. On a weekly basis, more than 275 million people count on VOA for news and information about their world.

Moving forward, VOA will continue to examine new technologies and digital platforms and refine its programming to reflect the needs of its listeners. One goal remains, however, for the hundreds of professionals who make up the Voice of America--to deliver comprehensive, timely truthful information. The VOA will continue to broadcast the sounds of freedom and serve as a beacon of hope for its audience around the world.


Ayish, Muhammad I. "The VOA Arabic Service: A Study of News Practices and Occupational Values." Gazette, 40, no. 2 (1987): 121-130.

Borra Rajan. "The Problem of Jamming in International Broadcasting." Journal of Broadcasting II, no. 4 (Fall 1967): 355-368.

Browne, Donald R. "The Voice of America Policies and Problems." (Journalism Monographs, no. 43), Lexington, KY, Association for Education in Journalism, 1976.

Carlson, Richard W. "No More Static." Policy Review (Winter 1988): 80-83.

Chancellor John. "The Intimate Voice.'" Foreign Service Journal (February 1967): 19-22.

Coffey, Fred A. "Voice of America: A Viable Communications Instrument of Foreign Policy and National Security?" Research Paper, National War College, 1977.

Elliott, Kim A. "Too Many Voices of America." Foreign Policy (Winter 1989/90): 113-131.

Fitzgerald, Merni Ingrassia. The Voice of America. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1987.

Grey, Robin (pseud.). "Inside the Voice of America." Columbia Journalism Review, 21 (May/June 1982): 23-30.

Handlery, G. "Propaganda and Information: The Case of U.S. Broadcasts to Eastern Europe." East European Quarterly, 8 (January 1975): 391-412.

Heil, Alan. Voice of America: A History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Houseman, John. Front and Center. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.

Inkeles, Alex. "The Soviet Characterization of the Voice of America." Columbia Journal of International Affairs, 4, no. 1 (Winter 1950): 44-55.

Jurey, Philomena. A Basement Seat to History. Washington, .D.C.: Linus Press, 1995.

Kelly, Sean. "The VOA Correspondent: Journalist or Diplomat?" Foreign Service Journal, 44 (April 1978): 13-15, 39-41.

Kern, Chris. “The Voice of America: First on the Internet.” How the Voice of America became the first broadcasting network in the world to offer continuously-updated news on the public Internet (http://www.chriskern.net/history/voaFirstOnTheInternet.html)

Kretzmann, Edwin M. J. "McCarthy and the Voice of America." Foreign Service Journal, 44 (February 1967): 26-27, 44-49.

Matlack, Carol. "America's Voice." Government Executive, 23, no. 7 (July 1991): 10-11, 13.

McKenna, Paul R. "Vagabond Able." ("Vagabond Able" was the S.S. Courier a Coast Guard cutter stationed in Rhodes, Greece from 1952-1964, as a floating VOA radio station. It transmitted programs in sixteen languages to the Middle East and behind the Iron Curtain.) Naval History (Spring 1991): 25-29.

Piresein, Robert William. "An International Radio History. the VOA." Foreign Service Journal, 44 (February 1967) 23-25 50.

Piresein, Robert William. The Voice of America: a History of the International Broadcasting Activities of the United States Government 1940-1962. (Originally presented as the author's thesis, Northeastern University, 1970.) New York: Arno Press, 1979.

Roberts, Chalmers M. "New Image for Voice of America." New York Times Magazine (April 13, 1980): 107-112, 114.

Shulman, Holly C. "John Houseman and the Voice of America: American Foreign Propaganda on the Air." American Studies (1988): 23-40.

Shulman, Holly C. The Voice of America: Propaganda and Democracy: 1942-1945. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

Shulman, Holly Cowan. The Voice of America: Propaganda and Democracy 1941-1945. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

Solzehitsyn, Aleksandr. "The Soft Voice of America." National Review (April 30, 1982): 477-481.

"Voice of America at the Crossroads: A Panel Discussion of the Appropriate Role of the VOA." Panel Proceedings. Washington, D.C., Media Institute (1982): 70.

