Save VOA

Another fine editorial calling attention to the shutting down of Voice of America's English-language service and its replacement with pop music channels like Radio Sawa.

Thus, it is with growing dismay that I read news of the latest spending plans being discussed by members of the Bush administration and their advisers for how best to influence Muslims and attitudes in the Muslim world. Congress is being asked for an additional $75 million to ''support democracy" in Iran, and unnamed State Department officials are saying it will be used to ''improve radio broadcasts, begin satellite broadcasts, and include money for scholarships for Iranian students to come to the United States."

Nowhere is VOA mentioned.

News of this request comes only one day after I learned of the latest announcement by Bush-appointed officials that VOA will have to discontinue its worldwide English broadcasts, which have been on the air 24 hours a day without interruption since 1942. Millions of people have learned to speak English by listening to VOA. It even broadcast a formal ''English 900" language training program to China in the 1970s that was the most widely listened-to single program in the country, outstripping all the government sponsored broadcasts. During the ''solidarity strikes" against the communist government in Poland in the 1980s, surveys showed 85 percent daily listenership to VOA for more than nine months.
I remember growing up in Morocco we would listen to Radio Montecarlo, which was especially good as reporting on the Lebanese civil war. Often these foreign stations are the only means for people to get reliable information, and they build up their reputation over time. The BBC and VOA did so -- whereas Al Hurra has probably already lost its own reputation.
Comment

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.