Regarding the editorial ``Assault on RFE,'' April 27: Although I share the view that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty should continue to have an important role in the world, I was distressed by the suggestion that the Voice of America is no longer ``seen in the East as a serious source of news and commentary.'' Recent studies of the area demonstrate that VOA remains an extremely popular and credible source of news and information.
The BBC, perhaps the most authoritative and objective source of audience research, has conducted extensive studies of Russian listeners. It found that VOA and BBC each attract about 18.6 percent of the Russian audience and RL attracts about 11.5 percent. Sixty-nine percent of listeners found VOA ``always'' or ``usually'' reliable. Moreover, the BBC 1993 survey found that among respondents who listen to all three of the major international stations, 24 percent rated BBC most trustworthy; 23 percent, VOA; and 19 percent, Radio Liberty.
In 1991, the BBC asked Russian listeners to identify which of the three stations was best at providing various programming. Listeners identified the VOA as their top choice in three of the six programming areas: domestic, foreign, and reliable news.
Many of the most respected commentators on the Russian media have written glowing testimonials to our work in recent years. During the August 1991 coup attempt, the VOA kept Russian listeners informed when many internal news organizations had been shut down. Vitaly Korotich, former editor of the Soviet reform weekly magazine Ogonyok, wrote: ``Only Pravda and eight other Communist Party publications were allowed to remain open during the coup crisis. Once again, the truth reached the Soviet people via the transmissions of the Voice of America, which broadcast Yeltsin's words to the Russian people.''
On Oct. 15, 1993, after Moscow's parliamentary revolt, Alexey Pushkov, the deputy editor of Moscow News (an authoritative political weekly published in Moscow in Russian and other languages) told VOA: ``The Voice of America played an instrumental role in keeping the Russian audience in touch with the development of events in Moscow on that fateful night of October 3 to October 4.... And one could really feel the pulse of what was going on in Moscow through the VOA. Out of Western stations that I have listened to or watched in Moscow, evidently for me there were two leaders - CNN on TV and VOA on the radio.''
The Voice of America and RFE/RL have had somewhat different missions. Under the new legislation we will join forces. We look forward to an era in which the Voice of America and RFE/RL will work together to provide an even greater service to the people of the region. Geoffrey Cowan, Washington Director, Voice of America
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