A panel of leading newspaper and radio personalities has recommended sweeping changes in the role of the Voice of America's news broadcasts and the development of new protection for VOA correspondents from interference by the State Department.
The role of the Voice, the government's official broadcast arm, and particularly its freedom to use its correspondents as it wants, has been one of the longest-running battles in WashingtoN.
There have been numerous charges of State Department cencorship of VOA broadcasts or prohibitions on the movement of correspondents.
The independent panel, headed by retired Washington Post diplomatic correspondents Chalmers Roberts, argued that the VOA "must have the right, free of diplomatic restrictions, to gather and sent news to Washington headquarters."
VOA correspondents, the panel said, should have a ststus "as close as possible to that of correspondents of commercial American press and broadcasting organizations. These correspondents should be news persons and not interchangeable with diplomatic personnel."
They should use regular and not official passports, operate fron offices outside embassies, apply for regular visas to foreign countries and receive the same treatment from embassy personnel as a correspondent for a commercial news agency would receive, the panel added.
The Roberts' panel also recommended that the VOA shift its correspondents from Europe, where there are a large number of American correspondents from independent news agencies and newspapers, to concentrate more on news in the Third World and in Communist countries.
It further urged that the correspondents, who currently number 15, should concentrate on "producing background and explanatory material and broadcasts . . . to give depths to the news," while "spot" news is drawn from commercial news sources.
The panel's report was also cirtical of the quality of the VOA's personnel.
"If VOA news persons are to be considered bona fide journalists by their own government, or anyone else, they should be the best and most professional that VOA can attract. This is not now the case," the report said.TR3
VOA director R. Peter Strauss said response to the panel's recommendations "move us a long way toward resolving an issue that had plagued international broadcasting for many years."
Strauss said that he expected an official response to the panel's recommendations by the end of the month, adding that it gives "a good basis for us and State to work out an agreement" on the role of the correspondent.
"We are trying to find ways to give these people as much space - as much breathing room as possible - to act like normal correspondents," Roberts said ina telephone interview yesterday.
"A lot of people, even in the other parts of USIA and the State Department, look on VOA as a propaganda agency," Roberts said, noting that it is the news broadcasts and music programs that draw listeners to the radio in the first place.
Other members of the panel included Pauline Frederick, international affairs analyst for National Public Radio; E. W. Kenworthy, retired New York Times correspondents; Willian Scott, vice president for radio news operations for Westinghouse Broadcasting, and Franklin H. Williams, former ambassador to Ghana.