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VOA “promotes” reporter after Taliban interview

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Prior Restraints         Feb 13, 2002    

VOA “promotes” reporter after Taliban interview

  • Following a late September interview with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, a broadcast journalist with Voice of America was given a new position that she claims restricts her time on the air.

A broadcast journalist with Voice of America says a promotion that gives her less time on the air came after a Sept. 21 interview she conducted with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar caused the State Department to criticize the agency.

Spozhmai Maiwandi, a native of Afghanistan who has worked for VOA for 20 years, was promoted to Afghanistan/Central Asia program coordinator on Oct. 19. While Maiwandi admits the position brought more responsibilities and a salary increase, she says she feels “detached” from her listeners as a result of the change.

According to Maiwandi, this detachment comes from the fact that, prior to the Omar interview, she had been on the air every single day, several times a day, but now finds her broadcasting time much more limited.

The State Department opposed the airing of Maiwandi’s interview because it did not believe that the federally funded agency should be an “open mike” for the Taliban, said Tish King, a VOA spokeswoman. King said there was a “misunderstanding in terms of how such interviews are handled” and that the VOA explained to State Department officials that the Omar interview was to be “balanced with other points of view.”

But the radio report, which included roughly 40 seconds of the Omar interview in addition to quotes from President Bush, a Georgetown University expert on Islam and a member of the Northern Alliance, was put on hold. The report eventually aired on Sept. 25 in English and Sept. 26 in Pashto, after many within the VOA said the restriction constituted censorship.

The State Department monitored VOA until 1998 when a restructuring placed the agency under the watch of a board of governors.

Horace Cooper, a spokesman for VOA chief Bob Reilly, said the debate surrounding the Omar interview took place before either man came to work for the agency. Cooper also said that no one from the State Department has contacted Reilly or himself since their hire. He added that in Maiwandi’s grievance letter she asked to keep her new position and the salary that came with it.

But at this time, Maiwandi says she does not want to take any action that would damage VOA although she feels the promotion restricted her.

“I feel like I’m choked,” Maiwandi said. “My lifeline has been cut off.”

KC

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