Reporter Off Radio After Taliban Story

A Voice of America journalist who scored an
exclusive and controversial September interview
with the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has been taken off the air and reassigned to what she and the agency’s news director call a
"useless job."

2002.02.06

A Voice of America journalist who scored an
exclusive and controversial September interview
with the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar,
has been taken off the air and reassigned to what
she and the agency’s news director call a
"useless job."

The reporter and the news director assert that the
job change is in response to outside pressure that
has prompted the VOA’s chief to impose a ban on
interviews "with any official from nations
that sponsor terrorism."

A spokesman for VOA chief Bob Reilly could not
be reached Tuesday to respond to allegations
brought by Spozhmai Maiwandi, an Afghanistan
native who has worked for the VOA in Washington
for 20 years, the last 10 as head of the agency’s
Pashtu language service.

The Washington-based Maiwandi conducted the
interview by telephone with Omar, his next-to-last
before disappearing.

About 40 seconds of the interview were used to
produce a radio report that also quoted President
Bush, a Northern Alliance leader and a
Georgetown University academic. But that report
was put on hold amid criticism from State
Department officials.

The department oversaw the VOA until a 1998
restructuring that left the agency under the
guidance of a board of governors that includes
the secretary of state or a designee.

The hold infuriated many within the VOA who
opposed it as censorship, and the report
eventually was broadcast in English on Sept. 25
and in Pashtu Sept. 26.

Though the VOA does broadcast clearly defined
U.S. government positions, its charter calls for
presenting news in an "accurate, objective
and comprehensive way."

Maiwandi was technically promoted to a position
where she apparently has little to do and is not
allowed on the air.

"What is striking is that here is a superstar
of journalism, who got a big interview and has
now paid the price for it. Because of her contacts,
she got the interview but has now been sent to
Siberia," said Andre de Nesnera, the VOA’s
news director.

"I am being punished for the fact that I did a
good job, that I did my job," Maiwandi said
from Washington on Tuesday.

An official VOA investigation of six months of
Pashtu programming, triggered by a former U.S.
ambassador’s claim that it was pro-Taliban,
concluded the service showed no pattern of bias.

Reilly has previously sought to allay staffers’
fears of political interference, saying during a
December meeting that "we do the
news."

But many VOA journalists see him overreacting
to outside criticism, especially from
conservatives such as columnist William Safire
who has rebuked the broadcast agency for
giving air time to pro-Taliban figures.


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Author: James Warren

News Service: Chicago Tribune

URL: http://chicagotribune.com/news/printedition/chi-0202060302feb06.story?coll=chi%2Dprintnews%2Dhed