CONGRESS is beginning to shift its attention in international broadcasting from Europe to Asia. Since shortly after World War II the American government has beamed news of the Free World to the people of communist-dominated Eastern Europe via three shortwave services - Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty. When the people of Eastern Europe successively overthrew their communist governments a year ago the cumulative effects of these shortwave services shared in the credit.
Now a few members of Congress are seeking to have the US government establish shortwave services for Asia similar to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty - so-called ``surrogate'' services. These services would beam news programs to Asian nations, where more than 1 billion people live under communist governments.
VOA already sends shortwave programming to Asia. But advocates of surrogate services say their programs could be more specifically tailored to the needs of individual nations.
US Rep. Helen Bentley (R) of Maryland is introducing again this year a bill to establish Radio Free Asia ``to concentrate particularly on IndoChina, to focus on areas like Cambodia and Burma,'' and to include Vietnam and North Korea.
``Surrogate broadcasts ... provide hard news and commentary about what is going on in the specific target country, such as Cambodia,'' she says. ``In contrast, VOA provides information and entertainment `American style.'
``Over 68 million people live in Vietnam, and another 11 million are in Cambodia and Laos,'' Rep. Bentley noted at a recent Capitol Hill conference on United States broadcasting, sponsored by the Council for the Defense of Freedom. ``We cannot afford to let the opportunity to fill an information vacuum pass by - or worse, in the case of Cambodia, let it fall solely into the hands of the Khmer Rouge and its Chinese benefactors,'' Bentley added. Similarly, Rep. John Porter (R) of Illinois proposes establi shing Radio Free China, to provide news, commentary, and other information about events in China and around the world. He says such a service would supplement the 13 hours a day that VOA broadcasts to China.
If both ideas were put in place Congress and the government would have to find a way to pay for them. Maury Lisann, a former consultant to VOA, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty, says a surrogate service to China alone would probably require 10 transmitters and four antennas: ``You are probably talking about an initial investment cost ranging from $100 million and up.''
Considering that America measures its annual budget by the hundreds of billions of dollars, that cost is relatively modest, says James L. Tyson, president of the sponsoring Council for the Defense of Freedom. He quoted a budget expert as calling it ``nothing but a rounding error.''
Bentley says surrogate broadcasting services may very well be needed in other parts of the world as well. Her bill would ask the Board for International Broadcasting to study other parts of the world: ``In particular, Africa and the Middle East clearly should be reviewed,'' she says.