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'Voice of America' and other voices
The Voice of America, more the voice of the US government has in a review of its priories in the post 9/11 era decided to wind up the fairly popular Hindi service. The VOA and many others voices became muted after their political objectives were met.
IT WAS another day and age when the Cold War was still raging and the world was still multipolar. Sitting in my Air Force base, I would twiddle my radio knobs in search of some entertainment. Sooner or later, the radio would settle into one of four stations, the BBC, the Voice of America, Radio Moscow and Radio Beijing. Leading the pack would be the venerable BBC with an eclectic mix of music, news, book readings, and even live concerts like the BBC’s ’Proms in the Park’. Radio Moscow was strong on classical music and Radio Beijing on orchestral music and the Voice of America for talk shows.

Each of those stations had their niche and loyal fans and although except for the BBC, even though the other stations were unabashedly propagandistic, listening to two or more stations helped to form a some what more well rounded view of the world. Where else would you hear coverage of Cuba’s health care system? Or the land reforms in the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Laos? Not surely on CNN.

Over the years, radio stations have changed as has the course of technology. All these stations broadcast on short wave frequencies and listeners had to battle static, fluctuating signals depending on local weather conditions ( political or meteorological weather, both) and stations with more powerful signals broadcasting on a near by frequency.

Over the years, all the stations have changed their character and focus as the Cold War ended and other broadcasting platforms became available. The BBC has adapted the era of cable television and the satellite radio but the others have not – not in their original avatars and one of them… the Voice of America died a silent death for India as VOA’s Hindi service comes to an end at the end of this month.

The Voice of America, more the voice of American government than its people of course has in a review of its priories in the post 9/11 era decided to wind up the fairly popular Hindi service. I suppose that it has in ways outlived its strategic utility. During the Cold War, with the Indian government firmly tilted towards the Soviet Union, the VOA was a helpful tool for the American media to connect with the Indian public. I suppose that with no Soviet Union left today and both the major political formations in India today – the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) firmly looking to America for anchor, the VOA is no longer needed to whisper Uncle Sam’s sweet nothings to Indian ears.

While that may be so, the radio programmes always have had loyal listeners’ clubs in the country and these will be devastated. Many of these clubs have been nurtured through generations and indeed ’VOA listeners clubs’ have existed in small towns and villages across India, where radio is still a part of daily life. People there have no Internet, cable television or even reliable electricity. But they have radio and the defining point for many is to go on air for a brief while in the ’Call In’ programmes. VOA pampers its listeners with pens, caps, diaries, T-shirts and key chains. Probably, the most popular freebie is the colourful VOA calendar that adorns the mud walls of many homes.

Meanwhile, the big daddy of broadcasting in India, the venerable BBC is extending its footfall by engaging further with radio in the FM Mode. BBC has a stake in one of the local stations Radio One and although the Indian government still does not allow the broadcast of news by private channels, the BBC is positioning itself to do just that hoping for the policy to change some day soon. Of course, the BBC has always been a commercially run business house and is making its business decisions based on long term business goals and not political agendas. The Voice of America and many other voices have been muted because their political objectives have been met. And yet for all the propaganda and the blatantly one sided coverage of news – these voices will be missed; if only they taught you to recognise propaganda well when you heard it over the air waves.
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