Hit & Run

VOA DOA?

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Civil war breaks out at the International Broadcasting Bureau:

Nearly half the staff of the Voice Of America signed a petition that was sent to members of Congress [on July 6] accusing the Broadcasting Board of Governors of "dismantling the nation's radio beacon" and calling on Congress to investigate the board.

The petition also accuses the board of launching new services in the Middle East with no editorial accountability at the expense of VOA programs serving the same areas and cutting back on broadcasts to Eastern Europe and in English around the world.

The major complaints cited in the petition involve the board's new services in the Middle East -- Radio Sawa, al-Hurra and Radio Farda -- which the signatories say provide inadequate news coverage and do not operate under VOA's charter, which guarantees balanced reporting.

The petition accuses the board of shutting down the VOA Arabic Service and reducing resources to VOA television in the region and VOA service to Iran in favor of the new broadcasting services.

Defenders of Radio Sawa and Radio Farda have said their offerings, mainly music with some news, appeal to younger listeners. But the VOA editor said reaching educated people, the leaders and activists in a community, is just as important.

Both Radio Sawa and al-Hurra have not reported important breaking news stories, according to the petition, including, in the case of Radio Sawa, the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Without taking sides in this internecine bureaucratic struggle, I note that one aspect of the conflict -- the battle between the advocates of "balanced reporting" and the advocates of straightforward propaganda -- is nothing new.