New York radio station owner R. Peter Straus has been selected to be director of the Voice of America in a move with potential significance for the policy and status of the nation's overseas broadcasting arm, informed sources said yesterday.
Straus, who speaks five foreign languages and was a special consultant to VOA a decade ago, is owner of New York's WMCA and head of a group of investors that in March this year purchased the venerable literary-cultural magazine, Saturday Review.
The grandson of a noted New York philanthropist and son of the first New Deal housing administrator, both of whom were named Nathan Straus, the future nominee is married to a cousin of New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger.
A liberal Democrat who served in the Johnson administration as chief of the African bureau of the Agency for International Development, Straus is expected to bring the VOA a personal cast of mind poles apart from that of the last director, Kenneth R. Giddens. A radio-TV station owner from Alabama, Giddens was considered a conservative in the Cold War tradition.
United States Information Agency Director John E. Reinhardt, is reported to be planning to upgrade the VOA and its director in the agency's organizational structure if the broadcasting arm remains part of USIA. President Carter is said to be on the verge of an administration decision about the organization of the government's "public diplomacy," including USIA, VOA and the cultural affairs bureau of the State Department.
Reinhardt, who has been fighting to keep the VOA within the USIA, has already voiced support for a large measure of autonomy for the radio broadcasting arm, which accounts for about one fourth of USIA's budget and personnel. He has also emphasized his belief in a clear-cut line between objective news programming on VOA and commentaries that reflects U.S. government views.
Straus selection, subject only to security and conflict-interest clearance processes, is seen likely to enchance the VOA's status. A decision to retain it within USIA would be acceptable to Straus, officials said.