Washburn, Philo C. "Voice of America and Radio Moscow Newscasts to the Third World." Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 32, no. 2 (Spring 1988): 197-218.

Today in history: The Voice of America began broadcasting in Russian to the Soviet Union.

On Feb. 17, 1947, the Voice of America began broadcasting in Russian to the Soviet Union.

In 1815, the United States and Britain exchanged the instruments of ratification for the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812.

In 1863, the International Red Cross was founded in Geneva.

In 1897, the forerunner of the National PTA, the National Congress of Mothers, convened its first meeting in Washington.

In 1913, the Armory Show, a landmark modern art exhibit, opened in New York City.

In 1925, the first issue of The New Yorker magazine (bearing the cover date of Feb. 21) was published.

In 1933, Newsweek magazine was first published under the title "News-Week."

In 1944, during World War II, U.S. forces invaded Eniwetok Atoll, encountering little initial resistance from Imperial Japanese troops. (The Americans secured the atoll less than a week later.)

In 1959, the United States launched Vanguard 2, a satellite which carried meteorological equipment.

In 1964, the Supreme Court, in Wesberry v. Sanders, ruled that congressional districts within each state had to be roughly equal in population.

In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon departed the White House with his wife, Pat, on a historic trip to China.

In 1986, Johnson & Johnson announced it would no longer sell over-the-counter medications in capsule form, following the death of a woman who had taken a cyanide-laced Tylenol capsule.

In 1996, world chess champion Garry Kasparov beat IBM supercomputer "Deep Blue," winning a six-game match in Philadelphia (however, Kasparov lost to Deep Blue in a rematch in 1997).

Voice of America begins broadcasts to Russia - HISTORY

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    Outlook for U.S. Stocks?

    June 22, 2021
    Hosted by Jay Taylor

    Guest Information

    Episode Description

    Dr. Peter Treadway, Michael Oliver and Corwin Coe return as guests. On May 5, Peter opined that “The outlook for U.S. stocks has turned negative.” That article focused on the costs of green energy being imposed on Americans by far left politicians. But Peter who is focused on global markets will most certainly have some views on the Asian markets, which he is very much involved with from his part time perch in Hong Kong. Specifically, I want to ask him about his views on the worsening of Chinese-US relations now that a more antagonistic Trump administration is no longer in charge. Michael has not hidden the fact that he too thinks the bullish days for stocks are numbered. He will provide his latest views on all the markets of great importance to our listeners and Corwin Coe will provide us with an update on the latest progress being made on Sitka Gold’s gold exploration projects in Arizona, Nevada and the Yukon.

    Turning Hard Times into Good Times

    Tuesday at 12 Noon Pacific Time on VoiceAmerica Business Channel

    Jay Taylor’s show will explain the real underlying causes for plunging stock prices, plunging home prices and growing unemployment. By correctly diagnosing the cause of America’s economic decline, rather than listening to excuses from Wall Street and Washington, Jay will offer winning investment ideas to protect and increase wealth.

    Topics to be discussed will include the cause of the decline of: our monetary system and our economy, the housing markets, the equity markets, and commodities, Why gold and silver are rising in value and how investors can profit from the direction of these markets through specific stocks, ETF’s and precious metals will also be discussed. Turning Hard Times into Good Times is broadcast live every Tuesday at 12 Noon Pacific Time on the VoiceAmerica Business Channel.

    Jay Taylor

    Jay Taylor has been able to more than double his newsletter’s model portfolio from 2000 to the present even as the S&P 500 was in the process of losing 50% of its value!

    The insights provided to Jay came from a history professor in 1967 who advised Jay that when countries go off a gold or silver standard, hard economic times are sure to follow because nations begin to think they do not need to work hard and save to enjoy a better life. Indeed there is no free lunch and a gold standard reminds people of that every day.

    Jay watched his professor’s prophetic words come true when in 1971, President Nixon completely detached the dollar from gold. Not surprising to Jay, the price of gold skyrocketed in the late 1970s as inflation wiped out vast amounts of wealth from average Americans. To protect his own wealth Jay began to invest in gold and gold mining shares and in 1981 he began sharing his success and insights in his newsletter. In 1981 Jay began writing a subscription newsletter that has earned his subscribers countless thousands of dollars over the years.

