Through its coverage of the interlocked controversies over the “Magnitsky List,” child adoptions to the U.S., anti-NGO and anti-gay crackdowns and the legal case against anti-corruption activist and Moscow mayoral candidate Aleksei Navalny, the Russian Service helped its audience understand these events in the context of their own lives. The Service was one of two media organizations given access in July to a new music video by the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, and accompanied the group as it recorded the video at a Moscow gas station.
The Ukrainian Service helped its audience prepare for the anticipated signing of an EU Association Agreement with a series of reports examining the positives and negatives of the deal to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union. The Service covered live the November 28-29 Vilnius Summit, where the Ukrainian government turned away from the agreement, and provided live coverage of the massive Euromaidan protests with streaming video that was viewed more than 25 million times and comprehensive reporting cited by major media worldwide.
In a year when Iranians elected a new president, Radio Farda provided complete coverage of the campaign and vote while reminding audiences of the lives lost after the disputed previous election with its award-winning radio series “The Victims of 88,” and bidding farewell to former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad with a radio series “Thirty Controversies of a President.” Radio Farda provided breaking news coverage of the agreement reached in Geneva over Iran’s nuclear program. Radio Farda’s online community is expanding rapidly, adding 3,000 new fans per day to its main Facebook page, for an overall Facebook fan base of one million. A Facebook link to its audio stream has been “recommended” by users over 3,600,000 times.
The Tajik and Uzbek Services reported extensively on a police crackdown on economic migrants to Russia that played a role in the Moscow mayoral campaign, while the Turkmen and Uzbek Services provided in-the-field coverage of the cotton harvest, where residents of all ages are forced into, and sometimes die while, picking the economically vital cotton crop.
The Uzbek Service’s trailblazing efforts with Internet mobile delivery and social media have given it one of RFE/RL’s largest audiences on the web, and valuable reporting tools as well. The Service broke stories about government corruption involving family members of President Islam Karimov, and its use of the WhatsApp service allowed it to discover and report on the apparent rape of a gay Uzbek man in Russia by Uzbek vigilantes.
The Turkmen Service is the only international medium airing original multi-media reporting from inside Turkmenistan–despite the fact that it is not allowed to have a bureau or accredited journalists within the country. Audiences for the Turkmen Service’s web products have grown by a factor of seven in the past year. The Service’s coverage of homelessness, housing conditions, and travel restrictions on Turkmen citizens has prompted government action to improve facilities and social services, while its reporting on human rights cases has helped bring about the release of activists and journalists from prison.
According to a local research center, 60 percent of the news in local media is sourced to RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, which serves as the country’s primary source of news and information. The Association of Internet Providers in Tajikistan ranked Radio Ozodi among the five most-read websites in Tajikistan in 2013, while the Civil Initiative and Internet Policy Organization, an NGO, also ranked ozodi.org among the country’s top five websites in 2013 and 2012.
The Kyrgyz Service’s two TV shows reach a quarter of the population every week, with such stories as an investigation into efforts by the Tablighi Jamaat movement to recruit young Kyrgyz by offering them a free Islamic education in Bangladesh, and reporting on corruption and cronyism within the country’s political elite.
The Armenian Service broke new ground in the use of web-based technologies to reach its audience, bringing live Internet video coverage of presidential campaign rallies, election night controversies and post-election turmoil, and other major events including the country’s annual commemoration of Genocide Remembrance Day was picked up by numerous local TV stations and popular news sites.
The Azerbaijani Service built on its reputation as Azerbaijan’s leading independent media, providing exclusive live coverage of violent protests in Baku and Ismayilli, government corruption, and the destruction of historical sites, and comprehensive coverage of the October presidential election and reports of election fraud, carousel voting, and other irregularities.
The Balkan Service’s regional approach to news coverage paid dividends as it sent a Serbian-speaking Kosovar to cover the first meeting between leaders of Serbia and Kosovo in February, reinforcing the message of post-war reconciliation. Many listeners contacted the Service after it reported on a retired Serbian who, for the past 10 years, has led groups of cyclists on a 470-kilometer ride for reconciliation from Serbia to Bosnia. They told the Balkan Service that the report helped them understand they can each do more to “rebuild the destroyed bridge of friendship” between the peoples of the former Yugoslavia than could their political leaders.
