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 (see our Mission Statement).
Q. Where does RFE/RL broadcast?
A. We broadcast in 26 languages to 23 countries including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Our digital content in English is available at rferl.org. You can find more information about all our language services through the links on the left of this page under "Where." An interactive map of the region we cover can be found here.
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 350 journalists at our headquarters in Prague, we maintain 18 local bureaus with approximately 400 journalists and over 700 freelancers and stringers.
Approximately 1,100 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.
RFE/RL has a weekly radio, television, and Internet audience of over 23 million. Month-on-month, our 23 websites host an average of almost 72 million page views and stream over 2.8 million hours of video content.
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 and Twitter, e-mails, and even old-fashioned letters. Radio Farda, our Iranian station, has one of the most popular Iranian Facebook pages, with more than 1.6 million total likes.
But, while the Internet and mobile technology are spreading fast, 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, media freedom has declined to its lowest point in more than a decade. 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 beyond the reach of autocratic governments.
Q. Isn’t this dangerous? How does RFE/RL keep its reporters safe?
A. In many contries, RFE/RL journalists work at tremendous risk, including Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Belarus, which are at rock bottom in Freedom House's 2015 Global Freedom of the Press Survey rankings. Journalists working for RFE/RL are regularly 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 broadcast capacity and impact. Authorities have jammed our broadcasts and blocked our website in Iran, banned us from FM 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 Ukraine, Afghanistan, 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.
Q. How is RFE/RL funded and managed?
A. RFE/RL is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The BBG is a bipartisan federal agency overseeing all U.S international broadcasting services. In addition to RFE/RL, this includes Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Alhurra, Radio Sawa, and Radio Marti.
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.
BBG Chairman Jeffrey Shell chairs the Board of Directors of RFE/RL, Inc. On June 27, 2016, Thomas Kent became President of RFE/RL, Inc.
Q. If the U.S. government funds RFE/RL, how can it be independent and unbiased?
A. This is a very important and crucial point: The U.S. government is not involved in RFE/RL's operational or editorial decisions. Our governing board, the BBG, serves by law as a firewall to protect our editorial independence.
RFE/RL journalists provide straightforward, professional journalism, and the results are clear -- our audiences trust us. The popularity of many of our programs reflects this: In Afghanistan, 45 percent of the adult population listens to our programs, and the Russian Service's website svoboda.org website receives nearly 20 million page views every month.
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.
It's hard to imagine a more direct, effective way of supporting human rights and promoting democracy and the rule of law. We reach over 23 million people in 23 countries with a budget of about $104 million.
As then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said when she visited RFE/RL in April 2009: "RFE/RL is smart power. Your steadfast commitment to your mission and the work you do is an essential part of everything America stands for."
Learn more about RFE/RL's impact here.