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American Radio's Place in a New Europe

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.

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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

American Radio's Place in a New Europe

Contrary to your assertion that a move by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty from Munich to Prague is part of a plan by the White House and Congress, this idea has little backing in Washington.

The notion that moving the Munich-based radios to Prague might be worthwhile was spawned by three RFE/RL managers and accepted by the station's oversight body, the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB), whose members assumed it would be less expensive to operate in the Czech Republic than in Germany. Since the cost of living in Prague rose by more than 20 percent last year, this was at best a dubious assumption. Because of this BIB decision, I resigned as president of RFE/RL in January. I had held the position only three months, having served during the previous seven years as executive vice president.

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I objected not only to the questionable financing of the Prague project, but also to the likelihood, now confirmed, that many if not most of RFE/RL's key employees would not or could not move to Prague.

In a January survey of 22 senior RFE/RL managers, only four favored a move to Prague. Moreover, the station's unions are unanimously opposed to the plan. Their objections have been ignored.

Morale at the Munich headquarters is abysmal, primarily because of the insistence by a handful of radio executives and the BIB that the staff be transplanted. All other important issues, such as responsible approaches to staff reductions to meet a diminished budget, have been subordinated to the Prague undertaking.

The impetus for this was the Czech Republic's offer to house RFE/RL rent-free. By accepting such a gift, RFE/RL's journalistic integrity would be severely compromised. William W. Marsh, Arlington, Va.

American Radio's Place in a New Europe

We at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Inc. are gratified by this editorial's stirring endorsement of our work.

In the context of downsizing to meet a sharply reduced budget, our board of directors and the oversight Board for International Broadcasting voted unanimously in April to move RFE/RL headquarters from Munich to Prague. Substantial operating economies are available in the Czech Republic and the front lines of freedom have moved eastward.

The Czech government has generously offered their vacant federal parliament building to house the Radios and would like a timely response. The International Broadcasting Act of 1994 provides for federal review and approval of the relocation.

RFE/RL and the Voice of America always have been different but complementary radios serving American interests in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. We focus on developments within this region. VOA concentrates on telling America's story. We have a high professional regard for each other. Together we remain the cheapest, most effective and risk-free instrument the United States has at its disposal to communicate with a volatile and strategically vital part of the world.

Amid the upheaval of the post-Soviet era, tens of millions of people - comprising very different audiences, but all of them struggling to build democracies - depend on America's international broadcasters. Kevin Klose, Munich, Germany Executive Vice President, RFE/RL Robert Gillette, Director, RFE

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