Under fire, US eyes Internet to reach Chinese

WASHINGTON, April  7, 2011 (AFP) - The US broadcasting agency said Wednesday that it saw the Internet as the future for reaching the Chinese public as it came under fire from lawmakers for slashing short-wave radio service.

Under a budget proposal for next year, Voice of America would close its longtime radio and television broadcasts in Mandarin and eliminate its Cantonese service entirely, cutting 45 jobs and saving $8 million.

The belt-tightening comes as China ramps up global distribution of its own state-run radio and television, an effort symbolized by the official Xinhua news agency's efforts to secure a spot in New York's Times Square.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a staunch critic of China, called a congressional hearing to voice alarm at the cuts and questioned if President Barack Obama's administration was trying to curry favor with Beijing.

"The $8 million 'saved' will do far more to weaken our efforts in a dictatorial and belligerent China than it will to balance the budget," said Rohrabacher, a Republican from California.

He questioned the shift to an Internet platform, noting that China has worked tirelessly to build a firewall that blocks out online searches for politically sensitive topics.

But S. Enders Wimbush, a board member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an autonomous US government agency, testified to lawmakers that the budget proposal was only a nod to "common sense."

The board "did not plan to make it easier on Chinese authorities. In fact, we plan to make it more difficult for them," Wimbush said.

"We are going heavily into digital because that is where the audience is and, particularly, that's where the demographic is that we seek to reach," he said.

Launched in 1942, Voice of America was active during the Cold War as the US government's international broadcaster. It stopped live broadcasts in Russian in 2008.

The 2012 budget still funds radio and Internet broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese by Radio Free Asia, a separate service founded after China's Tiananmen Square crackdown that focuses on providing news within closed Asian societies.