More on Sawa and Gutting the Voice of America
I’ve been listening to Radio Sawa, and the situation is even worse than I thought. It is available at:
First of all, they play the Backstreet Boys.
Even worse, the news breaks, at least on the Web service, appear to be much shorter and less frequent than reported in the press. Most voice commentary I’ve heard is in a thick Lebanese accent, which carries with it ideological connotations in the region.
There is every reason to think, from interviews the head of the Sawa news division has given, that the news is *only* what the White House and the Pentagon want the audience to hear. The news slant has been dismissed as “propaganda” by Arab observers in the Middle East:
Consider that Wolf Blitzer interviewed Tariq Aziz of Iraq at some length on Sunday for CNN, but Sawa has openly proclaimed that it would conduct no such interviews with Iraqi officials.
We don’t have both services any more. Let me repeat. *The VOA Arabic Service is gone!* Kaput. Non-existent. Out of business. It could have been given the same broadcast facilities as Sawa has been, and been put on FM wavelengths, too. It could have functioned as a sort of National Public Radio for the Middle East. The Voice of America cannot do that any more because it has no Arabic division. The offices are closed.
The offices of the VOA Persian Service will be closed soon, too. The head of VOA resigned last week, apparently because he objected to having his major services abolished in favor of Sawa. This is the Reuter blurb on the matter from Aug. 30 ’02:
“Voice of America Director Resigns, Is Replaced
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The director of the Voice of America, Robert Reilly, resigned on Thursday after less than a year in the job, the Broadcasting Board of Governors said. VOA sources said the agency had been in turmoil under Reilly’s leadership, particularly over plans to set up new language services targeted to Middle East audiences but without the ‘impartiality’ provisions in the VOA charter.”
The Sawa model isn’t actually distinctive. Egypt has pop music stations that give abbreviated news reports from an Egyptian government perspective. Likewise other Middle Eastern countries. The U.S. isn’t giving a lesson in free speech, pluralism, open society, or professional journalism with Sawa. It is just doing what the local dictatorships do, but with more US music in the mix.
As I said, I don’t object to Sawa in itself. I object to VOA being gutted and the loss of opportunity to speak intelligently to the 40- and 50-somethings who might actually make decisions that matter. I object to the loss of of a US government news agency that has impartiality provisions in its charter, and its replacement by a blatantly ideological enterprise. And, I really, really object to the apparent plans to gut both the VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Persian services in favor of a Persian clone of Sawa.