The new mission of Radio Free Europe

At the beginning of August, the Romanian department of Radio Free Europe closed the books. After almost sixty years, the station had become superfluous.
 ‘Since Romania’s accession to the EU last year, media competition has increased dramatically’, Radio Free Liberty writes in a press release. ‘Romanians now have access to more than 70 daily newspapers, 300 private FM radio stations, cable TV and the internet.’ Over the past couple of years, Radio Free Europe has closed its offices in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States, Slovakia and Bulgaria.
Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL) were founded by the CIA around 1950, in order to provide the people living behind the Iron Curtain with information from the ‘free West’. Radio Free Europe broadcasted primarily in Eastern-Europe, Radio Liberty was aimed at Russia and other Soviet republics. Officially, CIA involvement in broadcasting ended in 1971.
The breakdown of the Berlin Wall obviously meant a significant turning point in the history of the station. The establishing of early democracies in Eastern Europe marked the beginning of the end for local RFE departments, but at the same time, the station founded new departments in the former republic of Yugoslavia (Kosovo, Macedonia), Central-Asia (Afghanistan) and the Middle-East (Iran and Iraq). 
In 2008, RFE/RL claims to reach thirty million listeners in twenty-one countries. It is financed by the American Broadcasting Board of Governors. Its mission still is to ‘promote democratic values and institutions by spreading factual information and ideas’. The question that arises is what ‘factual information’ means to a station that originally was conceived as a propaganda tool.
At the beginning of July, the American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the headquarters of Radio Free Europe in Prague. ‘As a specialist on the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, I know that, for people behind the Iron Curtain, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were their virtual passport out of tyranny and into freedom’, Rice said. ‘RFE/RL’s present and future is to take those same basic ideas –that men, women and children can and must be free– and speak them loudly for people in Baghdad, Kabul, Tehran and all over the world’.
Because of political circumstances, it is not possible for RFE to broadcast in Belarus, Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In June, an Iranian court sentenced RFE-journalist Parnaz Azima to one year in prison as a result of her anti-revolutionary work. In Turkmenistan, RFE-associate Sazak Durdymuradov was tortured and imprisoned by the police.

translation by: Sven Heyndrickx

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