VOA, BBC cease radio shows into China

08:22, February 17, 2011      

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Major Western media organizations, faced with big budget cuts, are turning to more modern ways to reach out to Chinese audiences, shifting their focus from shortwave radio to digital media.

Voice of America (VOA) became the second mainstream Western media organization this year to announce plans to cancel its radio broadcasts in Chinese, following the BBC World Service, which will end a number of foreign-language services including Chinese.

The VOA cuts will include the dismissal of 45 Chinese-language broadcasters, 38 from the 69-strong Mandarin service and all broadcasters from its Cantonese services, according to a report in The Washington Times on Wednesday.

It said the cuts were outlined as a cost-cutting measure in the fiscal 2012 budget report of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA's parent agency.

If the cuts are approved by the US Congress, all VOA broadcasts on shortwave radio and on television in Chinese will end on Oct 1.

Facing similar budget issues, Britain's Foreign Office, which funds the BBC World Service, said it would cut its grant by 16 percent, resulting in the closure of five language services, and the loss of approximately 650 jobs. Radio programs in Mandarin will be among those to be scrapped, according to the New York Times.

In the meantime, both organizations have said they will focus more on new media.

Raymond Li, head of BBC Chinese, told China Daily that with a tighter budget, the company is looking for ways to reach its Chinese audience more efficiently.

"We have to end the radio programs due to financial pressures, but in the meantime we are also reaching out to an even bigger Chinese audience through new media channels such as Web and mobile phone operations," Li said.

Broadcasting Board of Governors spokeswoman Letitia King told The Washington Times that VOA's China branch will focus solely on digital media in the future. Fellow board member S. Enders Wimbush said the cuts were made after surveys showed a sharp decline in shortwave radio listeners in most regions of China.

According to experts, the closure of such media services is mainly due to the transformation and innovation of media communications, which offer ways to reach audiences in a more efficient manner.

Li Liangrong, a professor of media studies at Shanghai-based Fudan University, said these media giants were re-aligning their resources "to implement a cost-effective and market-specific strategy to reach target audiences in China".

"Most Western countries' publicity strategies regarding China are aimed at influencing elite groups, most of whom can understand English," Li said.

In such a context, there is simply "no point in keeping the Chinese-language channels, especially at a time when news outlets are faced with budget cuts", said Yu Guoming, vice-dean of the Journalism School at Renmin University of China.

The popularity of the Internet services in China was another major reason for the cancellation of the radio broadcasts, Yu added.

Intellectuals and young people prefer online information sharing and virtual social networking, rather than old-fashioned radio and television programs, Yu said.

Analysts regard the decisions as being akin to putting "old wine in a new bottle".

"They are looking for a more pragmatic and effective way to introduce Western values so as to create a favorable economic and political climate for them," Li said.

By Ai Yang and He Wei, China Daily
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