- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

The United States is at war against terrorism. It needs many weapons in its arsenal. An essential one is the Voice of America. Before this crisis, there were some who appeared ready to cut its funding or eliminate it altogether. Now, the attacks on America, and on the American way of life, reinforce the need for a strong Voice of America radio service.

The recent controversy over a broadcast concerning Afghanistan reflects the confusion over the mission of the VOA, and the way its policy should be enunciated. Who leads? Who calls the shots? The VOA wanted to air a small part of an interview with the leader of Afghanistan's militia, Mullah Mohammed Omar. The State Department and others said an anti-American terrorist should not be given a platform on the federally funded, international broadcasting organization. In the end, the skilled journalists at the VOA handled the crisis in a professional manner. They ran a brief segment of the interview, but included in the report strong statements by President Bush in his memorable speech to the Congress. The VOA also included interviews with an Islamic scholar and a spokesman for an anti-Taliban group. The story ran in English and in the Pashto language for listeners in Afghanistan.

VOA's listeners worldwide comprise a total of 100 million, who can listen in 53 languages. Many of the listeners only have radios, and the majority do not have television, the Internet or telephones. That is why the VOA broadcasts are vital, and will continue to be so.

The VOA needs to proceed with its mandate of delivering the news around the world; news that tells the listeners what is happening in their region of the globe. It also fully explains why the American way of life is so wonderful, and why so many people wish to emulate it and emigrate here. It must also convey the pain America is suffering now, as well as the resurgent sense of pride, patriotism, and determination to seek justice and protect the United States and all the varied people who live here.

When times improve, the VOA should also include more humor and music in its broadcast. We are not just a country that can fight and make money; we are a nation of compassion, culture, music, and laughter although now there are more tears than laughter.

It would be beneficial if the VOA could be heard in this nation. This way, it could develop a domestic audience as well as international. This is what the BBC and all other international broadcasting organizations do. A World War II law forbidding domestic broadcasting of the VOA still exists on the books, but it is being eroded by modern technology. The VOA can be read and heard on the Internet and, when the system works, it can be seen on limited television broadcasts or on the Internet. If the VOA had more money, it could do an effective job on all three outlets. Until then, with limited funds, the VOA should concentrate on radio.

The VOA should also have the funds to reinstate some of its crucial foreign-language services. Over the past months, the VOA eliminated the Portuguese language service to Brazil. It cut programming to the troubled Balkans, as well as to Turkey and Uzbekistan, two nations vital to America's interests, especially at this time. And it curtailed radio broadcasts to Central and Eastern Europe. With a strong new director, and the firm support of the White House and Congress, the VOA can continue and improve upon the excellent service it has provided since 1942.

Connie Lawn has reported on the United States since 1968, with a major focus on the White House, where she is the longest-serving independent reporter. She also does part-time news-reading for the VOA.

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