    Jay’s insights as to the real cause of our problems has enabled him to find investment strategies that work. Diagnose a problem correctly and you have a chance for success. Diagnose a problem incorrectly as the establishment does and you are sure to fail.

    Voice of America

    Voice of America provides trusted and objective news and information in 47 languages to a measured weekly audience of more than 278 million people around the world. For over 75 years, VOA journalists have told American stories and supplied content that many people cannot get locally: objective news and information about the US, their specific region and the world. VOA uses the devices and platforms target markets use to connect audiences on five continents with the people, thoughts and institutions that make America unique.

    VOA uses digital, web and mobile media to engage viewers, listeners, users, and friends. Radio and television broadcast to approximately 3,000 affiliates and satellite transmissions reach countries where free speech is banned or where civil society is under threat. VOA’s four mobile apps have registered more than 1 million downloads and cater to users on all major mobile platforms. With the largest audience of all U.S. international media, VOA continues to be a beacon of hope for underserved audiences who yearn for information about freedom of expression, civil society, and change.


    VOA wins Clarion Award for Cambodia Adrift

    VOA’s Khmer language service won in the online journalism-special news section category for its digital special report Cambodia Adrift, which covered the run-up to the 2018 elections in that country.

    VOA documentary ‘Displaced’ wins Clarion Awards

    The Voice of America won a Clarion award in the television documentary program – national category for its documentary Displaced.

    VOA’s documentary Displaced receives Gabriel Award

    The Voice of America received a Gabriel Award for its film Displaced, which documents the experiences of the Rohingya Muslim refugees currently living in the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh.

    Holding Russia Accountable

    The United States is holding Russia to account for actions taken against U.S. sovereignty and interests.

    Holding Russia Accountable

    No media source currently available

    The United States is holding Russia to account for actions taken against U.S. sovereignty and interests, in particular for attempts to interfere in the 2020 American presidential election and for cyber intrusions targeting federal agencies and U.S. companies.

    The United States is imposing costs on Russia through a variety of measures. Among them, the Treasury Department sanctioned six Russian technology companies that provided support to the Russian Intelligence Services’ cyber efforts. The U.S. government publicly named the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as the SVR, as the perpetrator of the cyber espionage campaign that exploited the SolarWinds Orion platform and other information technology infrastructures. That intrusion gave the SVR the ability to spy on or potentially disrupt more than 16,000 computer systems worldwide.

    The Treasury Department also sanctioned 32 entities and individuals carrying out Russian government-directed attempts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and other acts of disinformation. In addition, the Treasury Department issued a directive that prohibits U.S. banks from new purchases of ruble or non-ruble denominated bonds from Russia’s central bank, Finance Ministry or national wealth fund after June 14, 2021.

    Furthermore, the State Department announced that it is expelling 10 officials from the Russian diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C., some of whom are representatives of Russian intelligence services.

    President Joe Biden called the U.S. response to the malign actions of the Russian government “measured and proportionate.”

    “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship… Throughout our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and to keep them from escalating out of control.”

    President Biden noted how at the beginning of his administration the United States and Russia worked together to quickly extend the new START Treaty, which helps maintain nuclear stability between the two countries. He announced that in a recent phone conversation with President Putin he proposed a summit in Europe between the two leaders this summer so they can personally work toward a more effective relationship.

    “Now is the time to de-escalate. The way forward is through thoughtful dialogue and a diplomatic process.”

    “Where it is in the interest of the United States to work with Russia, we should and will,” said President Biden. “Where Russia seeks to violate the interests of the United States, we will respond.”

    Join Russia and USA by Rail Tunnels under the Bering Strait?

