- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

The Bush administration and Congress are at odds over a proposed restructuring of the Voice of America and other aspects of U.S. public diplomacy intended to improve the way the United States delivers its message to the world.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said passage of the Freedom Promotion Act, which he sponsored, was crucial to countering hostile views of America such as those broadcast by the Qatari television station Al Jazeera.
But the measure has been set aside because of opposition from the Bush administration. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher cited fears the legislation would reduce the "flexibility" of the president to run foreign policy and determine America's message to the world.
Mr. Hyde, Illinois Republican, has proposed far more than reorganizing the nation's public broadcast services, which include Radio Free Europe, Radio Marti and a new service broadcasting to the Middle East.
His bill would enhance the authority of the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, a position created after the U.S. Information Agency was absorbed into the State Department in 1998.
"If we are to be successful in our broader foreign-policy goals, America's effort to engage the peoples of the world must assume a more prominent place in the planning and execution of our foreign policy," Mr. Hyde said.
"The task of countering misinformation and propaganda regarding the United States is a never-ending one, but we must go about this task more aggressively and more systematically, rather than simply reacting to crises as they occur."
His bill would strengthen the power of Undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers, create a fund of $495 million for public diplomacy and mandate numerous other training and exchange programs.
Mr. Hyde also has called for spending $7 million to create a satellite television broadcast system aimed at counting hostile views of America widely seen in the Muslim world.
Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the ranking Democrat on Mr. Hyde's committee, said, "If we are to prevent future terrorist attacks, we must launch a concerted campaign to win over people across the globe who are subjected to anti-American misinformation and hate.
"Unfortunately, we have been outgunned, outmanned and outmaneuvered in the information war for too long."
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the bill would create an International Broadcasting Agency with a powerful director to replace or oversee the eight-member bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors.
The board, created as a "fire wall" to prevent U.S. government interference in U.S. foreign broadcasts over the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, became independent in 1999.
The BBG also oversees Radio Free Asia, Radio and TV Marti, Radio Afghanistan and the Middle East Radio Network (MERN), which has been broadcasting only since last week.
BBG communications coordinator Joan Mower objected that the replacement of the independent broadcast governors in the Hyde bill "would destroy the fire wall [between the broadcasters and the U.S. government] that the BBG was created for."
But Hyde spokesman Sam Stratman said the BBG members "are a part-time board, micromanaging the [broadcasting] agency. The bill proposes a single person appointed by the president for a five-year term."
Both the Clinton and Bush administrations tried at different times to halt VOA broadcasts of interviews with Chinese dissidents or Osama bin Ladin. Broadcasters called such efforts political interference in their mission to provide an objective news service.


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