Radio Free Asia
Number of employees (for 2017 – calendar year is fine) During FY17 262 staff on board
Budget FY17 $53 M (which includes OTF — prefer to distinguish the budgets)
For millions in Asia, Radio Free Asia is a lifeline. Living in some of the world’s worst media environments, they turn to RFA for its hard-hitting, in-depth journalism and programming, which draws a stark contrast to the offerings of state-controlled media and censored outlets. Through award-winning reporting that spans six countries and nine languages in Asia, RFA’s services expose human rights abuses, environmental degradation, human trafficking, corruption, religious persecution, unfair labor practices, health risks, censorship, and other taboo subjects otherwise filtered or ignored in Myanmar, North Korea, China, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. RFA also serves as a free speech platform, engaging audiences through opportunities to freely share opinions, ask questions and participate in responsible debate about banned topics deemed “sensitive” by authorities.
RFA made tremendous gains in 2017 through accelerated growth on social media, while expanding its video content, and continuing to serve audiences as a critical source of breaking news and trustworthy information. But RFA also faced serious challenges during the year. Authoritarian strongmen in Asia – who rule countries to which RFA broadcasts – showed little, if any, restraint in targeting RFA journalists and sources, as well as their families and loved ones. More countries have adopted China’s censorship model, which has led to unprecedented efforts to attack and jail reporters and citizen journalists, and crush all forms of dissent, RFA’s President Libby Liu remarked looking back. Authorities in Cambodia, China and Vietnam cracked down on RFA contributors and journalists, forcing the closure of its Phnom Penh bureau, jailing commentators and contractors, and detaining family members of U.S.-based RFA journalists.
RFA’s increased investment in growing social media platforms resulted in adding more than 4.5 million fans across Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. In some of RFA’s countries, these platforms have grown dramatically in recent years. RFA used these digital platforms as additional distribution channels to widen its reach, and RFA’s language services embraced the unique power of social media for community building and discourse. RFA Khmer provided vital coverage of the 2017 Cambodian commune elections utilizing Facebook live. RFA was the only Khmer media outlet to offer comprehensive, accurate and fair video reporting as the election unfolded. Cambodians tuned in enthusiastically, generating almost 5 million views of live election coverage on Facebook alone.
Throughout Asia, RFA challenged the narratives of authoritarian regimes, often leading the news cycle with its exclusive reporting. In China, RFA’s Mandarin Service exclusively interviewed friends and families of rights advocates who were arrested by authorities and held without due process. RFA’s Tibetan Service brought televised coverage of the annual Kalachakra religious gathering with the Dalai Lama to its audiences inside China via satellite. The Service also continued documenting the demise of Larung Gar, one of the world’s largest Buddhist teaching centers. RFA Uyghur, the only Uyghur-language news service outside of China, first reported on the deportation of Uyghur students in Egypt, the ban on religious names for Uyghur babies, and the dramatic cultural and religious restrictions on the mostly Muslim minority in the Northwest. These stories were cited by BBC, Associated Press, Kyodo News, South China Morning Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among other outlets. RFA Mandarin and Cantonese reported on authorities’ crackdown on house churches, increased surveillance with facial recognition technology, dissidents and rights activists, exclusively interviewing family members. The services reported on the passing of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who died of cancer in prison amid an outcry for allowing his access to outside medical attention. The services carried exclusive interviews with his widow Liu Xia, who remains under house arrest despite calls for her release. The Mandarin and Cantonese services also reported on the stepped up censorship controls on Chinese social media platforms, we well as the consolidation of media control under China’s leader Xi Jinping and its impact on ordinary Chinese citizens. But authorities also stepped up pressure on RFA, targeting journalists and their sources. By the end of 2017, four RFA Uyghur reporters had relatives detained by authorities in China.
RFA Korean reported on the murder of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Malaysia with sources inside North Korea attesting to official media not carrying any mention of the development. RFA also reported on the increased restrictions on mobile phone technology on North Koreans and their access to information when working overseas. In partnership with VOA Korean, RFA’s Korean Service produced video programming aimed at North Korean audiences yearning for accurate pictures of life outside the Hermit Kingdom. RFA’s programming for this project included documentaries about defectors living in Seoul, sharing their stories as they run businesses, make friends, and establish new lives outside of their former homeland.
RFA’s Lao Service reported on Chinese influence in a 6 billion USD rail link project to connect China with much of Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Singapore. The Lao Service’s coverage of pollution from Chinese-run banana plantations resulted in the banning of facilities. RFA Myanmar reported on the Rohingya crisis, reporting on allegations of widespread sexual assault of refugee women and denial of basic rights. The service also reported on increased restrictions on media despite Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s pledges for a new era of openness. RFA Vietnamese reported on the crackdown on bloggers and rights activists, which included the arrest popular commentator and RFA contributor Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as “Mother Mushroom,” who was charged and later sentenced to 10 years for spreading “propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. In Cambodia, RFA’s Khmer Service brought communal election coverage to its audiences from all of Cambodia’s provinces, interviewing candidates, hosting forums and debates, and holding discussions with voters about issues that matter. However, following unprecedented threats and an orchestrated crackdown on independent voices, authorities forced the closure of RFA’s bureau in Phnom Penh and later jailed two former RFA employees, charging them with “espionage” (both remain in Prey Sar Prison awaiting trial).