    Russia&rsquos Urals oil has been over $100 a barrel for a year now.
    The country&rsquos budgets are balanced. Debt is low. Savings are piling up. Russians are getting their pre-recession mojo back.
    On the consumer end, sales of foreign cars made in Russia jumped 90 percent during the first quarter of 2012 over last year.
    In the Kremlin, leaders are thinking big again.
    In rapid succession, the government leaked a plan to create a &ldquosuper agency&rdquo to develop the Russian Far East President-elect Vladimir Putin vowed to spend $17 billion a year for new and improved railroads, and Vladimir Yakunin, president of Russian Railways, promoted a think big plan &mdash a rail and tunnel link connecting Russia and the United States.
    &ldquoIt is not a dream,&rdquo Yakunin, a close ally of Mr. Putin, told reporters last week. &ldquoI am convinced that Russia needs the development of areas of the Far East, Kamchatka. I think that the decision to build must be made within the next three-five years.&rdquo
    Next year, Russia&rsquos railroad czar will open one big leg on the trip toward the Bering Strait &ndash an 800 kilometer rail line to Yakutsk, capital of Sakha Republic, a mineral rich area larger than Argentina.

    Moscow-born Fyodor Soloview lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lobbies for uniting his two homelands, Russia and the United States, with rail tunnels under the Bering Strait. Photo: Soloview

    But the 270,000 residents of Yakutsk do not want to live at the dead end of a spur line. They dream of five kilometer long freight trains rolling past their city, carrying Chinese goods to North America, and North American coal and manufactured products to Russia and China.

    From their city, 450 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, passenger tickets could be sold west to London, and east to New York.

    With the West&rsquos swelling population of aging affluent retirees, what better gift for Mom and Dad than a one-month train trip, rolling across the International Dateline, traveling by rail three quarters of the way around the world? A TransBering rail voyage would make the TransSiberian and the TransCanada look like short hops.
    To push thinking along, Yakutsk hosted a trans Bering rail conference last August. Engineers showed charts indicating that the tunnels under the Bering Strait would be 103 kilometers long, about twice the length of the tunnel under the English Channel. Unlike Europe&rsquos &ldquoChunnel,&rdquo there are two islands along the Bering route &ndash geographical factors that would ease construction and allow for ventilation and emergency access.

    For now, the only trains in Alaska run from Seward on the coast 760 kilometers into the interior, carrying tourists to Denali National Park and freight to two military bases. Photo: Fyodor Soloview

    A trans Bering rail link was first seriously proposed by Czar Nicholas II in 1905. One century later, with the rise of China and the explosion of Asian manufacturing, some Russian economists believe that the day is near when a rail link to North America up would be economically viable.
    The current price tag for the missing 10,000 kilometers, tunnel included: $100 billion. Freight fees are estimated at $11 billion a year.
    Russian Railways estimates that a Bering Strait tunnel could eventually handle 3 percent of the world&rsquos freight cargo. Yakunin says that China is interested in the project. At a railway meeting in Moscow Thursday, Mr. Putin said that freight traffic on a main Siberian line, the Baikal-Amur Mainline, is expected to nearly triple by 2020.

    To critics who worry about harsh winter weather, Russian Railways notes that since 1915, the company has been running passenger and freight trains year round to Murmansk, located 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The proposed route for a tunnel under the Bering Strait would pass 50 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle.

    Trans Bering rail promoters envisage building feeder lines to connect 'stranded' mineral deposits and to allow shipment of freight between North American and Russia, China, Japan and the Korean peninsula. Map: InterBering

    For a tunnel linking two continents, support has to be generated on the North American side. In Alaska, Fyodor Soloview, a native of Moscow, recently formed InterBering, a private group to lobby for rail construction to the Bering Strait.
    &ldquoWe can ship cargo between two the continents by rail,&rdquo Soloview said by telephone Thursday from his office in Anchorage. &ldquoOnce the Bering tunnel is built, it will convert the entire world to different thinking.&rdquo
    Yakunin estimates that the Russian side of a trans Bering railroad would take 10 to 15 years to build. That could fit into the political calendar of his friend Mr. Putin. On May 7, Mr. Putin will be inaugurated for a new six year term. He has left open the possibility of running in 2018 for another six year term.
    So Russian Railways may have the political cover for another 12 years.
    The question is whether oil prices will stay high enough to build a tunnel linking America and Asia.
    If so, Washington&rsquos diplomatic reset with Moscow could be welded in steel.

