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[] WPO 8.10.01: Voice Of America Expands Afghan Broadcasts,
Washington Post
October 8, 2001

Voice Of America Expands Afghan Broadcasts

By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post Staff Writer 

The Voice of America is expanding its radio broadcasts into Afghanistan and attempting to explain U.S. war aims while avoiding overt propaganda, such as calls for Afghan soldiers to defect, VOA officials said yesterday.

Starting tonight, the VOA will begin delivering two hours and 15 minutes of news and commentary a day in each of Afghanistan's two main languages, Pashto and Dari. That is an increase of 30 minutes in each tongue.

Yesterday, President Bush's speech announcing U.S. airstrikes was broadcast live by the VOA in English and translated into numerous languages, including Pashto, Dari, Arabic and Farsi. VOA also broadcast a 3 1/2-minute editorial last night explaining the U.S. military goals and the rationale behind Bush's policy, said Robert R. Reilly, who read the editorial and has been nominated by Bush to become VOA's next director.

"The point of it is, the United States was already the largest contributor of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people," Reilly said. "The United States is now going to accelerate its effort to do for them what the Taliban regime has failed to, which is feed them and get medicine to them."

The U.S. military campaign comes at a time of controversy over VOA's role and degree of independence. Some members of Congress say the government-funded radio station, which broadcasts in 53 languages, should be more of an advocate for U.S. interests. But VOA's professional staff has long maintained that it will lose credibility, and listeners, unless it reports the news in a balanced and objective manner.

The issue has become so charged that a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation to revive Radio Free Afghanistan, which ceased broadcasting when the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in 1989. Its purpose, in the words of Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), would be "to inform Afghans what their ruling Taliban government was doing, and to tell the truth about world events."

Myrna Whitworth, the VOA's acting director, maintained yesterday that the VOA is doing a good job of serving Afghan listeners, most of whom lack television sets and receive their news by shortwave radio. "I think we have illustrated that VOA is the best vehicle for providing information to the people of Afghanistan," she said. "We've got the infrastructure. We've got the people, and we've got the audience."

The controversy heated up last month when the VOA broadcast an interview, over the State Department's objections, with the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Yesterday, VOA also broadcast, as part of a wire roundup, a brief report noting that a Qatari television station, Al Jazeera, carried and summarized remarks by Osama bin Laden against the U.S. effort.

But VOA also broadcast an interview with State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who repeated Bush's statement that the attacks were aimed not at Afghans or Muslims but at terrorists, and later carried an interview with Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, about U.S. humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.

VOA also will carry daily "crime alerts," in both Dari and Pashto, noting that the United States is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to bin Laden's arrest, Reilly said.

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