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Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 May 2011 09:40 Written by RFA15 Wednesday, 27 April 2011 08:32

The Beginnings of Radio Free Asia
 

People Liberation Army soldiers leap over a barrier on Tiananmen Square on June 4th 1989. Chinese troops forcibly marched on the Beijing square. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown as tanks rolled into the square. File photo.

1989 – Tiananmen Square massacre
RFA grew out of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown when Congress began to consider giving a voice to those who had been silenced in Beijing and aiding the development of a Chinese free press.

1991 – Presidential Task Force Recommends New Broadcaster to China
The first congressional discussions calling for the creation of “Radio Free China” began. A substantial  majority of the bipartisan “President’s Task Force on International Broadcasting”  recommended in 1991 that the United States create a new surrogate broadcasting entity aimed at Asia with a special emphasis on providing information for the people of China.

1993 –  President Clinton Requests Funding for RFA in his Budget Request
Early 1993: The Clinton Administration sought $30 million for the creation of a surrogate service which was referred to as Radio Free Asia in its FY1994 budget request.

June 15: President Clinton announced his proposal for a major consolidation of U.S. non-military, international broadcasting, including the creation of a new “Asian Democracy Radio.”

The 103rd Congress debated whether, and how, to broadcast into Asia. Proponents of surrogate broadcasting into Asia argue that: 1) it would promote democracy, especially in China where political repression and government control of news are strong, 2) freer and more open countries would enhance U.S. bilateral relations in Asia, and 3) the United States has an obligation to promote freedom around the world, not just in Europe.

1994 – Radio Free Asia is Founded
March 12: After a few years of debate, and the inclusion of other authoritarian countries to its broadcast region, Radio Free Asia is founded under the provisions of the 1994 International Broadcasting Act, as a private non-profit corporation.

The original legislation called on RFA to carrying out radio broadcasting to the People’s Republic of China, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Tibet and Vietnam. The functions of RFA were established to 1)provide accurate and timely information, news and commentary about events in the respective countries of Asia and elsewhere; and 2)to be a forum for a variety of opinions and voices from within Asian nations. The original  legislation also expressly obligated the government to “respect the professional independence and journalistic integrity of the broadcasters.”  The Broadcasting Board of Governors implemented the firewall policies that remain in place to this day.

The hope was that nations served by RFA would loosen their grip on censorship as their economies modernized and living standards improved.

1995 – Planning and Preparation
November 15: The Broadcasting Board of Governors sends the RFA plan to Congress, detailing how it would establish a surrogate broadcasting service into Asian countries within the budget set forth by Congress and that it would be broadcasting “as soon as possible”.

1996 – RFA Opens Its Doors and Goes On The Air
March 11: The broadcasting service was incorporated on March 11, 1996, as the Asia Pacific Network (Radio Free Asia), Inc. In the months before RFA’s first broadcast, due to a few objections from Congress, it was asserted that Radio Free Asia would be the authorized name.

March: RFA began operations in a small office rented from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC. The company’s first employee and president was Richard Richter, former executive producer for the ABC “Evening News”. Richter quickly hired Craig Perry as Vice President for Administration and Patrick Taylor as Chief Financial Officer.

Dan Southerland with RFA President Richard Richter and Jigme Ngapo, director of Tibetan language service, RFA's first director to be hired. 1996.

July: RFA hired as Executive Editor and Vice President for Programming Dan Southerland, a veteran correspondent who had spent 18 years in Asia. Southerland’s first task was helping to hire broadcasters as well as language service chiefs for more than half a dozen language services. When he first arrived, RFA had a small administrative and financial staff but no broadcasters.

July 10: RFA Opens its first Overseas Office in Hong Kong.

September 29: RFA goes on the air for the first time. Broadcasting in Mandarin to China from an RFE/RL studio in Washington DC, the first broadcast aired at 7:00 AM Beijing time and lasted 30 minutes. The broadcast was repeated during the following half hour and again the same night at 11:00 PM Beijing time. RFA’s signal was routed through the transmission facilities of the U.S. Information Agency’s International Broadcasting Bureau at Voice of America headquarters in Washington. From there, it was sent via satellite to relay stations overseas for broadcast on short wave. Transmitters in Kazakhstan and the Pacific island of Saipan relayed the first broadcast.

RFA President Richard Richter said that “All of us at Radio Free Asia are excited to be on the air. The people of China — and eventually the peoples of other closed societies in Asia — will now have in RFA an excellent source of straight, credible news dedicated solely to their own countries.” Dan Southerland, RFA Executive Editor and Vice President of Programming added, “Radio Free Asia is a small, cost-effective network whose broadcasts will be governed by strict journalistic standards of objectivity, fairness and quality.”

Mike Jendrzejczyk, Director for Human Rights Watch’s Asia division said after the first broadcast that “It fills a gap and a real appetite for information.”

Programming Highlights The initial broadcast included regional news and feature stories including news reports on a territorial dispute between China and Japan, protests in Burma, a review of China’s most favored nation status, and U.S.-China trade relations.  Liu Binyan, China’s most famous investigative reporter in exile in the United States, spoke about challenges facing China’s Communist Party.

Highlights from RFA’s first broadcasts in late September and October included Dai Qing, a dissident environmental expert, who was interviewed as part of series in which she voiced her concerns about the human and environmental costs entailed in the building of China’s giant Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. RFA broke the official Chinese media’s silence about Beijing’s plans to prosecute prominent dissident Wang Dan, a student leader of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, and interviewed Wang’s parents. There was an interview about prison conditions with just-released dissident Tong Yi, an aide to imprisoned democracy advocate Wei Jingsheng.

