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US Broadcasting Enters New Era

ON a sunny Washington morning last week, President Clinton was in his White House office, mulling over remarks he was to make later in the day to a small group of experts on international broadcasting.

They had been invited to hear the president's long-awaited policy on the future of US government international broadcasting.

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The president called in David Gergen, his new senior counselor. "Have you seen this," he asked, jabbing a finger at an article in that morning's New York Times. The article, by author and scholar Joshua Muravchik, made an impassioned case for funding a new Radio Free Asia "to do for such tyrannies as China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Burma, what Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe did for Communist Europe."

"Beef up my remarks on broadcasting to China and Asia," the president told Gergen. Thus, when Mr. Clinton met with his guests in the Roosevelt Room shortly thereafter and issued his formal policy statement later in the day, he made clear his commitment to launch a new "Asian Democracy Radio to provide accurate local and international information for the people of Asia whose governments still suppress the truth."

The president seems to have strong congressional support. Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. (D) of Delaware, who introduced preliminary legislation last year to establish the Asian radio service, told me: "It's going to happen. We're going to fight for it."

Under the president's plan, the Radio Free Asia project will be but part of a sweeping reorganization of the US government broadcasting effort around the world. The present diverse radio services will be consolidated under what Clinton says will be a "new and independent board of governors," politically bipartisan and appointed by the president, which will "ensure independence, coherence, quality, and journalistic integrity" in US government broadcast services.

The board would supervise the Voice of America, which broadcasts primarily national and international news around the world; Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, which traditionally have broadcast news about their own countries to the unfree nations of Eastern Europe; Radio Marti, which broadcasts to Cuba; and the new Radio Free Asia, or Asian Democracy Radio, which will have a heavy emphasis on broadcasting to China but will also beam tailored programs to North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Burma.

The Clinton plan would thus do several significant things:

It would consolidate all US international broadcasting operations under one umbrella. It would maintain the different identities and differing missions of the present services, while giving the new board of governors the flexibility to fine-tune those missions as world conditions dictate.

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It would give the Voice of America a greater degree of independence than it has ever had before, making it accountable to the board of governors rather than to a government agency.

It would preserve, for the moment, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, whose critics have been calling for their demise.

It would target a significant new radio service at the unfree nations of Asia.

It would offer efficiencies of operation as all the radio services pooled resources, staff, and equipment; it also would offer cost reductions as the various services eliminated overlapping functions.

In the plan the president has presented, he has been able to count on several heroes. Two of them are Joseph Duffey, the new director of the United States Information Agency, parent organization of the Voice of America, who was formerly president of American University, and Daniel Mica, the new chairman of the Board for International Broadcasting, which operates Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe.

Mr. Mica is a former Democratic congressman from Florida. In closed-door sessions involving only themselves and one aide apiece, the two men hammered out an agreement that requires both of their organizations to make sacrifices, but which meets two critical requirements for US international broadcasting: It fulfills the national interest, and it serves the needs of the millions around the world the US is trying to reach.

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