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Best Of RFE/RL 2013

From Afghanistan to Boston and many points in between, RFE/RL produced outstanding work in 2013.

From Afghanistan to Boston and many points in between, RFE/RL produced outstanding work in 2013.

On November 7, RFE/RL celebrated the six most compelling reports produced by its journalists in 2013 at its annual “Best Of RFE/RL” award ceremony. The reports, chosen by a jury of peers from among those cited during monthly “best of” competitions and produced for various distribution platforms, are examples of journalism of the highest calibre.

Video: At Afghan Brickworks, A Family Trapped In A Cycle Of Debt

This report, by Afghan Service videojournalist Sabawoon and Central Newsroom correspondent Frud Bezhan, is a moving portrayal of the plight of an Afghan family entrapped by debts the father has incurred in order to provide for their needs. Honored with a “Highly Commended” citation at the 2013 AIBs Awards, a Bronze Prize in the 2013 Lovie Awards, and as an Official Honoree in the 2013 Webby Awards, Sabawoon traveled to Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province to produce the video, earning the trust of family members who spoke to him honestly about their plight. He accompanied them to their jobs at the brickworks and then followed them home to the simple mud-brick home they rent, building the audience’s empathy with the family and letting it see the full extent of the trap they have fallen into – a trap commonly laid by wealthy brick kiln owners in India and Pakistan in order to get cheap labor and which now is increasingly being used in Afghanistan as well.

Video: Raising Julia

Thousands of children in Russian orphanages have found themselves at the center of a political battle between Russia and the United States because of a new Russian law banning adoption of Russian children by Americans. To dispel misconceptions about what life is like for most Russian children adopted into American families, Russian Service correspondent Olga Loginova lived a day in the life of Julia, an adopted girl from Russia. Julia’s mother spoke about her precious daughter, the joy that she has given her and also about the challenges that they face as parents. Julia kept her distance from an early age, but after years of hard work, the adopted family was able to gain Julia’s trust and win her heart. Loginova's work is intimate and sincere; when watching it, one cannot help but feel both compassion and hope. This video also reminds us of the other orphans in Russia who cannot connect with their prospective American parents because of the political ill will.

Radio Series: Victims of 88 (AKA 2009)

How do you portray a person to an audience when you are unable to interview him or her? And how do you make an audience understand the cynicism of a regime that thinks any opposition should be crushed by violence? In this series of radio programs, which was “Highly Commended” at the 2013 AIBs Awards, Radio Farda’s Masih Alinejad introduced her audience to the people who lost their lives in the protests against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election in the year 1388 of the Persian calendar.

One episode, for example, tells the story of Saane’ Zhaale, a young man who was shot during a demonstration. Alinejad’s report recreates the person his parents and friends knew: a man passionate about life and art who decided to leave his hometown in western Iran to study theater at Tehran University. We hear Zhaale singing with friends, thanks to a clip made with a mobile phone that his parents keep. We hear a relative recall that he was “filled with love for his fellow human beings and his only goal was to breathe freely and make his films in a free world.” And then we learn about the nightmare of his death -- first, the agony of relatives worried that he may have been caught in the post-election violence, then the horror of realizing that Zhaale’s cell phone was in the hands of intelligence agents.

LISTEN: Saane’ Zhaale's family speak to Masih Alinejad

Thanks to Alinejad’s interviews with the family, we also learn about the cynicism of the regime in Iran. Immediately after his death, police ask Zhaale’s cousin to borrow a photo of the young man from his parents. State television then aired a false report that Zhaale had been killed by pro-democracy demonstrators while serving as a member of the loyalist Basij militia -- showing as evidence a faked Basiji membership card festooned with the borrowed photo. The family realized their son has been turned into a regime martyr – the opposite of the person he really was. At the end of the program, both of Zhaale’s parents say their son has been slandered, and we realize just how corrupt and twisted the regime’s 2009 crackdown was.

Breaking News Coverage: The Coverage of Boston Bombing Aftermath

RFE/RL’s coverage of April’s Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath was proof of the effective teamwork and journalistic excellence that is a point of pride for the organization. The North Caucasus and Kyrgyz Services, along with the Central Newsroom, each took on a different, complementary aspect of the tragedy, producing original audio, video, and text reports from exclusive, authoritative sources. Kyrgyz Service correspondents Timur Toktonaliev and Ulan Asanaliev traveled to the town of Tokmok, some 60 kilometers from the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, to visit the hometown of bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Long before other journalists arrived, RFE/RL interviewed the Tsarnaev’s former neighbors and gained unique and vital insight into their lives -- something noted by major international media such as “The Washington Post,” which republished the Service’s work. The North Caucasus Service located and interviewed the suspects’ parents and aunt in Makhachkala, Daghestan, while Central Newsroom correspondent Heather Maher gathered first-hand accounts of the incident in Boston, and colleagues Richard Solash and Claire Bigg conducted some of the first interviews with the suspect’s father, former teacher and former employer for a profile of the Tsarnaev brothers. Central Newsroom reporter Daisy Sindelar produced a comprehensive piece tying all the various strands of the story together and laying out the many pieces of the puzzle that remained unknown.

Investigative Documentary: The Secrets of Construction of the Four Seasons Hotel in Baku's Old City

"The Secrets of the Construction of the Four Seasons Hotel in Baku's Old City" is a 15-minute investigative documentary looking into alleged wrongdoing tied to decisionmaking on a five-star hotel in central Baku owned by relatives of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. The video footage, usage of archived materials, interviews with historians and ecologists, and shots from the “Four Seasons” hotel itself make the documentary strong and rich. The video helps expose the wrongdoing of officials or their relatives and inspire the viewing public to reject personal indifference.

Multiplatform Coverage: Investigation On How Tuberculosis Patients Are Treated In Ukraine

The Ukrainian Service’s comprehensive reporting on the chronic neglect of tuberculosis patients throughout Ukraine exposed the hollow nature of government claims that it was making good use of funding provided by the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Tuberculosis, and Malaria to provide free and effective treatment to those suffering from the disease. Led by correspondent Iryna Shtogrin, the Service found that patients were not receiving their medication and had left substandard state-run facilities to return home with a still-active form of the disease. That, in turn, increases the chances that they will develop drug-resistant TB, which is much more difficult and costly to treat. The report had a major impact, the Service helped at least a few patients get treatment, and may even save some lives.

-- Zydrone Krasauskiene