(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) On World Press Freedom Day, a new report finds that the vast majority of RFE/RL’s 18 million weekly listeners live in countries where freedom of the press is under serious threat.
For the eighth consecutive year, the global state of media freedom deteriorated in 2009, according to Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press index. None of the 21 countries to which RFE/RL broadcasts is designated as "free" by the survey, and four are considered the “worst of the worst”: Iran, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Turkmenistan. Also, 7 countries in RFE/RL’s region are governed by heads of state on the Reporters Without Borders “Predators of the Press” list.
"RFE/RL’s resilient reporters are bringing accurate news to some of the most censored societies on earth,”says RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin. “Across 12 time zones, they do their jobs each day in the face of threats, harassment, and violence. As we reflect on the state of media freedom today, it’s clear that RFE/RL’s mission is as important as ever.”
In the aftermath of Iran’s 2009 disputed presidential elections, the regime redoubled its efforts to jam broadcasts by RFE/RL's Radio Farda and block access to its website. Nevertheless, Radio Farda saw its online audience multiply –aided through the use of proxy servers –and added thousands of new Facebook subscribers as protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime erupted onto the streets.
The Russian government's crackdown against independent media continues. RFE/RL’s Radio Svoboda has been reduced to just five broadcast affiliates, down from 30 in 2003. However, RFE/RL's Russian Service perseveres, providing a wide spectrum of news and commentary on its revamped website, which attracted nearly 10 million page views in March 2010 alone.
In Azerbaijan, authorities took RFE/RL off the FM airwaves more than a year ago. RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service responded by launching a free weekly newspaper in Baku and elsewhere, expanding its Internet presence, and moving its broadcasts to satellite radio.
In Iraq, independent polls find that Radio Free Iraq is the most trusted radio station across the country. In Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Radio Azadi remains the country’s most popular media outlet. In August 2009, Radio Azadi hosted the first ever presidential debate to feature an incumbent. And in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Radio Azattyq was one of the few media outlets to report on the fragility of President Kurmanbek Bakiev's regime before it collapsed last month.
RFE/RL launched two new services in the past year in conflict zones where rumors are plentiful but accurate information is scarce. In Pakistan, RFE/RL established Radio Mashaal as an alternative to the growing number of radical Islamic stations in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. And in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, RFE/RL started an hour-long daily news program along with a website covering events on Russia’s restive southern border.
Such efforts are not going without recognition. RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service recently won an Online News Association (ONA) award for journalistic excellence and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service journalist Malahat Nasibova won the prestigious Rafto Prize for her human rights reporting.
"At a time when media freedom and the democratic idea are being challenged in RFE/RL's region, its work is a critical source of independent information," says Christopher Walker, Freedom House's Director of Studies. "Such information is as valuable as ever."
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is an independent, international news and broadcast organization whose programs -- radio, Internet and television -- reach influential audiences in 21 countries such as Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the republics of Central Asia. RFE/RL is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). You can follow RFE/RL on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.