Radio Mashaal’s mission to counter extremism in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions was on full display in its coverage of the October attack on schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. Radio Mashaal provided coverage that was original and infused with an intimate understanding of the region and the political forces at play in a story that quickly went global. In such areas, where communities are controlled by militants and subject to their propaganda, Radio Mashaal journalists themselves work under threat and at great personal risk.
Radio Farda’s award-winning series Solitary Confinement and Born in Prison, documenting first-hand stories of Iranian political prisoners, exemplified the service’s role in addressing developments both inside and outside Iran that are banned in the official press. Vigorous social media programming, The Sixth Hour call-in show, and a newly launched TV format increased its capacity to engage Iranians directly on political, social, cultural, economic “and security issues they define as important.
Radio Azadi is recognized as Afghanistan’s surrogate national public broadcaster, reaching more than 60 percent of the country’s adult population with trusted, in-depth coverage of issues affecting their communities and their country. In daily reporting about schools, water, transportation, domestic violence, local conflict, public health, unemployment and refugees, Azadi shines a spotlight on real problems, engages its audience in informed discussion, facilitates responses from local officials and promotes public accountability. It has become the standard-bearer of professional journalism in Afghanistan while contributing to a culture of public participation, pluralism and debate.
The Kyrgyz service has positioned itself as an informed and enterprising multimedia outlet that delivers news with impact. A story on violence within the Kyrgyz émigré community in Russia broke a social taboo, while a radio documentary on the country’s Sulukta coal mines highlighted the scourge of poverty in the south and prompted local advocacy groups to act. The service has pioneered the practice of live field-based reporting and has received grants to train media in other countries on its techniques.
Despite an increasingly hostile media environment, the Tajik Service exemplified the role of an independent, investigative news organization with unstinting reporting on military operations, security issues and social problems during the year. The service’s award-winning website was blocked on several occasions as authorities attempted to control the flow of unsanctioned news inside the country.
The Kazakh Service’s coverage of political, social, economic and environmental issues, epitomized in its coverage of violent clashes in Zhanaozen and the resulting trials and aftermath, demonstrated its role as an essential source of independent and verifiable information dedicated to local news in the Kazakh language.
The Belarus Service is a leading innovator at RFE/RL, continually pioneering new platforms to provide audiences with access to news, satire, investigative reports and vigorous policy debate. The service published another book in a series celebrating the country’s human rights defenders. A prison manual published by the service was a survival manual for listeners behind bars.
Radio Azatliq’s prominence as Azerbaijan’s leading provider of independent news received a boost earlier in the year with an exposé capturing police taking bribes on film. After the video went viral the officers were fired. The service’s Corruption Meter and investigative reports on the financial holdings of the ruling family added to its reputation as a source of intrepid, public interest journalism.
The Russian Service reported extensively on the societal ferment that accompanied Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. Covering major opposition protests, the verdict against the musicians of “Pussy Riot”, and the ban on adoptions by Americans, the service drew on its vast freelance network and depth of experience. Because virtually all international radio delivery ended due to a change in law, the Service began pursuing an enhanced digital strategy to bring together Russia’s atomized society through multimedia, web-based content from across regions and social strata.
The Ukrainian Service delivered high-profile and high-impact coverage of the October parliamentary elections to as many as one million users on a mix of platforms, showcasing a decisive shift toward a digital distribution strategy. For days after the polls closed correspondents remained on the spot, broadcasting direct from a precinct where a balloting dispute raged, setting a new standard for live coverage and access.
Correspondent Janyl Chytyrbaeva received a “Highly Commended” award in the category of “Best Investigative Radio Documentary” from the Association for International Broadcasting for her report on women who had been victims of rape during the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.
RFE/RL journalist Janarbek Akaev was voted Kyrgyzstan’s best TV presenter for the second year running, in a competition sponsored by Kyrgyzstan’s most popular newspaper.
