Magazine article Insight on the News

Voice of America Radio Comes in Loud and Clear

Magazine article Insight on the News

Voice of America Radio Comes in Loud and Clear

Article excerpt

VOA newscasts, beamed around the world in 53 languages, still are needed in the post-Cold War world, say supporters of the network founded during World War II to fight fascism.

Created 57 years ago as Nazi Germany swallowed Europe and imperial Japan moved on Asia, the Voice of America, or VOA, began beaming short-wave radio broadcasts of U.S. news, views and propaganda into Western Europe, Asia and Africa. Its success is legendary. Late Cambodian dictator Pol Pot -- then hiding in jungles near the Thai border -- heard on VOA newscasts that the government was close to capturing him. Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, shortly after his November 1997 release from prison and expulsion to the United States, praised VOA for piercing the "bamboo curtain" of media control in China: "To get the truth in China, one has no choice but to become a faithful listener to the Voice of America."

VOA continues to broadcast around the globe, but with the defeat of Soviet communism, its goals have evolved. Today the network supports young democracies, free markets, ethnic tolerance and other American values and interests for a global audience estimated at 91 million.

Until recently, virtually anyone anywhere could tune in to VOA -- even in the United States, where the VOA virtually is banned. (The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 bars the federal government from spending taxpayer money to broadcast information and propaganda within the United States, the fear being that an administration would use it to influence the American electorate for political gain.) VOA Director Sanford J. Ungar points out with a wry smile that it is illegal for him to advise Americans to log onto the VOA's Website.

"I'm not supposed to give out the Internet address" says Ungar, a former correspondent in Africa and France for United Press International and Newsweek and a former host of National Public Radio's All Things Considered. However, at the Website (www.voa.gov) , Americans can bypass the ban and tune in to news broadcasts in most of the 53 languages sent out daily over short-wave transmitters.

Listeners can click on the "News Now" icon and hear a five-minute newscast of the hour's top stories, followed by in-depth features on topics such as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's trips abroad or the Russian war in Chechnya. The sound comes through crystal clear, without the static, fading, interference and a forest of competing scratchy voices that typically bedevil short-wave broadcasts.

VOA's move to cyberspace follows its geographic evolution. As broadcasts to Denmark, Holland, Italy and Japan were dropped after the end of World War II, new countries took their places, including Ethiopia, Nepal, Afghanistan and Rwanda. But VOA's essential mission remains the same -- to defend U.S. national interests by "telling America's story," say longtime officials and broadcasters with the service.

When the war against fascism shifted to the Cold War against communism, VOA targeted its programming to audiences in the new battlegrounds of Eastern Europe and the developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America. After the Cold War, a task force appointed by President Bush reviewed the need for VOA and concluded it would remain useful for U. …

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