- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Voice of America’s news broadcasts to Muslim countries are in line for significant budget increases this year and next, with much of the new spending aimed at expanding the U.S. message into Iran, administration officials said yesterday.

The White House is seeking an additional $7.3 million for VOA in this year’s emergency defense supplemental-appropriations bill for the postwar effort in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of which will be used to expand the agency’s Persian-language TV broadcasts to Iran, whose regime Mr. Bush has denounced as part of the “axis of evil” that is suspected of aiding the terrorist insurgency in Iraq.

The requested increase in VOA’s expenditures this year follows a proposed 10 percent increase in the president’s fiscal 2006 budget ” one of the largest for any federal agency in percentage terms ” that would push the broadcasting service’s budget to $652 million ” a 45 percent increase since 2001.

When this year’s 6 percent supplemental increase in VOA’s budget is added to spending for other VOA-related projects, including new, state-of-the-art TV studios at its Washington headquarters, “the real increase in VOA’s fiscal year ‘06 budget would amount to 14 percent,” said Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which operates all of the government’s nonmilitary international broadcasting.

An administration official said the increases were pushed aggressively by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is an ex-officio member of the BBG.

“The ‘06 budget and supplemental requests reflect the Bush administration’s commitment to international broadcasting, our most effective means of public diplomacy abroad and a critical component of the global war on terror,” Mr. Tomlinson said.

“It’s important to remember that in the decade following the end of the Cold War, U.S. spending for international broadcasting was slashed a very real 40 percent,” he said. “Now, thanks to President Bush and key supporters in Congress, we are rebuilding from a depleted base and working to get back to where we should be.”

According to VOA plans for the coming year, the supplemental-funding bill will allow its Persian-language satellite-TV programs to expand from daily half-hour broadcasts to one hour “News and Views” newscasts that will be repeated and updated throughout the day, similar to U.S. cable network news programming.

Funding from the supplemental and next year’s budget will result in a significant expansion of VOA’s broadcasting to Muslim countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, though Iran was expected to be “the chief focus,” a VOA official said.

One of VOA’s major antiterrorism broadcasting initiatives that also will benefit from the increased funding is Alhurra, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week news and feature programming channel beamed into Arab countries across the Middle East. Begun last February, the all-Arab-language service has added a second channel specifically aimed at Iraqi audiences.

The BBG is an independent federal agency that operates VOA; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Alhurra; Radio Free Asia; Radio and TV Marti, which broadcasts to Cuba; and Radio Sawa, which broadcasts to Arab countries.

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