I have certainly heard about Radio-Free Europe, but in Prague, I learned how very little I understood about that service.
Right up front, RFE, as it is often called, does not even broadcast to Europe. Instead, it aims its signals, its journalism to Asia.
I and 12 other journalists were given the chance to see their facility on the outskirts of Prague — tight VERY tight security (even a brush of a bomb-sensing wand). Huge facility that it apparently shares with a couple of companies. The newsroom is not unlike most modern newsrooms. People at terminals, intent upon their work, little talk among the staff, most in deep concentration.
We heard from the heads (both women) of two of the regions served by Radio-Free Europe: the Ukraine and Russia. The Ukrainian crisis has been front and center in many of our lectures — Germany has a keen interest in it — it is just not that far away from them. But, I admit I don’t really understand what it is all about. Nor, I suspect, do many Americans.
Hearing from the journalists who provide news to that region, I now understand more.
The sheer brazen land grab by Putin violates everything this continent has fought against. Big fat international no-no. Radio-Free Europe works to break through the barriers of propaganda for the people of the Ukraine. That is their mission: to provide uncensored local news to people who lack access to it. Whether it be by television or radio broadcasts, web or social media. In Russia – the agency broadcasts “short wave radio” — that’s the only media they can provide — the rest is blocked and/or censored by the Russian government.
One of the most dramatic example of what Radio-Free Europe is up against was in social media. The journalists showed us their Facebook page, which has become the target of virulent, directed, wildly inaccurate attacks. For example, a picture showing a child sitting on the pavement, in front of a dead body, weeping and wailing. On the RFE site, the journalists point out the image is from a Russian film called “Brest Fortress” – that came out four years ago. Loathsome image after image – with the debunking explanation right next to it. Side by side. Paid propaganda meets free journalism.
These journalists are toiling away, for the most part, in relative obscurity. As soon as the protests and violence began, Radio Free Europe was streaming live from the squares of that country. Often at great risk. These are journalists we can all admire. And, should.