Radio Free Afghanistan Only Media to Witness U.S. Ambassador Visit
On January 13, Radio Free Afghanistan was the only media outlet present when the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, met with Mullah Abdul Salaam
, the former Taliban commander who recently defected to the side of the Afghan government and now heads the Kabul-backed administration in Musa Qala. Salaam is a powerful local commander who has brought some 300 militia fighters to the side of the Afghan government in northeastern Helmand Province. Radio Free Afghanistan landed exclusive interviews with both Salaam and Ambassador Wood. As a result, no other media outlet in Afghanistan was able to match Radio Free Afghanistan's coverage of this important event.
Georgian Service Gives Candidates Equal Time in Presidential Election
The Georgian Service provided outstanding coverage of the January 5 presidential election
and the busy campaign that preceded it. Committed to delivering a balanced perspective, the Service offered 30 minutes of air time to all seven candidates for the presidency and asked the same six questions of each (the Service had selected the questions based on listeners' requests). Some of the candidates came to the RFE/RL studio in person, while others sent representatives or participated by phone. After this seven-part cycle was completed, the full transcript of all the candidates' answers was published on the Georgian Service's website so that users could get as clear a picture as possible of the platform of each candidate.
Belarus Service Covers "Entrepreneurs Marches" with Innovative On-Line Diary
Hundreds of Belarusian entrepreneurs and their supporters staged protest rallies on two occasions in January, and the Belarus Service was there to cover them. The Service covered both marches live on its website via an "on-line diary," complete with 48 up-to-the-minute news updates from two reporters on the scene, 50 photographs in three separate galleries, audio cuts, 18 one-minute video clips, and interviews with participants, police, and politicians. The Service also covered the inevitable aftermath of arrests, trials, and prison sentences.
Russian Service Spotlights Shocking Plight of Incarcerated Ex-Yukos VP...
The Russian Service is one of the few media outlets in Russia reporting on the awful plight of Vasily Aleksanyan, the former vice president of Yukos who is now in prison. Aleksanyan suffers from AIDS, tuberculosis, cancer, and near-blindness, yet is kept in prison and denied medical help. Russian human rights activists have been trying to bring attention to his case, but authorities have so far ignored three decisions by European courts ordering them to put Aleksanyan in a hospital. Federal Russian television channels have completely ignored his story. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned former head of Yukos, has declared a hunger strike in support of Aleksanyan.
...Covers Increasingly Hollow Presidential Campaign
Throughout January, the Russian Service covered a presidential campaign that has been thoroughly stage-managed by the Kremlin, with no credible opposition candidate being allowed to challenge Putin's designated successor, Dmitri Medvedev
. All in all, four candidates will be on the March 2 ballot. The Service closely followed the ultimately unsuccessful efforts of Mikhail Kasyanov, a potential challenger to Medvedev, to register for the election and broadcast several interviews with him.
Ukrainian Service Monitors NATO Accession Issue
Ukraine's ambition to join NATO was a top story for the Ukrainian Service in January, prompted in large part by the visit to Kyiv of Senator Richard Lugar. On January 15, Lugar announced that the Ukrainian government had formally asked to be accepted into the NATO Action Plan, and the next day the Service broadcast an interview with the Senator. And on January 17, the guest of the Ukrainian Service's flagship talk show, Evening Liberty, was former Ukrainian Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk, who lent his perspective to the NATO accession issue.
U.S. Senators Visit RFE/RL with Messages for Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran
On January 9, four U.S. senators visited RFE/RL headquarters in Prague to highlight the continuing U.S. commitment to building democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region. The senators met with RFE/RL broadcasters to discuss programming and the impact of the dollar decline on RFE/RL operations before giving individual interviews taped for broadcasting. In an interview broadcast to Iraqis nationwide by Radio Free Iraq, Senator Mel Martinez
said, "The improvement in Iraq's security has been the result of a combination of actions by U.S. troops but also the very courageous actions of so many Iraqis," and that "Americans continue to hope Iraqis and their representative government will come together to reach the type of political reconciliation that is necessary to eliminate sectarianism and live as a united country." In an interview for Radio Free Afghanistan, Senator John Thune
said, "My message to the Afghan people is that freedom works and democracy works...I encourage the Afghan people to stay strong for freedom." Senator Charles Grassley
urged Russians not to choose short-term economic well-being and stability over the long-term good that political freedom will bring to enhance the economy, while Senator Larry Craig
said, "Democracies have proven to be one of the greatest ways of promoting the freedom of the human spirit and that the desire for human freedom is universal." Sen. Martinez is leading the group that visited Prague as part of a tour of Europe and Africa devoted to promoting democracy and trade.