Radio Sawa Launches “The Free Zone” New Program on Democracy; Secretary of State Powell Calls for More Openness in the Middle East

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, speaking on “The Free Zone,” a new Radio Sawa program launched today, urged leaders in the Middle East to support democratic principles such as free elections and free media.

“Men and women have certain universal rights…,” Powell said in an interview taped by Radio Sawa. “And we believe that democracy is the best way to allow [people] to have those rights….”

Added Powell: “I think this concept is not yet fully understood in the Middle East.…And I don’t think that people have had the chance to express their views openly enough or the chance to participate in systems where a vote counts, where a vote is a real vote to determine what the will of the people is.”

If nations “want to be part of the 21st Century world that is moving forward, they must give their people a right to choose … a proper form of political system for those people and in line with their religion … their culture … their beliefs.”

Powell’s comments came on Radio Sawa’s “The Free Zone,” a weekly 30-minute program that started today on the 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week Arabic-language radio station. The magazine program will examine a host of issues relating to freedom, including human rights, women’s issues, press freedom, civil society, elections.

“Freedom and democracy are what the United States is all about,” said Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees all U.S. international, nonmilitary broadcasting including Radio Sawa. “The Free Zone will allow us to share our views on these important concepts with our listeners in the Middle East.”

Norman J. Pattiz, chairman of the BBG’s Middle East Committee, said, “The Free Zone is the next step in the evolution of Radio Sawa. First came the music, then came news twice an hour 24 hours a day, plus live coverage of major events. Now Radio Sawa is producing substantive programming that presents a view of America and the democratic process that is otherwise unavailable in the region.”

Radio Sawa is the brainchild of Pattiz, who is also chairman of Westwood One, America’s largest radio network. Pattiz pointed out that Radio Sawa “uses proven American broadcasting techniques to provide accurateand credible news and information to the largest possible audience in the Middle East.”

In the past several months, Radio Sawa has added news features on Iraq as well as features on topical political and social issues. Besides The Free Zone, Radio Sawa has programs such as Ask the World Now, Sawa Chat and The View from Washington. Radio Sawa also broadcasts news twice an hour along with Western and Arabic music.

The BBG is an independent federal agency which supervises all U.S. government-supported non-military international broadcasting, including the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Radio Free Asia (RFA); Radio and TV Mart