WASHINGTON – In testimony before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) earlier this week, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly addressed the increased pressure faced by RFE/RL journalists working throughout the media organization’s 23-country region. During the bipartisan hearing, “In Pursuit of Truth: Media Freedom in the OSCE Region,” Fly noted the challenge to free media coming from authoritarian leaders who are “increasingly succumbing to the attraction of a media landscape without the independent checks and balances inherent in an impartial press.”
Said Fly, “From Belarus to Central Asia, I have observed these disturbing trends firsthand across RFE/RL’s media markets. Well-aware of the potential power of news and information, authoritarians are cracking down. Brutally. And often with impunity.”
Fly spoke directly to the pressures faced by RFE/RL in OSCE member states such as Russia, Belarus, and Uzbekistan. In Russia, the Kremlin has stepped up a long-running campaign to force RFE/RL and other independent outlets to “invasively label as the product of a ‘foreign agent’” all content produced for the Russian audience. In Belarus, RFE/RL’s local bureau was raided in July 2021 “as cameras from Russia Today filmed Belarusian Security Forces destroying our equipment;” RFE/RL journalists have spent a total of 133 days since June 2020 in Belarusian jails as they sought to document the authorities’ heavy-handed crackdown on dissent following a controversial August 2020 presidential election. Most recently, RFE/RL journalists based in Europe have received online death threats in advance of this weekend’s presidential election in Uzbekistan following the publication of hard-hitting investigative reporting about official corruption.
Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chairman of the CSCE, thanked RFE/RL for its work, noting that what RFE/RL “is doing throughout Europe is extremely important to the United States.” CSCE Ranking Member, Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) joined Cardin and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in his appreciation for the “good journalism and unflinching investigative reporting” being done by journalists around the world, noting that, having met with journalists and autocrats around the world, “I’ve learned that autocrats who silence the press do so because they are fearful that their own autocratic behavior will be exposed.”
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 41 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 6.5 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2020. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.