State Department pressures VOA to kill Taliban interview

New York, September 27, 2001—Under pressure from the U.S. Department of State, the Voice of America (VOA) recently delayed airing a story containing parts of an exclusive interview with the leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The federally funded broadcaster’s decision came after Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and senior National Security Council officials contacted members of VOA’s board of governors to express their concern that broadcasting the interview would amount to providing a platform to terrorists, according to The Washington Post. The VOA board then relayed these concerns to staff members.

The news report, by VOA’s Ed Warner, was scheduled to air on September 21. It contained excerpts from Warner’s exclusive interview with Omar and also quoted U.S. president George W. Bush’s September 20 address to Congress.

Warner’s report also featured commentary by John Esposito, director of the Center of Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, and by a spokesman for the Northern Alliance, an Afghan military coalition that opposes the Taliban and currently controls between 5 and 10 percent of Afghanistan.

VOA ultimately aired the piece on September 25, despite State Department objections.

When asked in a September 24 press briefing to explain the State Department’s opposition to VOA airing the Omar interview, department spokesperson Richard Boucher said, “We didn’t think that the American taxpayer, the Voice of America, should be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban.”

VOA is an international multimedia broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government. Since 1998, when it was removed from direct State Department control, VOA has operated under the oversight of a government-appointed board of governors, although the secretary of state or his designee still sits on the board.

News of the controversy prompted more than 100 VOA employees to send a letter to newspapers protesting that their work was being censored, according to The New York Times.

The VOA report has been available since Tuesday, September 25, at under the headline “Taliban Leader: God Promised to Protect Us.”