After 72 years on air, VOA's Greek Service goes silent

By Zacharo Gialamas

Almost three-quarters of a century after it first began broadcasting, the microphones at the Greek Service of the Voice of America (VOA) went silent for the last time on Tuesday.

The final radio program was carried by Skai in Athens, thereby ending 72 years of broadcasts targeted at Greek-speaking audiences in Greece and the USA.

“I feel absolutely privileged to have been given the opportunity to present American perspectives to Greek audiences for over 22 years,” said VOA Greek Service chief Anna K. Morris.

According to the Broadcasting Board of Governors' (BBG) website, VOA Director David Ensor called the Greek Service “a small but mighty group of talented, dedicated journalists, who for over seven decades served as an unbiased, objective news source.”

Budget cuts at VOA and a change of direction in terms of the foreign language services the broadcaster wanted to offer both contributed to the decision to shut down the Greek service. In a post-9/11 world, there were doubts about whether federal money was best spent on broadcasting to developed democracies that were already served by a free local media.

The Greek Service was one of the original services of the Voice of America, which went on the air in 1942. By covering events involving Greece and Cyprus it proved a vital link between members of the Greek diaspora in the USA and their homeland. As time, and journalism, evolved the Greek service broadcast TV programs and kept its audience informed via its website.

In 1991, the VOA Greek Service and VOA Turkish Service were awarded the Ipekci Peace and Friendship Prize for Communication. They were chosen “for their multifaceted and sincere cooperation in support of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement on an international level.”

VOA's decision means that this is the second Greek-language international media service to go off the airwaves in the last decade. The BBC's Greek Service was closed down at the end of 2005. This means the only Greek service still operating in the Western media is that of Deutsche Welle, broadcasting from Bonn, Germany.

However, US Senator Robert Menendez said that he would make efforts to ensure that the Greek Service gets back on air, saying that it had helped foster understanding between Greece and the USA "and has promoted democratic values and free market ideas in Greece for decades."

"Upon learning of Voice of America’s plan to discontinue its Greek language service earlier this year, I expressed my opposition to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. With Greece emerging from an economic crisis that had profound social and political impact on the country, and with instability spreading in near-by regions, now is clearly not the time to end a service that allows us to communicate the best of our ideas and ideals to the Greek public," said Menendez, who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement on August 12.

"In this context, it is of the utmost importance that the U.S. Government and the American people have a forum to present our views about ongoing developments at home, in Greece and around the world. I am convinced that the platform best equipped to guarantee that free exchange of information between the United States and Greece is Voice of America's Greek language service, a program I will do everything in my power to restore."