Congress will support war of ideas

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Nine months after Sept. 11, discussions in Congress have turned to how it can aid the State Department in countering anti-American messages abroad, and talks indicate the State Department's public-diplomacy program and Voice of America could see major budget boosts.

At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, senators told Charlotte Beers, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, and Norm Pattiz, a governor on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the group that oversees Voice of America, that the U.S. has cut back its outreach efforts for too long.

"No matter how powerful our military is, we will not be powerful if we lose the war of ideas," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Citing the $1 billion spent annually on public-diplomacy activities, he said, "We are doing public diplomacy on the cheap."

Despite general agreement that activities should be increased, and that more programs should aim to reach youth and influencers in Arabic-speaking countries, how to achieve those goals is still unresolved. Proposals range from raising the budget for Ms. Beers' unit to expanding exchange programs between countries to starting a satellite TV station programmed in Arabic.

At the hearing Ms. Beers disclosed some one- or two-minute documentaries about Muslim life in America are being produced by ad agencies and others for use overseas this fall and that "Hollywood, PBS and the Discovery Channel" have offered to produce programs. Ms. Beers declined to name the agencies.

Mr. Pattiz, who is also chairman of Westwood One, said the Board of Governors re-evaluated its Middle East efforts, which included a part-time Voice of America shortwave station before Sept. 11, and dramatically altered them in March. It launched Radio Sawa, a 24-hour radio station that mixes rock and newscasts and is available on a number of local FM and AM channels and satellite audio channels.

The House Foreign Relations Committee has already sent to the floor a "Freedom Promotion Act" that includes requirements the State Department annually develop a "cohesive and coherent" strategy to counter anti-U.S. propaganda and better train ambassadors in media. It includes $245 million over two years to boost exchange programs, put broadcast studios in each embassy and develop TV programming. It allocates $135 million for a Muslim TV channel.

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