The mission of the Voice of America and other United States international broadcasters is to “promote and sustain freedom and democracy by broadcasting accurate and objective news and information.” The U.S. is committed to carrying out this mission -- especially in countries where governments try to limit people’s access to news.
One such country is China. As the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors reports, “Even as China is actively trying to expand its role in the global marketplace, it is isolating its people, cutting off the free flow of information, and denying citizens reliable and credible news from the U.S., among other places.”
The Broadcasting Board of Governors, or B-B-G, oversees U.S. non-military international broadcasting, including V-O-A and Radio Free Asia. V-O-A broadcasts to China in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Tibetan. R-F-A broadcasts in these languages, plus Uighur. But according to B-B-G monitors, China tries to block the broadcasts. This jamming is done by transmitting noise or another program over the same frequency as the V-O-A and R-F-A broadcasts.
Moreover, jamming seems to be on the rise, despite increased commercial and diplomatic contacts between the U.S. and China. To try to overcome jamming, V-O-A and R-F-A broadcast on several different frequencies. It is difficult for China to block all of them at once, so many people still manage to hear the broadcasts.
China is also one of the world’s major censors of the Internet. Researchers at Harvard Law School recently reported that the Chinese government is blocking as many as nineteen-thousand web sites, along with many e-mail subscription services. But as with radio broadcasts, China cannot hope to keep everything out. As fast as the government blocks one stream of information, others spring up to provide the Chinese people with the news they so eagerly seek.
A quarter of century ago, China began to open up to trade with the rest of the world. The resulting economic growth brought a remarkable increase in living standards for hundreds of millions of Chinese. No Chinese leader would dream of going back to the days when China was a desperately poor country shut off from world trade. And it is equally futile to think that China can keep out a world of ideas. It is time for China to welcome -- not block -- the free flow of news and information.