Should this station broadcast news, or inadequately researched opinion? (updated)

Posted: 09 Apr 2009   Print   Send a link
"If it had the equipment and personnel for the job, the United States could broadcast radio programs for the Pashtuns commemorating Rahman Baba’s life and poetry, thus helping to revive the collective memory of Sufism and inspiring opposition to the Taliban. Other programs could highlight the cultural and physical devastation wrought by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The United States conducted impressive strategic communications during the cold war. Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and other programs conveyed information and ideas that contributed to the discrediting and ultimate defeat of Soviet communism. Pakistan’s Islamist extremists apparently know the value of strategic communications. They preach and broadcast, understanding that every non-extremist school they close, every artist they force to move, every moderate tribal leader they kill and every Sufi shrine they destroy can increase their powers of intimidation and persuasion." Douglas J. Feith and Justin Polin, New York Times, 29 March 2009.
     "It's not at all surprising to read today's New York Times opinion section and find that Doug Feith continues to be a font of lazy thinking. ... Strategic communications directed at the Muslim World, patterned after Radio Free Europe? Sorry Doug, maybe you sh[o]uld have gotten involved with al-Hurra, the Bush administration's attempt to replicate the success of Cold-War era public diplomacy, but which has been widely regarded as a sham by the Muslim world." Patrick Barry, Democracy Aresenal, 30 March 2009.
     My job: cleaning up after the experts. All three writers overlooked the fact that VOA's Deewa Radio already broadcasts in Pashto to that very part of Pakistan. So apparently the United States does have "the equipment and personnel for the job." Deewa's output includes programs about poetry, but, as part of VOA, its mainstay is reliable news and information. If Messrs. Feith and Polin prefer a station that is more partisanly anti-Taliban, such a station may not want to be identified with the United States. (And see previous post about Radio Khyber.)
     This op-ed could inspire an amendment, to some future legislation, to create an RFE/RL Pashto service to Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, to do what Deewa is already doing (and, for that matter, what RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan is already doing), resulting in even more duplication in US international broadcasting.
     As for Alhurra, it's not up there with Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, but it has too many viewers to be dismissed as a "sham." See previous post.

     Update: "That’s what Voice of America, financed by the American government, has been doing daily since September 2006 with its popular Deewa Radio. Deewa, with 13 staff members in Washington and 23 stringers throughout Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas, covers local, national and international news and engages with its listeners seven days a week." VOA director Danforth Austin, letter to New York Times, 5 April 2009.