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VOA journalists under pressure

Such a policy is a disservice to VOA's millions of listeners around the world,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

New York, January 17, 2002—CPJ is concerned about a recent policy memo issued at the Voice of America (VOA), a U.S. government-funded broadcaster, prohibiting the airing of interviews "with any official from nations that sponsor terrorism."

VOA director Robert R. Reilly issued the directive on December 12 in response to language contained in recent congressional legislation ordering the VOA not to air "interviews with any official from nations that sponsor terrorism or any representative or member of terrorist organizations, or otherwise afford such individuals opportunities to air inaccurate, propagandistic, or inflammatory messages."

The new policy directive follows the involuntary reassignment of a VOA journalist who broadcast an interview with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. Spozhmai W. Maiwandi, who heads the VOA's Pashto Service, was notified on October 26 that she would have to vacate her office.

Although the reassignment was billed as a "temporary promotion," Maiwandi believes that she is in fact being punished for airing excerpts from her exclusive telephone interview with the Taliban leader in September.

CPJ sent a letter to VOA director Reilly on December 11 requesting additional information about the reassignment and urging that allegations of harassment against Maiwandi be investigated. To date, CPJ has not received a response the letter.

"Maiwandi's reassignment, coupled with VOA's misguided new policy, suggests that VOA is sacrificing its hard-earned reputation as reliable and independent news source to short-term political considerations," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

"Such a policy is a disservice to VOA's millions of listeners around the world," Cooper said. "It may also violate the station's own charter, which affirms that VOA ‘must win the attention and respect of listeners' by serving ‘as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.'"


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