Originally created 09/24/01

VOA plan to air words of Taliban



WASHINGTON -- The State Department said Monday it raised strong objections after learning that the government-supported Voice of America was preparing to air a segment of an interview with the leader of Afghanistan's Taliban militia.

Spokesman Richard Boucher said the department did not believe that interviews with the Mullah Mohammed Omar, "the voice of the Taliban," should be aired over U.S.-taxpayer backed facilities so long as he does not comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The U.N. resolutions require that Afghan-based Osama bin Laden be extradited in connection with the bombings of two U.S. embassies in West Africa. Bin Laden also is a prime suspect in the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11.

Boucher said that unless Omar "was going to accept the requirements of the United Nations, then there was no news or anything newsworthy in any interview like that." He said the interview on what is essentially a U.S. government broadcast would be confusing to listeners.

Joseph O'Connell, a VOA spokesman, said the station never had any intention of using Omar's words as a stand alone interview but as part of a larger piece on the Afghan reaction to President Bush's speech to a joint meeting of Congress last Thursday.

If the overall piece - with the Omar segment included - qualifies under VOA editorial guidelines, it will be used, said O'Connell.

But Boucher indicated the VOA was no longer planning to air Omar's words in any format, calling the change in plans "the right decision. We think good sense prevailed."

He added that the State Department recognizes VOA's editorial independence.

"The VOA works according to its charter," he said. "Its charter says that they should explain U.S. government policy and present responsible discussion about it. We don't consider Mullah Omar to be responsible discussion."

The VOA takes its editorial cues from a board of governors, on which the State Department has a seat. Boucher said other board members shared the State Department's concerns.

The Washington Post, which first reported the story, said the VOA was preparing to broadcast the story Friday night. It was to have been beamed to listeners in Afghanistan and contained voices from Afghan-opposition leaders.