June 21, 2007
The House of Representatives Thursday approved an amendment that would provide $10 million for the Voice of America to boost its broadcasts to Venezuela, where news media freedoms have been seen as under attack by President Hugo Chávez.
The amendment, proposed by Rep. Connie Mack, a Cape Florida lawmaker who has been sharply critical of Chávez, suggests the Broadcast Board of Governors, which oversees operations like the Voice of America and Radio and TV Martí, allot $10 million for its Venezuela operations.
''Freedom of the press died in Venezuela on May 27, 2007, when Chávez shut down Radio Caracas Television,'' Mack said on the floor, referring to RCTV, an opposition TV station that was denied its broadcast license, triggering international condemnation.
''Voice of America must provide and create additional programs. With targeted funding, Voice of America can have an even greater ability and capability to broadcast longer with more programming,'' he said.
The amendment is part of the $34 billion State Department foreign operations appropriations bill being debated in the House.
House rules did not allow for an outright increase in funding to the Broadcast Board of Governors' budget of $661 million, but the text of the Mack proposal sets the stage for including the additional VOA money in the final bill that is thrashed out between Senate and House negotiators, his office said.
Mack's proposal appeared to gain ground as Rep. Nita Lowie, a New York Democrat who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department bill, immediately supported the initiative.
It passed on a voice vote.
Mack said Chávez was increasing his influence in places like Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua and was seeking warmer ties with Iran.
''Chávez's communist plans for the future do not include independent media and freedom of the press,'' Mack said.