Voice of American Broadcast Silenced by Russian Officials

The Voice of America, which has broadcast from inside Russia since the end of the Cold War, has been silenced in the new chill between Russia and the U.S.

VOA’s over-the-air broadcasts on the 810 AM frequency in Moscow ceased at the start of April, after Russian authorities refused to renew a long-standing broadcasting contract, according to a statement by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent federal agency that oversees the American government’s international media operations.

The Voice of Russia, the nation’s international radio broadcasting service, said yesterday that the government in Moscow moved against an “Orwellian U.S. propaganda tool.” The action came amid mounting tensions with the U.S. and its allies over the future of Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“The Russian Government, which has so far been patient as the U.S./NATO attempt to continue to surround it with missiles and continue to demonize everything Russian, is beginning to take serious measures to protect itself, its people and its allies,” the Voice of Russia said on its website.

While Russian authorities ended VOA’s terrestrial broadcasts in Russia, the service funded through the U.S. Congress continues to expand audio and video news and information though the Internet and other means.

“That’s where the next-generation audiences are in any case,” Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, said in a phone interview.

Kiselyov’s Role

The U.S. was told “we are not going to cooperate” in renewing the Voice of America contract in a March 21 letter from Dmitry Kiselyov, the director of the state information agency Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today).

That was the day European Union governments imposed an asset freeze and visa ban on Kiselyov, who was described as a “central figure of the government propaganda supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine,” according to a list published today in Brussels.

The U.S. embassy in Moscow said in a statement that the action against VOA is “latest Russian effort to decrease space for independent and free media in this country.”

“It is particularly ironic that the decision came the same week that Russian authorities denounced a district court in Kiev for temporarily allowing the suspension of Russian broadcasts in Ukraine, a decision that Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs human-rights envoy, called ‘an infringement on democratic freedoms and a violation of Ukraine’s international obligations,’” the embassy said in its statement yesterday.

‘Unprecedented Censorship’

Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, condemned the Russian action today.

“In the last year, the Russian government has passed laws imposing unprecedented censorship and restrictions on media and online publications,” she said. “In the past few months alone, it has blocked independent websites and blogs, turned wire services into a propaganda tool, denied visas and accreditation to foreign journalists, and forced leadership changes at several media outlets that dare to challenge Kremlin politics.”

VOA’s broadcasting to Russians began in 1947 and continued from outside the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. In the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russian authorities let U.S. broadcasting entities lease transmitters in the country to provide news in Russian, as well as English-language lessons.

Curtailing Broadcasts

Distribution of programming from VOA and its sibling, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in Russia reached a high point in 2005, when VOA Russian programming was distributed on a nationwide television network and both VOA and RFE/RL had extensive partnerships with domestic Russian radio stations, according to the U.S. broadcasting board.

Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian authorities have curtailed the broadcasts.

Voice of America transmits news, information and cultural programs in 45 languages and says it reaches more than 164 million people around the world every week on television, radio, web and mobile platforms.

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