A presidential advisory panel recommended yesterday that the controversial U.S. Information Agency remain independent and keep control over the Voice of America.
The panel, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, said, however, that the news disseminated overseas by the VOA must "remain both credible and competitive. There can be no distortion or prior restraint of news broadcasts."
To strengthen the VOA, the commission said its director should "be elevated in rank" and become a deputy director of USIA.
The report directly countered recommendations made in 1975 by two high-level commisions, which said the USIA should be dismantled, its cultural affairs functions given to the State Department, and the VOA turned into a separate agency.
Arguing against such proposals, the advisory panel called the information agency "a 24-year experiment in openness" and said it "must include all clements of public diplomacy - fragmentation is not the answer."
Instead of shifting the USIA's cultural activities to the tate Department, the panel recommended that the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs be removed from the State Department and merged with the USIA.
The advisory commission's five members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for three-year terms. They oversee the USIA's programs and policies and report to the President and Congress. An earlier version yesterday's report to Congress in May.
The panel's recommendation to give State's educational and cultural functions to USIA is expected to draw criticism from some academics who do not want such activities mixed with the agency's propaganda functions.
Hobart Lewis, advisory commission chairman, told a House International Relations subcommittee in June that he was aware of the criticism but that there had been no protests from professors and intellectuals who had taken part in foreign exchange programs where cultural activities and U.S. information functions are mixed.
However, a commission source said yesterday, that the academic community's concern over the issue should be taken seriously. Commission members agree that the Board of Foreign Scholarships, which handles the Fulbright exchange program and is now part of State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, should be kept independent if the bureau goes to the USIA, the source said.
The advisory commission's final report comes after years of debate over the government's propaganda activities.
The 1975 recommendations to dismantle the USIA and make the VOA independent came from the Panel on International Information, Education and Cultural Relations headed by former CBS President Frank Stanton, who now heads the American Red Cross. Later that year another commission headed by former Under Secretary of State Robert D. Murphy endorsed the
Last year during the election campaign, Jimmy Carter said the VOA "has been entagled in a web of political restrictions imposed by the Department of State, which seriously limits its effectiveness." He also said he had been told that the Stanton report was "superb" but he did not directly endorse it.
Carter's USIA director, John E. Reinhardt, has opposed any breakup of the agency but has moved to placate VOA officials who have complained about past intrusions into their broadcasting of news and commentary.
In approving this year's Foreign AffairAuthorization Act, Congress told Carter to submit his reorganization plan by Oct. 31.