Washington Times: President Bush’s nomination of a successor to his longtime friend Karen P. Hughes as the nation’s top public diplomacy official is being held up in the Senate over concerns about anti-American bias in the Voice of America’s broadcasts for Iran. The Washington Times
By Nicholas Kralev
President Bush’s nomination of a successor to his longtime friend Karen P. Hughes as the nation’s top public diplomacy official is being held up in the Senate over concerns about anti-American bias in the Voice of America’s broadcasts for Iran.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, has put a hold on the confirmation of James Glassman, whom Mr. Bush nominated in December and who went before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in late January, administration and congressional officials said.
Mr. Coburn has sought for years to obtain English transcripts of Farsi-language U.S. government broadcasts from the body in charge of those programs, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Mr. Glassman is BBG chairman.
In his requests, the senator has cited reports of mismanagement of VOA’s Persian service that has allowed anti-American content to creep into broadcasts. He also has expressed concerns that the service gives too much time to guests with pro-Iranian views.
“VOA has not been aggressive enough in promoting values of individual liberty and freedom in its Persian broadcasts,” said an aide to Mr. Coburn, who declined to give his name.
The senator’s office did not provide specific examples of anti-American or pro-Iranian language used in broadcasts.
Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, published a paper last year on U.S. government broadcasts in Iran. He is a former producer at Radio Farda, a joint project between VOA and U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is based in Prague.
“Some of Radio Farda’s Prague team members are noticeably anti-American, which can be discerned from their language and the news they choose to produce,” Mr. Khalaji wrote, but he did not cite specific examples.
However, “some Washington team members are well known for their anti-Islamic stance, their opposition to the Iranian regime,” and “they reflect their own political views in news production as well as feature segments,” he wrote.
Because most of the transcripts Mr. Coburn wants to see have not been provided, Mr. Coburn is using Mr. Glassman’s nomination to press the board to release them, officials said.
One congressional source familiar with the situation said the senator has no fundamental objection to the nominee and will lift his hold when the issue is resolved.
Mr. Glassman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is expected to become undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. He declined to comment on his confirmation delay.
State Department officials said the spat is hurting their public diplomacy efforts and called on Mr. Coburn to reconsider his position.
The VOA management denied any anti-American bias in its Persian TV and radio programs and insisted that it gives equal airing of opposing views.
Danforth Austin, VOA’s director, said the broadcaster “provides accurate, objective and comprehensive news and information” and “presents the policies of the United States, including responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.”
“In addition to our internal editorial oversight, enforcement of journalistic standards and continuing research into audience reaction to our coverage, we have established a program for random program translation to provide another level of quality control,” he said.
The BBG has released about 140 hours of Persian service transcripts on its Web site, but Mr. Coburn has asked for thousands of hours, officials said.
The National Virtual Translation Center (NVTC) transcribes the scripts and charges up to $3,300 for an hour of air time, a VOA source said, adding that using cheaper services has resulted in “mistranslations.”
Congressional officials said the Senate approved some funds for transcribing purposes in a “pilot project” last year, but they are not nearly enough to satisfy Mr. Coburn’s request.
Last year, the BBG’s Arabic TV channel, Al Hurra, came under fire for broadcasting entire speeches of two men the U.S. government considers terrorist leaders, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, the Palestinian group.
At the time, Mrs. Hughes said, “That was a mistake, it was a violation of our policy.”