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State Department upset over interview with Taliban leader

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  1. Newsgathering

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Sep 28, 2001    

State Department upset over interview with Taliban leader

  • Officials pressured Voice of America not to air comments from Mullah Mohammed Omar, claiming it gave a platform to terrorist views.

State Department officials last week expressed concerns to Voice of America, a government-financed broadcasting group, claiming that an interview with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader in Afghanistan, essentially gave air to terrorist views.

“We didn’t think that the America taxpayer, the Voice of America, should be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban,” Richard Boucher, a spokesman for the State Department said during a briefing Sept. 25.

But the interview aired anyway. The broadcast prepared by Voice of America’s Ed Warner also included a review of President Bush’s speech to Congress on Sept. 20, commentary by an academic expert and comments from a representative of the Taliban’s opponents, the Northern Alliance.

The interview aired Sept. 25 on Voice of America through shortwave, AM and FM radio stations and on the Internet and again on Sept. 26 in Pashtu, one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan.

Tish King, a spokeswoman for Voice of America, said “objections of the State Department were clear to us” but that a lot misunderstanding surrounded the interview.

“A lot of people in the United States are angry and think the Voice of America is not serving their country the way we should,” King said. “They are getting the wrong impression, but we feel we are providing reliable news. The people in Afghanistan are tuning into us because they trust us, and we tell the whole story.”

In October 1999, the VOA became independent of the State Department and placed under the control of its own board of governors. This is reportedly the first time since the separation that the State Department has pressured the broadcasting group.

“The State Department’s decision is a totally unacceptable assault on our editorial independence, a frontal attack on our credibility,” wrote Andre DeNesnera, VOA news director, in an e-mail to staff members. “This certainly was a dark, dark day for those of us who have — for years — fought to uphold journalist ethics, balance, accuracy and fairness.”


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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