RFE/RL Taken Off the Air in Armenia
As part of a state of emergency decree
issued by President Robert Kocharian on March 1, authorities blocked the Armenian Service's website, and RFE/RL's two Armenian affiliates took the Service's programs off the air. To counter the government's blackout on independent news media, RFE/RL restored broadcasting to Armenia
on shortwave frequencies on March 8. The Service also added more news items to its website and updated its content every hour of every day, to compensate for the loss of local FM broadcasting. Statistics suggest that the strategy worked: listenership on RFE/RL's Internet sites for Armenia tripled in March from the previous month's totals. In addition, Armenian bloggers began posting RFE/RL news reports on their blogs, and many RFE/RL news programs were repackaged and posted on YouTube. Listeners sent hundreds of e-mails to RFE/RL to praise the Service's coverage and to urge continued attention to their plight. As part of its coverage of the state of emergency, the Service interviewed dozens of high-profile personalities, including the head of the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission, Ambassador Geert Ahrens; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza; U.S. charge d'affaires in Armenia Joseph Pennington; and Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried.
Belarus Service Monitors Latest Crackdown
Throughout March, the Belarus Service broadcast daily reporting on the worsening climate for freedom and democracy in Belarus, as authorities launched a crackdown on journalists and further isolated their nation from the international community. In mid-March, the Belarusian government demanded that the U.S. embassy in Minsk reduce its staff
, and the two countries soon recalled their ambassadors. On March 18, the recalled U.S. Ambassador, Karen Stewart, gave her version of events in an exclusive interview for the Service.
One week later, on "Freedom Day" (March 25), Belarusian authorities suppressed a demonstration intended to mark the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Belarusian National Republic, arresting approximately 100 demonstrators, many of whom were beaten. The Service had four reporters on the streets covering the demonstration, and kept audiences apprised of developments with nearly 100 updates on its website that described events as they unfolded. The Service also reported on the trials of the detainees the next day.
Two days after the demonstration, Belarusian security forces raided the offices and homes of independent media
outlets and journalists across the country, ostensibly to gather information on satirical cartoons deemed libelous of President Alexander Lukashenka. The Service provided extensive coverage of the raid, including 50 up-to-the-minute reports, photos, interviews, world press reviews, and reactions from both targeted journalists and representatives of the prosecutor's office.
President Bush Sends New Year's Greetings in Exclusive Radio Farda Interview
On the eve of the Persian New Year, Radio Farda correspondent Parichehr Farzam interviewed U.S. President George W. Bush
from the White House. The interview began with Bush wishing the Iranian people a happy new year on behalf of the American people. Bush and Farzam then discussed a wide range of topics, including U.S. policy towards Iran, Iran's nuclear ambitions, a Russian proposal to supply Iran with enriched uranium, and the war in Iraq. Bush also challenged Tehran over restrictions on free speech and political participation, noting that dozens of reformist candidates were disqualified from participation in the March 14 parliamentary elections.
In Advance of Presidential Inauguration, Russian Service Asks, "Who Is Dmitri Medvedev?"
The Russian Service attempted in March to construct a nuanced profile of the man who will be sworn in as President on May 7, Dmitri Medvedev
. To gain insight into the future President's personality, the Service interviewed Neil Buckley, a Financial Times correspondent who recently interviewed Medvedev; Carnegie Foundation analyst Lilia Shevtsova; noted Russian psychologist Olga Makhovskaya; and Nikolai Svanidze, a popular Russian TV personality and historian, who is completing work on a book about Medvedev.
Radio Free Afghanistan Journalists Win Awards for Broadcasting Excellence...
Two young female journalists working for Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul have been recognized for their superior reporting on international and domestic issues
. In recognition of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, the Afghan National Union of Journalists presented Hassiba Shaheed, 24, and Lina Sharifi, 21, with the awards during a March 11 ceremony in Kabul. Shaheed is a news reporter and anchor who was cited for her 2007 series on the lives of Afghan nomadic peoples and another series on the rights of women in Afghanistan. Sharifi hosts and produces a popular weekly youth program called Budding Branches, a fast-paced mix of news, music, and interviews.
...Gives First "Person of the Year" Award
Radio Free Afghanistan named its first "Person of the Year"
in March: Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of the eastern Nangarhar Province. Radio Free Afghanistan announced 10 finalists at the beginning of the month, and during the two-week voting period over 400 listeners called each day to cast their votes. The award is given for advancing the cause of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and reconstruction. Sherzai, a former governor of the Kandahar Province and former adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was credited with establishing the rule of law in the province, keeping the peace, eradicating poppy fields, and building an important highway between the capital Jalalabad and Torkham, on the border with Pakistan. Service Director Akbar Ayazi made the announcement on the air to mark the beginning of the Afghan New Year.
Azerbaijani President Prepares 2016 Olympic Bid for Baku
As President Ilham Aliyev drives a building boom in Baku in order to bolster his planned campaign to host the 2016 Olympics
in the Azeri capital, the Azerbaijani Service contrasted the President's appetite for architectural grandeur with the lack of usable athletic facilities in the rest of the country. Surging oil revenues have fueled a construction boom in the capital, but smaller towns are not seeing any infrastructural improvements. By way of example, the Service looked in on the town of Masalli, where the local soccer club, once a source of immense local pride, was forced to move to a different town after its stadium nearly collapsed from disrepair. In an interview with RFE/RL, a legislator representing the Masalli region said that, out of 40 schools in her district, 30 lack usable gymnasiums. In Baku, 13 new sporting complexes have been built in anticipation of the Olympic bid, and 23 other buildings are currently under construction in the capital.
U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Writes Diary for RFE/RL
As part of the Romania-Moldova Service's special "diary" program, in which people from various walks of life describe their daily lives in diaries that are read to viewers, the U.S. Ambassador to Moldova provided listeners with a fascinating glimpse into the life of an ambassador. Michael Kirby shared his diary with the Service on March 29.
South Slavic Service Talks to U.S. Ambassadors about Kosovo
In the wake of Kosovo's declaration of independence, the South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service landed interviews with two U.S. ambassadors to the region to get their perspective. In an interview on March 4, Robert Bradtke, the U.S. Ambassador to Croatia
, predicted that, sooner or later, the reality of Kosovo's independence will set in and be accepted by Serbia. On March 18, Charles English, the U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia, told listeners that the Dayton peace agreement forbade any secession by majority-Serb territories in Bosnia, and he drew a clear distinction between such territories and Kosovo.
Kyrgyz Service Convenes Roundtable to Discuss Controversial Islam Film
On March 28, the Kyrgyz Service broadcast a live roundtable discussion of Fitna
, the controversial new film about Islam by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders. The panel included the Mufti of Kyrgyzstan, who serves as the grand religious authority for Kyrgyz Muslims. That night, the Service also focused on young people's reactions to the film. RFE/RL was the first media outlet in Kyrgyzstan to discuss the film after its release.