- RFE /RL ’s Radio Azadi continues to be Afghanistan’s most popular media outlet, reaching 62 percent of the adult population with a unique blend of call-in programs, news reporting and user-generated content. Nearly 500,000 Afghans receive Radio Azadi mobile phone news updates and send citizen journalism reports to the station via a free subscription-based SMS service. “Over the years, local media outlets routinely censored our news. But Radio Azadi always aired the news as it was. It has always been the best place to obtain objective facts.” – Dr. Zamai Zabuli, Chairman of the Complaints Committee of the Afghanistan Senate.
- In early 2012, RFE /RL ’s Radio Mashaal will mark two years of broadcasting in the tribal areas of Northwest Pakistan. With its extensive network of local reporters, it provided unique and comprehensive coverage of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and broke the news of a Pakistani terror group’s claim of responsibility for the December 2011 Ashura bombing.
- Correspondent Shaheen Buneri won a 2011 Persephone Miel Fellowship from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, with which he traveled to the Swat Valley to report on tensions there.
- Despite telephone and radio signal interference, website censorship, and threats against those contacting RFE /RL , millions of Iranians continued to turn to Radio Farda for news and information on Iran in 2011 by using BBG-sponsored Internet censorship circumvention tools.
- Banned from Azerbaijan’s FM airwaves, RFE /RL ’s Radio Azadliq embraced the Internet as a primary delivery platform where its award-winning satire show, “250 Seconds+” has become a hit. The service launched an unscripted show simulcast live on Facebook, the Service’s website, and Livestream TV that is fueled by audience interactions via Facebook and Twitter.
- Several RFE /RL journalists were harassed, detained and fined while trying to cover the “silent protests” against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government in Belarus in June and July. During live coverage, RFE /RL ’s Belarusian Service website suffered a suspected distributed denial of service attack (“DD oS”) and later a malicious cloning of its YouTube page.
- In 2011, RFE /RL became one of the most popular non-profit channels on the entire YouTube site as many of the country’s TV outlets used its pioneering live streams and Internet video reports in their nightly newscasts The Yerevan Press Club recognized web editor Artur Papian with its coveted Annual Award for his contributions to digital media development in Armenia.
- The aggressive Internet strategy employed by RFE /RL ’s Radio Svoboda has increased its visibility by making use of new media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to foster citizen journalism and to promote civil society development. RFE /RL provided extensive coverage of the Khimki Forest demonstrations and innovative reporting on the legal woes of imprisoned former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Traffic to its website increased by 40% during the post-election protests in December 2011, as the station covered events with live-streamed video, photo galleries, and blogs.
- RFE /RL was among the first to reveal to the outside world the true dimensions of a massive explosion at a munitions plant in July that the Turkmen government tried to cover up. Two months later, RFE /RL ’s reporter Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was arrested and jailed on dubious charges. Following intense international pressure, Turkmen authorities pardoned him.
- Other initiatives included crowd-mapping election fraud in Kazakhstan, livetweeting the trial of two former state media employees in Uzbekistan, and extensively reporting on the case of two Tajik workers murdered in Russia. In Kyrgyzstan, RFE /RL reaches more than 30 percent of adults with a mixture of radio, Internet and television programs.
- Correspondent Janyl Chytyrbaeva received a “Highly Commended” award in the category of “Best Investigative Radio Documentary” from the Association for International Broadcasting for her report on women who had been victims of rape during the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.
RFE/RL journalist Janarbek Akaev was voted Kyrgyzstan’s best TV presenter for the second year running, in a competition sponsored by Kyrgyzstan’s most popular newspaper.
- RFE’s newest service, Radio Mashaal, was launched in 2010 and broadcasts to Pakistan’s Pashtun heartland along the border with Afghanistan. Radio Mashaal has quickly become a trusted source of news in the region.
- RFE’s Afghan service Radio Azadi is one of the most popular media outlets in Afghanistan, with a market share of close to 50%. In 2010, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. launched an exhibit of some of the thousands of handwritten scrolls and letters sent to Radio Azadi by listeners.
- The website of RFE’s Persian-language service, Radio Farda, receives over 19 million page views every month – many of them via anti-filtering software – and also maintains one of the most popular Iranian Facebook pages.