    To reconnect Asia and North America -- after a 15,000-year separation -- engineers would dig two 103-kilometer long tunnels, each about twice as long as the rail tunnels opened under the English Channel in 1994. Diagrams: Victor Razbegin

    On the North American side, almost 5,000 kilometer to track would have to be laid to connect with the existing North American freight network: east from the Bering Strait to Fairbanks, Alaska, and then southeast to Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. Map: InterBering

    Inside the U.S. effort to combat Russian misinformation

    Not the White House, the State Department or the CIA. The recordings were published by a U.S.-government-funded website called Polygraph.info, whose reporter says she got them from a source close to the Kremlin.

    Polygraph is a relatively new fact-checking arm of an obscure, diminutive media effort by the U.S. to highlight Russian misdeeds and counter Russian propaganda.

    It's an anomaly in the Trump administration — perhaps the only part of the U.S. government whose job is to regularly punch back against what experts say is a stream of Russian disinformation aimed at America and the West.

    "At the end of the day, the Russians are engaging in information warfare — they're telling lies," said John Lansing, a former television executive who oversees the effort. "And we're confronting them toe-to-toe with fact-based, truthful, professional journalism."

    Russia's proficiency at information war has been on display in the wake of the U.S.-led military strike Friday night in Syria. Russia called the strikes illegal and said the chemical weapons attacks that prompted them were staged. To get that message out, there was a 2000 percent spike in activity in the hours since the strike by fake Russian propaganda accounts on social media, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Saturday. A website that tracks a slice of those accounts, Hamilton 68, found that they were pumping out the Russian government narrative in English.

    They're "eating our lunch"

    The U.S. is ill-equipped to respond. Polygraph, part of the tiny corner of the government that's trying, has a staff of five that doesn't usually work on the weekends.

    "We focus mostly on Russia right now because there is a large flow of disinformation that's coming from Russia," said Jim Fry, a former Dallas television reporter who runs Polygraph from Washington.

    Polygraph is a joint venture of the Voice of America and Radio Liberty, which are funded by — but independent of — the U.S. government. They fall under the umbrella of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, whose mission is to promote freedom and democracy and "tell America's story" around the world. But they are walled off, editorially, from the administration in power.

    "The law protects us from interference by U.S. government officials," said Tom Kent, who spent 44 years at The Associated Press before becoming president of Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe. "They can't tell us what to broadcast."

    During the Cold War, the VOA and Radio Liberty sought to counter communist propaganda and funnel information to the news-starved citizenry behind the Iron Curtain.

    Those muscles — and budgets — have long since atrophied. But in recent years, there have been growing calls for a new twist on that old mission.

    When Lansing became CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors in 2015, he said he was confronted on Capitol Hill and throughout the government with a single question:

    "Why are the Russians eating our lunch in terms of information warfare?"

    People were talking mainly about RT, the former Russia Today, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on an English language broadcast and web platform that regularly skewers American and the West. The U.S. government has labeled RT a propaganda operation.

    The State Department came under criticism earlier this year when news reports highlighted its failure to spend $120 million that had been allocated to push back on Russian propaganda abroad.

    Lost in that conversation was the fact that one month into the Trump Administration, Lansing and his team launched Current Time America, a 24-hour Russian-language broadcasting and web platform. The budget was $20 million — around one-tenth the size of RT's budget, Lansing says. But one year later, Current Time America is available on TV screens in 30 countries, and officials counted 400 million view views on social media last year.

    Still, U.S. information efforts are minuscule compared to the Russian campaign. While Current Time America is available in Russia, the Russian government makes it difficult to find — keeping it off cable systems and requiring special tuning for satellite reception.

    The broadcasting board's total budget this year is about $660 million dollars, about a third of what was spent in 1991, adjusted for inflation.

    "I think we should be investing more," Lansing said.

    "There are facts"

    The Russian government labels the entire U.S.-funded journalism operation "propaganda" that is "part of a broader, wide-reaching American system of pressure on our country."

