- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

Back when much of mankind confronted an evil Axis in World War II, a voice emerged from the Western Hemisphere to penetrate gloom of those who would otherwise hear only enemy propaganda.
"The Voice of America speaks," said William Harlen Hale, on whose evening broadcasts much of Europe would soon depend for its news.
"The news may be good or bad. We shall tell you the truth," he told his listeners.
This year the Voice of America (VOA) celebrates 60 years of broadcasting history. It now has a staff of over 1,000 and a weekly audience of 91 million listeners that hears its broadcasts in 53 languages.
But the VOA has had to adapt to many changes over the decades. The world is no longer menaced by Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union and its communist satellites.
Over the past 60 years, and still now as threats evolve, the VOA has remained true to its charter mission: to report the news accurately and objectively.
"Propaganda is bad news and bad journalism," said VOA Director Robert Reilly. "The best propaganda is the truth. Since we don't have anything to hide, we will tell the truth."
In the war on terrorism, the Voice of America has been assigned to inform listeners in the Middle East about U.S. foreign policy and counter lies, half-truths and anti-American propaganda.
Following the September 11 attacks, the VOA expanded its programs broadcast in Arabic, Farsi, Dari and Pashto.
In addition, the VOA is starting a new broadcast service, the Middle East Radio Network, that will broadcast news, features and entertainment 24 hours day, seven days a week to the people of that region. It is designed to provide balance to the anti-American radio broadcasts prevalent there.
The VOA has also been lending a hand in rebuilding Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban and formation of an Afghan alliance.
"We are now active in proposing ways to help the new government [of Afghanistan] establish a radio network," said Mr. Reilly.
In a January op-ed column in The Washington Times, Mr. Reilly summarized what he wants to accomplish as part of American diplomacy during the war on terrorism. "The last thing tyrants wish their subjects to hear," he said, "is that they, too, possess … God-given inalienable rights."
Listeners of the VOA will ultimately ask, said Mr. Reilly, "What kind of people is this that even its government will tell the truth when it might not appear to be to its temporary advantage to do so?"
The Voice of America began as a radio service of the U.S. Foreign Information Service (FIS), created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to match European state-run broadcasts.
By 1931, the Soviet Union was broadcasting in 50 languages over the world, while Japan, France, Italy and Britain employed radio services for their empires. Three years later, Nazi Germany had the capability to transmit propaganda from not just Berlin to Vienna, but as far away as Latin America.
Following Pearl Harbor and the entrance of the United States into World War II, the FIS began its first series of broadcasts to Japan and Germany. But it was not until Mr. Hale used the phrase "the Voice of America" in his Feb. 24, 1942, broadcast that the phrase was used to describe the broadcast service.
VOA countered propaganda from regimes such as Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union with truth, said Mr. Reilly. "We did that with self-evident truths. More often we [would] show rather than tell," and "this is a continuing case."
Despite the efforts of the VOA to remain unbiased, the organization has often been criticized.
Those who disagree with the current war on terrorism accuse the VOA of being a tool of psychological warfare for the U.S. government. In contrast, those who support the U.S. war efforts worry that VOA may air unsympathetic reports to escape criticism of being nationalistic.
But Norman Pattiz, a member of the Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG), which oversees the Voice of America, said propaganda is neither the VOA's mission nor its practice. He pointed to the fact that VOA answers to an independent agency, the BBG, as a sign that news and commentary are the true focus of the VOA.
"VOA is clearly not a propaganda machine," said Mr. Pattiz. "We provide accurate, reliable and credible information to the public."
Mr. Pattiz said there have been instances where the VOA broadcast news items despite protests from the State Department.
Such an incident took place last September, he said, when the VOA ignored objections from the State Department and aired a news report that included a segment from an interview with Mullah Mohammed Omar, spiritual leader of Afghanistan's Taliban militia.
The report was broadcast hours after State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said interviews with Mullah Omar should not be carried on VOA.
While it will report news objectively, the "VOA won't be in the business of anti-American programs," Mr. Pattiz emphasized. He said the taxpayer-funded organization "does not and will not" pander to anti-American sentiment.
The VOA received some flak last November from Jonathan V. Last, an online editor of the Weekly Standard Magazine who criticized Nigerian broadcasts by VOA as being biased in favor of Muslims and advocating anti-Christian messages. The VOA quickly reformed the Hausa-language program after receiving reports of editorial bias.
But the greatest challenges the VOA has faced were budget cuts and downsizing that followed the end of the Cold War.
The U.S. government's broadcasting capabilities steadily eroded, said Mr. Reilly.
"The aimlessness at the end of the Cold War" led to cutbacks in operations and budgets, which the organization is still working to overcome.
"Unfortunately, we are facing in 2003 a cut" he said, even though the "majority of the [VOAs broadcast] equipment reached its expiration date 10 years ago" and the operation needs twice its current funding to win the "war of ideas." He pointed out that Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television has an annual budget of $35 million, while VOA television has $20 million for its worldwide efforts.
Mr. Reilly hopes the VOA's increasing role in the war on terrorism will permit the organization to expand.
Asked about the VOA's reaction to Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" comment during his State of the Union Address in January, Mr. reilly expressed agreement and support.
"Evil is the only word that can be used to describe" Iraq, Iran and North Korea, he said.
Mr. Bush's words were just as inspiring to people living under oppressive regimes as former President Reagan's phrase "evil empire" was to the people of the Soviet Union, he said.
Many countries including Iraq, Iran and North Korea try to block radio and television transmissions by the VOA. Mr. Reilly said the VOA will keep fighting to make its voice heard.
"Like every regime based on a lie, the thing they fear the most is the truth," said Mr. Reilly. "Truth is the most dangerous weapon that we use."


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