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Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

A few weeks ago I wrote something here about the new Voice of Russia AM radio station in the New York metro area (at 1430 on the dial). They broadcast 24/7 and focus on news and international issues, at least when I listen during my morning and evening commutes to work. When I last wrote, the VofR announcers were mostly English-speaking Russians with noticeable accents. But since then, VofR decided to ‘Americanize’ things a bit; they focus more on local news in the New York and DC metro areas (those are the two places where they have stations; sorry, Chicago, Atlanta, LA, Dallas, etc., but you can listen on the web site). They even give occasional weather forecasts for DC and NYC, and have toned down the critical commentary (somewhat hypocritical, coming from Russia) regarding American imperialism. And instead of cuing “expert commentary” from old men with turgid accents at quasi-governmental institutions in St. Petersburg or Novosibirsk, VofR is now featuring mostly American guests on their shows. Again, at least during drive-time; at 10 PM on Sunday or 12 noon on Tuesday it might be Moscow Mailbag or Musical Tales from the steppes, or recipes for sturgeon and cabbage.

To deliver this lighter blend with an American flavor, VofR recently hired several aspiring young American news journalists as hosts. It’s quite an improvement and it gives VofR even more of an NPR flavor (but without all the pledge drives!). I still haven’t figured out just why the Russian government is spending good money on this, unless it’s a prestige thing (or maybe it’s good for business; perhaps it encourages American financial leaders to consider investing in Russia). But I’m glad they are doing it, as it presents a welcome alternative on the AM dial for us news junkies and policy wonks when the local network news stations are rattling off their commercials (dirty capitalists!) and NPR is begging for cash or playing “groovy” international music (damn socialists!).

One of the new drive-time shows on VofR is called “Capital to Capital”, hosted by two American announcers, one based in Moscow and the other in Washington. They discuss the local headlines from each capital and exchange thoughts and comparisons of local political matters. “It’s a small world, after all”, as the old Disney theme song went. The other day, the two correspondents, Jessica Jordan in DC and Angela Davis in Moscow, mentioned the recent legislation in New York state to allow gay marriage. Angela noted that a gay rights organization recently applied for permits to hold a parade in Moscow, but were turned down. According to Angela, Russian President Medvedev commented that Russia has a problem with low birth rates and population decline, so why would it want to promote something that contributes to that situation. Jessica Jordan was obviously nonplussed by this; she wanted to correct the President’s unenlightened view about homosexuality, saying “BUT THAT WOULDN’T . . .”

And then she suddenly stopped. After an awkward pause, both women agreed that it was an interesting situation, and moved on to another topic. And so Jessica lived to keep her job another day (I heard her today). Hey, with 9% unemployment here and the traditional media reeling from non-traditional news resources on the web, a decent job in radio journalism is a precious thing for a young person today. Jessica realized that you don’t criticize your boss, especially when your boss comes from a far-away country still having trouble with the notion of a human right to free expression. I can’t help but imagine that she knew of other young Americans who tried out behind the VofR microphone but washed out for straying just a bit too far from the “Russian viewpoint”.

Yea, well. It’s not a completely Russian thing, obviously. I can hardly think of any American organization, either government or business or not-for-profit or religious, where you can get away with saying what you truly think about how things are being run. I guess this is one of the things that makes it a small world, after all. Where ever you go – you don’t bite the hand that signs your paycheck!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:08 pm      

  1. Jim, One can just see/hear it: As Jessica Jordan started her “But that wouldn’t….”, someone was speaking in her ear something like: SHUT UP! (Recently, at a big announcement from a court trial all of the Chgo area was listening to, one reporter said that he had someone talking to him in one ear from the courtroom,telling him what was happening, while in the other ear his producers were telling him what to do when. And you can be sure the producers had the same “ear information” from the court room.

    I also was reading a book on China recently, written by a person famous in China for her radio program. She too mentioned the control of producers over content, even simple words that might be used, lest they offend the government and cause all to lose their jobs and worse, go to jail.

    And, of course, I’ve heard so many times about American employers: Be very careful what is sent and to whom it is sent when at work, as one’s employer is free to read all emails and writings done at work and use them against an employee when/if it suits the employer. Anerican courts seem to have no problem enforcing such a rule/law.

    I also find it interesting that Russia seems to have the opposite problem that China has with population growth–or non-growth. Why would that be? I ask myself. Don’t really know the answer immediately. Surely, it has little to do with the sex drive of the people in either country and more to do with some social consideration. And surely the reason cannot be only the reason that China values male children more than female. At one time even in the West males were favored over females. And sometimes in some Western cultures this still is an unstated social value.

    Then again, I find myself wondering just why Russia is so interested in appearing more “American.” Something has to be going on there. Russia is hardly worried about whether or not they are socially accepted in America. There *has* to be some kind of political reason behind their wanting to appear more “American.”

    I find myself intrigued by these questions: So Russia after all this time is trying to appear more “American”! What political motivation is behind that? Then: Why does Russia have such a problem with population growth? Russia does not have enough people (so to say) and China has too many. Who’d’ve thunk! How did that happen? MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — June 29, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

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