- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

Norman Pattiz, a member of the Board of Broadcasting Governors, spoke to Washington Times reporter Steve Park recently about Middle East Radio Network, a new program of the Voice of America.

Question: What is the purpose of this project, and what will it broadcast to the Middle East?
Answer: Middle East Radio Network (MERN) will be a program run by the Voice of America (VOA). It is an arm of American public diplomacy that will be an example of the free press. MERN is a 24-hours, seven-days-a-week broadcasting operation that will service music, features, news, roundtables, call-ins as well as talk programming. The primary target is the 25-and-under audience. If we reach them, we will reach the educated young future leaders.
Q: You mentioned entertainment such as music and talk shows. Will MERN carry anti-American popular-culture programs, which are reportedly popular now?
A: We won't be in the business of playing anti-American music. Our program will be heavily field-researched before it goes on the air.
Q: Why do you think anti-American radio programs are popular?
A: I believe it is because they don't know us. It is because all the information they get is from biased sources. They need to get a view of Americans from America. If they knew us, they would feel different about us. We are going to show them who we are.
Q: With the introduction of MERN, will the current Middle East radio services increase their coverage area?
A: A significantly larger proportion will be covered with MERN. It will cover five different local areas including the West Bank, Egypt and Iraq using localized programs. There is a media war out there that is just as important as the one [on the ground].
Q: Overall, previous VOA radio programs for the Middle East only drew a small portion of potential listeners, averaging 1 percent to 2 percent. How will MERN avoid a similar fate?
A: It is obvious we need to do a better job with all audiences. The lack of targeted programming and no local FM or regional AM distribution in the past meant we had a very small impact in the region, almost none.
MERN programs will be in colloquial dialects. Music and features will be tailored to the local audience.
Q: When will MERN be operational, and for how long?
A: We will start on a small scale with FM in the next three weeks from now. The entire package is scheduled to be operational by this summer. MERN is definitely a day late, but not a dollar short. We made a commitment, and we are going to stay in for the long term.

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