    Irina van Dusen, who heads the effort as chief of Voice of America's Russian-language programming, knows what propaganda looks like. She grew up in the Soviet Union, listening to the VOA on an illegal short wave radio for scraps of accurate reporting.

    She got her journalism degree in Moscow, but decided that if she wanted to practice real journalism, she would have to move to the West.

    During the Cold War, she says, the VOA was trying to break through jamming and censorship. Now there has been a proliferation of Russian TV and web channels that put out a cacophony of news, nearly all of it favorable to Vladimir Putin. The task in 2018 is trying to break through a fog of disinformation.

    The prevailing view in Russia, she said, is that "There is no truth. There is only different versions, different narratives. … We stand by the fact that there is truth. And there are facts."

    From a TV studio near not far from where special counsel Robert Mueller comes to work each day, Current Time America covers Washington, offering live broadcasts of Congressional hearings with simultaneous translations.

    "People can listen, see how it's done, how policies are made, what questions asked, what facts are being brought up," she said.

    The channel also covers Russia, to "provide Russian speaking audiences with a true portrait of the society, you know? As opposed to state-run Russian television that — interprets everything that is done in the world … as some kind of a United States manipulation and United States meddling in world affairs."

    Polygraph.info, and its Russian-language counterpart, Factograph, try to be slightly edgier than a traditional news operation.

    "What our reporters do every day is they begin the day looking at Russian media," said Fry. "Looking at what's coming out of Russia. And then we decide whether there's something to fact check. Usually, almost every day, there's more to fact check than we could possibly do with our staff."

    The site is modeled after other media fact check efforts, including Politifact and factcheck.org. It highlights a claim, say, by Putin or another Russian official, and brands it for veracity, with labels like "Partially True, "False" or "Misleading."

    In March, the site fact-checked a Putin documentary that alleged the Russian leader had always believed that the Ukrainian territory of Crimea was part of Russia. It highlighted remarks by Putin in 2008 in which he said something very different: "Crimea is absolutely not a disputed territory." Six years later, Putin seized Crimea from Ukraine, to international condemnation.

    Polygraph also challenged Russia's denial that the nerve agent used to poison a former spy in the U.K. was made only in Russia, and its assertion that no chemical attack took place in Syria.

    Polygraph reporters are not afraid to endorse criticism of the U.S. when it's accurate. When Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov criticized a list of Russian oligarchs that the Treasury Department admitted it cribbed from Forbes magazine, Polygraph labeled his comments, "Partially True."

    United States: Attacks on Voice of America Undermine Press Freedom

    The Trump administration's blacklisting of Voice of America journalists risks press freedom at home and abroad.

    In response to recent actions taken by the Trump administration to undercut the Voice of America (VOA), a US global broadcast news agency, Freedom House issued the following statement:

    “VOA is one of the largest and most trusted independent news agencies in the world,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Efforts to blacklist VOA journalists from interview requests to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are an unprecedented attack on press freedom in the United States.”

    “VOA is often one of the few critical and independent voices available in countries without a free press, such as Russia and China. Restrictions on VOA at home will be noted by illiberal leaders abroad, who may follow the example of the United States and crack down on VOA or other independent outlets in their countries, limiting access to essential information including about the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States should be an exemplar, not a detractor, of press freedom around the world.”

    “The administration must respect and commit to maintaining the firewall that prohibits political interference in VOA’s independent reporting.”

    On June 14, VOA reported on documents released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Knight First Amendment Institute that revealed instructions to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff to ignore media requests from VOA journalists. As justification, the instructions referenced an April 10 statement from the White House that falsely accused VOA of using taxpayer money to promote foreign propaganda.

    Also in April, President Trump verbally attacked VOA, calling its coverage of the United States “disgusting.” VOA director Amanda Bennett and deputy director Sandy Sugawara resigned from their positions on June 15.

    Funded by the US government, VOA was founded in 1942 to report on World War II and has since worked to provide independent and objective news in more than 40 languages to audiences in approximately 100 countries around the world. VOA’s independence is protected under the 1994 US International Broadcast Act, which guarantees a firewall that prohibits government interference in its work.

    Watch the video: Lets Learn English Lesson 25: Watch Out!