How the 'Voice' sounds abroad

Is the Voice of America sounding objective or politicized these days? To get an idea, the Monitor asked some of its overseas correspondents to sample VOA's fare and find out what others think of what they hear. These excerpts from their remarks -- by no means a systematic study -- were compiled by Richard Harley.m Ned Temko in Moscow:

Due to radio jamming, the Voice of America in the Soviet Union is apt to sound a little like a meat grinder nowadays. But many still find ways to listen, either through tapes made outside the heavily jammed larger cities or by word of mouth.

Ordinary Soviet citizens seem to lump all the Western radio outlets together (student slang for all of them is ''radio iz-za bugra,'' or radio from over the hill). And many assume that the VOA, like Radio Moscow, is self-serving. But few seem to care much; it is more interesting than Radio Moscow. The prime criticism is not so much the presence, or absence, of ''propaganda,'' as its tendency to focus more on international or stateside items than on news from inside the Soviet Union. The broadcasts of Radio Liberty are particularly valued precisely because they do focus on Soviet developments hushed up here at home. John Yemma in Damascus:

One finds few loyal VOA listeners in the Middle East. Some diplomats and VOA staffers in the region complain that VOA's news reports spend a great amount of time on Poland, Afghanistan, and Europe, overemphasizing news that the US foreign policy establishment is concerned with. Says one diplomat in Damascus: ''It's not realistic to expect Arabs here or in Lebanon to get worked up over Afghanistan or Poland. They always come back with: ''How can you be so upset by Poland and not by what Israel is doing on the Golan Heights or the West Bank?'' Informed diplomats seem to spend their time monitoring the BBC, Israeli radio, or Radio Monte Carlo out of Lebanon, all of which devote large amounts of air time to Middle East news. Tony Walker, special correspondent, in Peking:

Among Chinese, VOA is almost certainly the most popular shortwave service, largely because there's such a fascination in China these days about America and things American. One US network correspondent based here said: ''(The Chinese edition of Voice of America is) running a lot of marshmallow features about 'Gee , isn't it wonderful to be an American and live in America?' but their news is pretty straight.'' He praises VOA's news, saying that it had become more objective over the past 10 years. Many VOA listeners in Peking, including some US Embassy officers, would agree with this view. VOA editorials, however, now sound much more like editorials and not simple observations as they did in the past. Eric Bourne, special correspondent, in Warsaw:

One Polish official listening to VOA programs on Poland and on Washington's view of East-West relations found a striking difference between VOA's English broadcasts and those in Polish. The English ones were seen as ''more internationalized.'' Not only did they report Reagan policies vis-a-vis Poland and the USSR, they also reported domestic American and West European criticism of US sanctions against Poland and questions about Washington's attitudes toward Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. Another Pole well-versed in foreign affairs remarked that the VOA's Polish language programs ''are more anti-Polish, more anti-Soviet, and so generally are sharper in tone, which makes them a rather one-sided tune.'' Carol Honsa, special correspondent, New Delhi:

Throughout South Asia, even in rural areas, surprisingly large numbers of radio owners have shortwave sets that bring in the world through foreign broadcasts to their tiny village outposts. VOA is doing its utmost to keep alive an issue which has long since receded from world headlines but is still much on the minds of subcontinental policymakers - the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. And VOA now devotes increasing attention to US-Soviet issues. ''I think they're trying a little too hard to play cold war,'' says a longtime listener, who ascribes the change to both Reagan administration policy and the actual heating up of the cold war as a genuine news story. ''(VOA) sounds more strident than it did a year ago.'' Here in India the VOA is running a feeble fifth in shortwave listenership - well behind leaders Radio Sri Lanka, with its pop and film music, and the BBC, long the leading international news source here.

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