- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

Voice of America adapts to a changing world

I could not agree more with the statement, in your Jan. 31 editorial, "Voiceless America," that "the Voice of America … continues to be a crucial and peaceful means to support democracy and U.S. priorities." Indeed, the men and women who work at VOA producing 900 hours of original programming a week, in 53 languages, with a worldwide audience of at least 91 million listeners do a remarkable job of providing balanced and credible international news, along with comprehensive information about American society and U.S. policies. I am proud of the fact that VOA has increasingly become a modern multimedia organization during my 19 months as director. For what it achieves and the democratic values it upholds, it is now more than ever a bargain for the taxpayers. Although I was not hired "to lobby the public," as the editorial suggests, I have tried during this time to help get VOA's message out as clearly and forthrightly as possible on Capitol Hill, across the country, and around the world.

Whereas the Cold War once dictated the VOA's broadcasting priorities, now there are new trouble spots, from Congo and the Middle East to Kosovo and East Timor. These areas need the kind of extensive reporting that only VOA can deliver to worldwide audiences in so many languages. Under the circumstances, it is only natural that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the bipartisan group (currently with a Republican majority) that oversees our work, would consider strategic shifts in the way we use congressional funding (which has shrunk, rather than grown, in recent years). While I do not necessarily agree with all of the decisions made this year by the board, the 1994 law that established it requires an annual review of VOA's language services.

Amidst this talk of stretched resources and competing priorities, one may be inclined to see the VOA glass as half-empty. However, we have to operate from the assumption that it is half-full and brimming over with possibilities.

As for my own tenure as director, let me clarify the situation. As an appointee in an independent agency governed by a bipartisan board, I was exempted from submitting my resignation in two separate memoranda from the White House. Like similarly placed people in other government agencies, I have remained at VOA for a transition period in the belief that continuity is valuable, especially during a time of upheaval.

In the meantime, if I had reason to believe that the VOA staff did not have confidence in me, I would surely resign. However, contrary to the impression left by your editorial, the overwhelming majority of VOA employees at the town meeting on Jan. 19 expressed their desire that I remain until a new director is named. At a critical time in U.S. foreign policy, a strong American voice is needed more than ever. I am proud to work amongst the extraordinary professionals at the Voice of America.

SANFORD J. UNGAR

Director

Voice of America

Washington

We read with interest your recent coverage of the proposed language cuts at the Voice of America (Inside the Beltway, Jan. 23 and "Voiceless America," Jan. 31). As part of the U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994, Section 305 (a) (4), as amended, it is the Broadcasting Board of Governors' assigned task "To review, evaluate and determine, at least annually, after consultation with the Secretary of State, the addition or deletion of language services." I might add that these actions were taken with the consultation of the directors of the services, including the VOA, and unanimously approved by the bipartisan board of governors. Although chaired by a Democrat at this time, the current membership of the board, exclusive of the Secretary of State, includes three Democrats and four Republicans. The board's difficult decision regarding language priorities was made in a totally non-partisan manner.

Language service review should be understood as an exercise in reallocating resources to their best use in a changing post-Cold War world. We are charged with using the public's resources wisely and efficiently, not to broadcast to regions where the very success we worked to achieve for so long has been realized. While many places may still need U.S. International Broadcasting, some need it less than others. Instead of continuing to broadcast to nations where a free media environment now exists, the actions the board proposed will result in significant upgrades in our various services to a number of parts of the world that need it the most. Our service to the Middle East has not had the resources to meet the challenges posed by the crisis in that region. We hope that upgrades in the Arabic service will allow us to enhance our message to this area of the world and assist the process of peace in the region. Further enhancements are planned for our broadcasts to Indonesia, Macedonia, India, and the Andes region.

The board of governors must, under its congressional mandate, react to changes in the world, doing so in a way to achieve the maximum effect of our efforts in the most fiscally responsible way after consultation with the State Department. Language service review is not about cutting employees, it is about reallocating our resources in a changing world in a responsible way, using taxpayer resources wisely and to the benefit of our national interests. No money will be leaving the VOA.

Finally, I want to state that the board is fully supportive of a Voice of America whose role continues to grow along with U.S. interests around the globe. Furthermore, the board appreciates VOA Director Sanford Ungar's leadership and anticipates working with future directors.

MARC B. NATHANSON

TOM C. KOROLOGOS

EDWARD E. KAUFMAN

ALBERTO MORA

CHERYL HALPERN

NORMAN J. PATTIZ

ROBERT M. LEDBETTER, JR.

Broadcasting Board of Governors

Washington

New Moroccan government has record of reform, commitment to improvement

Your Jan. 24 articles "Morocco's new king slow to implement reform" and "Child labor rampant despite claims of ban" fall short of giving a balanced depiction of Morocco.

First, your depiction of Morocco's human rights record lacks accuracy. The first article highlights Morocco's shortcomings, but makes only passing reference to the significant achievements of recent years. Among these are:

• Free and fair national and local elections, with the participation of more than a dozen major political parties

• A thriving national and local press, with dozens of major dailies and weeklies and hundreds of local newspapers spanning the full political spectrum.

• A well-developed and active civil society, with hundreds of non-governmental organizations operating in every field, including human rights.

• A comprehensive judicial reform program designed to increase the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

• Release of all political detainees and the establishment of an independent royal commission in charge of compensating former detainees and their families.

• Integration of human rights in the school curriculum.

In short, the government of Morocco, under the direction of its new king, is firmly committed to enhancing its human rights record and to consolidating the rule of law.

Second, with regard to economic and social performance, it is undeniable that due, in part, to the devastating droughts of recent years, the growth rate of the Moroccan economy has been at levels which do not meet our hopes and expectations. The social indicators cited in your article are, however, quite inaccurate. For example, reports recently published by the World Bank show that the percentage of the population below the poverty level is 19, not 65, and that 57 percent of the population has access to safe water, not the one-third implied in your article. Even so, these figures remain, in our opinion, unacceptable, and we are, therefore, aggressively implementing ambitious economic and social programs designed to alleviate poverty, reduce inequalities and social exclusion, and promote literacy.

Third, as in many other developing countries, child labor remains a scourge, but the government is actively trying to address it, with the help of international institutions and non-governmental organizations. The elimination of this phenomenon is a high priority in our country, based on a comprehensive strategy combining improved economic performance, better education and more effective enforcement of existing laws and bans.

FAIZA MEHDI

Press Attache

Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco

Washington

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