- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

There's some static on the rarefied airwaves at Voice of America and National Public Radio over controversial content.
For VOA, the problem is terrorism, and the tricky business of lending airtime to terrorists and their causes.
Twenty-year veteran reporter and Afghan native Spozhmai Maiwandi claims she was censored, yanked off the air and put out to pasture in a "useless" desk job after she produced a rare and final public interview in September with Mullah Mohammed Omar, whose Taliban regime harbored Osama bin Laden.
The State Department, which has overseen VOA since 1998, took issue with the interview, withheld it for several days then finally authorized its release on Sept. 25. But the situation was already complex. Ms. Maiwandi, who had headed VOA's Pashtu programming for a decade, was already the subject of an in-house investigation prompted by one diplomat's assertions that the division's programming was pro-Taliban.
This week, she was "promoted" to a technical position, which one news director compared to Siberia.
But the VOA is taking a very clear path here, one that underscores White House and State Department policies that caution news organizations about becoming terrorist mouthpieces.
"We don't give equal time to terrorists," said VOA spokesman Horace Cooper. "The specific allegation of retaliatory treatment is unfounded. And we will not allow our airtime to be used for yellow journalism, propaganda or as a place to promote terrorism."
Mr. Cooper said Ms. Maiwandi has been sent on assignment to cover a Tokyo appearance by Afghan officials, and that she has received a pay raise.
"I signed the papers myself," he added.
Meanwhile, NPR is plagued with its own content problems. In an interview earlier this week, jaunty rock 'n' roll star Gene Simmons tried to disrupt the gravitas of Terry Gross, one of NPR's most revered interviewers.
The KISS bassist, who has spent years performing in kabuki-style makeup and is now promoting a book, told the "Fresh Air" host, "I'd like to think that the boring lady who's talking to me now is a lot sexier and more interesting than the one who's doing NPR, studious and reserved."
Miss Gross was unfazed, pronouncing Mr. Simmons "obnoxious," questioning his racy reputation and mentioning of his "studded codpiece."
Yesterday, the New York Post called her an "NPR shock jock," claimed the interview was too controversial for NPR to post on its Web site, and compared Miss Gross with Howard Stern, the New York originator of the shock-jock genre.
NPR also is taking a very clear path.
"New York Post reporter Michael Starr is absolutely wrong when he writes that the 'Fresh Air' interview between Terry Gross and Gene Simmons was deemed too controversial to post on npr.org," said spokesman Jay Kernis yesterday.
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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