For those who spent the past two decades transmitting radio, television and Web content back to their small Adriatic nation, the milestone was bittersweet. On one hand, the closure of the service meant that their mission was accomplished. And yet their success meant their end.
“You work toward one goal, and when you get it, you lose your job,” said Damir Bebic, a broadcaster with the program since 1997.
For 70 years, the U.S. government-funded Voice of America has broadcast news into countries where information does not flow freely. The organization’s charter mandates that the programming be objective and comprehensive while presenting U.S. policy to the rest of the world.
Its programming is often jammed by governments of the countries it broadcasts to. For decades, Soviet bloc countries were a key target for programming. Now, governments such as Iran and North Korea try to block VOA broadcasts.
For a service to shut down means that its goals are considered to have been largely met. But it is also a reflection of economic pressure on the U.S. government. The Croatian service cost $944,000 last year.
At the party, which was also attended by friends from VOA’s 43 remaining language services, some said they fear other services may be seen as unnecessary as the organization shifts its focus away from the former Soviet sphere.
“This is an extremely sad day,” said Katarina Radovic, a journalist with the Serbian service, which also started 19 years ago out of the splintered Yugoslav service. “All of us are going to be less relevant and more vulnerable from now on.”
VOA Director David Ensor assured those gathered that “the other services [in the Balkans] will go on for some time to come. . . . But the fact is, the Croatian service has been so successful that it wasn’t as essential as it had been when it started.”
Back then Croatia had no independent media, Ensor said later, adding that VOA had trained Croatian journalists, and its programming was widely disseminated in Croatia and served as a model for its nascent press.
In 1992, when Yugoslavia was breaking apart, “there was no question” that VOA services were needed, said John Lennon, the associate director for language programming. But VOA is now putting more emphasis on Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. The last one to close was the Hindi service, in 2010.
The news was not surprising to employees of the Croatian service. For six years in a row, they were told their program may be canceled. But fans in Croatia were taken aback by a note posted Nov. 22 on the Web site, announcing that the next day’s broadcasts would be the last.