Thursday, November 8, 2001

The House voted yesterday to create Radio Free Afghanistan to beam U.S. news and entertainment programs to Afghans in their local languages, attempting to combat Taliban propaganda.
“Arming citizens with the truth is the best way to bring about change, victory and reduce American casualties,” Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, said Tuesday during House debate notable for its lack of criticism of the measure.
Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican, chief sponsor of the bipartisan measure, said: “If done right, these broadcasts would make a profound difference in our war on terrorism.”
The vote for the bill was 405-2, despite State Department objections. The measure now goes to the Senate, where it has no sponsor but some support.
“We need to use every tool we can to project who we are, what we believe, what kind of people we are,” Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, said. “That’s the whole point behind why we set up these systems years and years ago. It is important for that message to be sent, especially to the Muslim world.”
The idea is patterned after Radio Free Europe, broadcasts the United States began beaming into Eastern Europe after World War II in an effort to undercut communism. Congress borrowed the idea in 1996, funding privately run Radio Free Asia with the aim of bringing unfettered information to countries in the region that usually attempt to block it, such as China.
At the State Department, Paul V. Kelly, assistant secretary for legislative affairs, wrote to Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, the International Relations Committee chairman, that the administration agrees “radio broadcasting into Afghanistan is crucial for informing and influencing the Afghan people.”
Therefore, it is beefing up Voice of America broadcasts to South Asia and considering other options, but it “is not ready at this time to commit to the concept of a Radio Free Afghanistan,” he wrote Oct. 25. The decision “will depend in part on how the situation in Afghanistan evolves.”
The measure authorizes $27.5 million for 2002 and 2003 to allow for roughly 12 hours a day of broadcasting into Afghanistan. About $10 million would be used to move three transmitters from Spain to Kuwait to strengthen the signal in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

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