Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What does RFE/RL do?
A. RFE/RL serves as a surrogate free press in 23 countries where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed. Our journalists provide what many people in those countries cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate. RFE/RL strives to meet the highest standards of objective journalism and report the facts, undaunted by pressure or attempted influence.
Q. Where does RFE/RL report?
A. We report in 27 languages and engage with audiences in 23 countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. In FY2020, RFE/RL had an unduplicated weekly radio, television, and Internet audience of 41.1 million.
Q: In what languages does RFE/RL report?
A: Albanian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bashkir, Belarusian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Chechen, Crimean Tatar, Dari, English, Georgian, Hungarian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Pashto, Persian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Tajik, Tatar, Turkmen, Ukrainian, and Uzbek.
Q. How is RFE/RL funded and managed?
A. RFE/RL is funded by the U.S. Congress through the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM). USAGM is independent federal government agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international media. In addition to RFE/RL, this includes Voice of America, Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Asia, Alhurra, and Radio Sawa. In addition to providing oversight, USAGM works with RFE/RL to ensure the professional independence and integrity of its journalists.
Under IRS rules, RFE/RL is a private, nonprofit Sec. 501(c)3 corporation. Chartered in Delaware, it receives federal grants as a private grantee. RFE/RL maintains a corporate office in Washington, D.C. RFE/RL is managed by President and CEO Tadeusz Lipien.
Q. If the U.S. government funds RFE/RL, how can it be independent and unbiased?
A. An essential guarantee of the journalistic credibility of RFE/RL is the “firewall” enshrined in the enabling legislation of the the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the U.S. International Broadcasting Act.
The firewall prohibits interference by U.S. government officials, including USAGM’s Chief Executive Officer, in the objective, independent reporting of news by RFE/RL, thereby safeguarding the ability of its journalists to develop content that reflects the highest professional standards of journalism. The firewall is critical to ensure that USAGM journalists and editors can make the final decisions on what stories to cover, and how they are covered. The results of this policy are clear -- our audiences trust us.
Q. How does RFE/RL reach people?
A. RFE/RL operates one of the most comprehensive news operations in the world. In addition to over 700 employees at our headquarters in Prague and Washington, we maintain 21 local bureaus with over 500 core staff and over 1,300 freelancers and stringers, plus two bureaus in the United States.
RFE/RL reaches audiences on radio, television, web, and social media platforms. Current Time TV, led by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America, is a 24/7 Russian-language news channel airing on television and social networks. Its mission is to provide fair and accurate reporting and serve as a reality check on disinformation that is driving conflict in countries bordering Russia.
Approximately 1,500 hours of radio programming are broadcast every week, and listeners can tune in on shortwave frequencies across the entire broadcast region. RFE/RL has also built a network of affiliate partner organizations that rebroadcast radio and television programming across 11 time zones. Due to current political restrictions, rebroadcasting on local stations is prohibited in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Our language services host call-in shows and place a high priority on interacting with their audiences. Listeners contact the services through web forums, SMS messages, Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, and even old-fashioned letters. Radio Farda, our service to Iran, has one of the most popular Persian language Facebook pages. But while Internet and mobile technology are spreading fast, the radio is still a central medium for news and information in many of our markets.
Q. Is this still necessary? Isn’t the Cold War over?
A. Our mission remains more relevant than ever, though our name might be somewhat of an anachronism. According to Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press Index, over the last decade, media freedom has continued to decline in many of the countries where we report. Other studies on the state of media freedom come to similar conclusions. Many countries in the former Soviet sphere have recently seen a dramatic reversal of democratic progress. Journalists there are increasingly under threat, and RFE/RL remains a crucial source of accurate information.
Q. Isn’t this dangerous? How does RFE/RL keep its reporters safe?
A. In many countries RFE/RL journalists work at tremendous risk, including Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Belarus--countries that consistently rank at the bottom of Freedom House's Global Freedom of the Press Survey rankings. Journalists working for RFE/RL are often harassed, threatened, physically assaulted, or detained in connection with their professional activities.
In addition to violence, RFE/RL has endured other efforts to limit its reach and impact. Authorities have blocked our website in Crimea, jammed our broadcasts and blocked our website in Iran, closed our bureau and banned us from FM and the Internet in Azerbaijan, refused or stripped accreditation for our journalists in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, and used targeted pressure in Russia to dissuade local affiliates from carrying our programs.
RFE/RL journalists face hazards resulting from war and instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Colleagues with our Persian language service, Radio Farda, which operates from Prague, report on Iran with the knowledge that their work puts their friends, families, and colleagues inside the country at risk.
Nothing is more important than the safety of our journalists. We work closely with the U.S. and European governments, embassies, and many nongovernmental organizations to develop support networks and find ways to protect our journalists when they're under threat. Learn more about the threats facing journalists where we report on our Journalists In Trouble page.
Q. Why should U.S. taxpayers pay for this?
A. The basis for RFE/RL's operations is that the first requirement of democracy is a well-informed citizenry. By promoting the free flow of information, RFE/RL supports the development of civil society and thus makes a contribution to long-term development and stability in the region we cover. Learn More about our impact.