- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Voice of America Director Robert A. Reilly says Congress will need to double the agency's $140 million budget to more effectively beam the U.S. message to the Arab world in the war on terrorism.
Mr. Reilly, whose agency is beginning a, youth-focused, pop-music-broadcasting service to Arab countries in the Middle East, painted a bleak picture of the VOA's resources, which he said were run-down, out-of-date and desperately in need of modernization.
"We're really constrained to the snapping point here. The majority of the equipment in this building reached the end of its life expectancy over 10 years ago," he said in an interview.
"What we need to do our job would require a doubling of our budget to around $280 million," Mr. Reilly said. "If we want to be in the world of ideas, we're going to need a lot more support."
With a $5.3 million supplemental appropriation from Congress after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the VOA increased its limited programming in Afghanistan, and its 53 language services "went to an all-news format to concentrate on the war against terrorism, and we doubled the use of editorials to explain U.S. policy," he said.
But the VOA's limited programming in Afghanistan is beamed over short-wave radio signals that reach a small audience, he said.
Last month, the VOA began an ambitious music-, news- and information-broadcasting venture aimed at the youth culture in Arab countries in the Middle East, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week in both AM and FM radio signals.
Until now, "we have only been on short-wave in Arab countries, which very few people listen to, and on a very inferior signal. For the first time in many, many years, VOA will have the capability to reach large audiences in the Middle East," Mr. Reilly said.
"This will also include a new programming format designed to reach a youthful audience that carries a lot more music than has been the case at VOA in recent years and that will carry a local component of news done in the local dialects, as well as international news and news about the United States," he said.
The VOA's broadcasting strategy is to use both American and Arab popular music in an effort to reach and influence the younger generations, which otherwise might be attracted to radical Islamic groups. VOA officials said that 73 percent of the people in the Middle East are younger than 35. Some of the programming will include messages from centrist Islamic leaders, and American and Arab entertainment figures, Mr. Reilly said.
The Middle East Radio Network project, which is in the development stages under a $30 million appropriation from Congress, was conceived and created by Norman Pattiz, a veteran broadcasting entrepreneur and a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees all of the government's radio and television services.
Mr. Reilly said the pop music format is the VOA's attempt to "apply the lessons learned from commercial radio and to capture the attention of the next generation, which is going to determine the future of the Middle East."
But the VOA has even bigger ambitions. "The next urgent thing we need to do is get a national AM-FM radio network up and running in Afghanistan," he said.
Mr. Reilly also said he wanted to expand the VOA's television programming in the Middle East. Al Jazeera, the only regional Arab TV network there, broadcast the videotape of Osama bin Laden during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in which he called on Muslims to kill "all male Americans."
"We will need more support from Congress to move into the Middle East if we are to be a real player there," Mr. Reilly said.


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