- RFE/RL’s Radio Svoboda is the leading international broadcaster in Russia and a key alternative to state-controlled media. Radio Svoboda is attracting a growing audience on the radio and the web, with an average of 3.5 million visitors and nearly 8 million page views per month in FY2011.
- Awards: “Highly Commended” in the “Best Investigative Documentary” category (AIB Awards 2010, Radio Azadi, RFE’s Afghan Service) – “Silver Microphone” award recognizing achievements of women (February 2010, RFE’s Armenian Service) – Rafto Prize for human rights reporting (2009, RFE’s Azerbaijani Service) – Online News Association’s award for excellence in online journalism (2009, RFE’s Kazakh Service)
- Millions of Iranians voted in a hotly disputed presidential election in June. Post-election protests have grown into the most serious challenge to Iran’s theocratic rulers in the past 30 years. Despite the government’s intense efforts to jam broadcasts and block access to its website, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda was a vital source of up-to-the-minute, independent news for Iranians about the protests and government crackdown. Media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, and Sky News turned to RFE/RL’s Iran experts for insight into the protest movement.”
- Just days before Afghanistan’s August presidential election, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan – the country’s most popular news source – hosted the first live presidential debate in Afghan history. The debate capped Radio Free Afghanistan’s unique and comprehensive reporting on the election campaign during which it organized roundtables and interviews with all 41 candidates.
- Despite a ban on local rebroadcasting, the Azerbaijani Service used its website and innovative marketing strategies to deliver hard-hitting news. Reporters in Baku obtained video clips of election fraud and reported on eyewitness accounts of fraud during the controversial March referendum that abolished presidential term limits. The service’s coverage earned it the 2009 Association for International Broadcasting (AIB) Media Excellence Award for “Best Radio Coverage of a Single News Event.”
- In Russia, RFE/RL continued to serve as a vital resource for audiences seeking news not shaped by the Kremlin. Throughout the year, RFE/RL’s Russian Service provided balanced news and analysis on the relations between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and covered the epidemic of kidnappings and killings in Chechnya.
- In November, RFE/RL launched “Echo of the Caucasus,” a daily hour-long news program in Russian to the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It also features a Russian-language website with news, photos, audio, and video. In late 2009, RFE/RL prepared for the January 2010 launch of Pashto-language programming to Pakistan and the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The new station – called Radio Mashaal (Torch) offers an alternative to the growing number of Islamic extremist radio stations in the region.
- In February, RFE/RL aired its first program from a new, state-of-the-art broadcast headquarters in Prague. The five-story, 236,000 square-foot center features multimedia recording studios, interlinking offices, and a modern newsroom.
- The number of visits and page views on RFE/RL’s Internet websites nearly doubled in 2009, thanks to the full implementation of a new Web content management system that offers visitors more interactivity, more video and graphic content, and more user-generated content. RFE/RL also expanded into social networking, with Radio Farda’s Farsi-language fan page becoming one of Facebook’s most popular Iran-related pages.
- RFE’s journalists won over 20 regional and international journalism awards in 2010.
- Balkans Service journalist Omer Karabeg, once branded a “traitor” by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, was presented the prestigious Dr. Erhard Busek-SEEMO Award for Better Understanding in South East Europe.
- Two RFE reporters in Kazakhstan earned a major journalism prize from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting for their “outstanding coverage of the human rights issue in Central Asia.”
- The Association for International Broadcasting (AIB) recognized RFE journalists from Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Moldova for journalistic excellence.
- The updated website of RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service won an Online News Association (ONA) award in November for excellence in online journalism. Radio Free Afghanistan’s redesigned website had a 400 percent increase in page views, with most of its visits coming from the region – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.
- In April, the Moldova Service used radio, video, and photos to cover the so-called “Twitter Revolution,” when thousands of young demonstrators clashed with police and ransacked government buildings to protest the Communist Party’s victory in national elections. Three Chisinau-based correspondents received the Eurasia Foundation’s Journalism Prize for providing the most “balanced” and “comprehensive” coverage of the elections.
- Azerbaijani Service reporter Malahat Nasibova received the Rafto Prize for her reporting on human rights violations and abuses of power in her native province of Nakhichevan.