On a lighter note, RFA’s program “Letters from Vermont” gave Chinese listeners a chance to hear about the exotic life of a Chinese exchange student at an American college in New England where they did such odd things as evaluate teachers, ride bicycles with helmets for exercise  and where male and female students brush their teeth side-by-side in the dormitory bathrooms.

A cartoon mocking RFA in the The People's Daily, October 1996.

Reaction from China The Chinese government reacted to the initial broadcasts with strong words of opposition to top level U.S. government officials, as well as editorials in major Chinese newspapers claiming that the CIA was behind the broadcast operation. One government spokesperson called the broadcasts “meddling” and warned that they were “not advantageous” to U.S.-China relations.  The official People’s Daily denounced RFA as “disgusting Cold War statis” funded by the CIA and carried a cartoon of the gossip-spewing “Mr. Long-tongue”.

Listener Reponses A steady stream of letters to RFA’s Hong Kong mailbox arriving from throughout China and from Chinese living abroad showed that listeners were tuning in and appreciating RFA’s coverage. From high school students and retired military officials, peasants and intellectuals, men and women, the overwhelming majority expressed support. A few made appeals for help and asked that their letters be forward to human rights organizations. “Concise and powerful” is the way one of the first letters to reach RFA described its program.

A loyal listener in Tianjin explained, “For many years, the Chinese government has sealed off news and our television reports and papers are filed with false stories, which has seriously limited our understanding of domestic and international politics and economics…But Radio Free Asia’s news reports and interviews with activists in the democracy movement feel very warm and honest…RFA’s broadcasts are an important channel for the Chinese people to understand the development of the Chinese democracy movement.”

Listeners requested information on broadcast times, addresses of imprisoned dissidents, photographs of people mentioned in the broadcasts and copies of the broadcasts: “I know such a request sounds a bit too demanding, but please understand my yearning as a high school student in a backwards area in China to know the world — the real world,” said one letter from Northwest China.

October: By early October, RFA was devoting considerable air time to the Chinese government’s harsh moves against prominent dissidents, including the arrest of Liu Xiaobo and the trial, sentencing and rejected appeal of Tiananmen activist Wang Dan. RFA’s extensive pre-trial coverage of the Wang Dan case included 18 segments of interviews with Wang’s mother and father from Beijing and former Tiananmen associates, as well as analysis by political commentators, human rights experts and former Attorney general Richard Thornburg. After the verdict was announced RFA broadcast 27 post-trial interviews, reaction pieces from throughout Asia and analysis — including a heart-rending interview with Wang’s mother. RFA also followed up the verdict with an in-depth panel discussion on the legal aspects of the case with two experts on Chinese law.

October 18: The official English language China Daily ran the headline: “Radio Free Asia Shut Up” and accused Washington of using news in a “trick” to undermine political and stability and “to create chaos and disturbance.” The editorial said, “Radio Free Asia had just better shut up, since the Asian people have become sick and tired of the endless harangue from America.” RFA President Richard Richter took that to mean that RFA had already made an impression.

November: While U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited China, The China Youth Daily slammed RFA, saying it had an “ugly face” and a “shameful mission” of inciting Asians to overthrow their governments.

November 22: RFA moved into a permanent home in Washington, D.C. at offices vacated by National Public Radio at 2025 M Street NW. It took RFA’s technical operations staff less than three months to build out the entire space with studios, offices and broadcaster cubicles.

December: RFA’s Tibetan Service launched with programming in the Uke dialect.

The Mandarin service expanded to a one-hour format and introduced numerous news programs. RFA’s special commentators, including renowned journalist Liu Binyan, looked at topics ranging from China’s stock market to legal reform to new archival findings about the origins of the Korean War. The expanded format allowed RFA to move more seriously into covering artistic and literary affairs.

Listener response continued to be positive and many wrote that they went went out of their way to get to their radios during the morning and evening broadcast times: “Despite the short length of your program, I now get up every morning and spend the entire hour between 7 and 8 a.m. with my radio turned to your station.” Others said RFA’s broadcast time was too short and asked for more broadcast time around noon.

1997 New Services, Special Programming from Hong Kong, Jamming Begins

RFA Mandarin women glow in the Dalai Lama's exuberant presence, 1997.

Top Story: RFA hosted a visit by the Dalai Lama, who stressed the importance of the Tibetan service to him and to others within Tibet and in exile.

February: RFA launched its Vietnamese Service which Vietnam begins jamming immediately.

RFA launched its Burmese Service. Burmese Democracy Leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed RFA and its role in providing non-government controlled news in Burma: “What Burma needs is, like Radio Free Asia, voices and views from the rest of the free world….there are three newspapers in Burma and all of those newspapers are controlled by the government. Therefore, it is very important for us to be able to hear the views of others, the views of our own people and news and features that do not reflect the news of the government. It is a powerful source of strength for us to know that a radio station like Radio Free Asia has been established to broadcast, with absolute freedom, the views of the world as well as those of the people of Burma.”

RFA Mandarin began the weekly “Different Voices” program, hosted by RFA’s Jill Ku, providing Chinese listeners with extended profiles and interviews of prominent Chinese both in China and overseas. RFA also started a new program “Cross-Straits Crossfire” which examines issues to relating to Taiwan-Mainland relations. The Hong Kong bureau began a “Hong Kong Countdown” program which features interviews with Hong Kong Chinese from all walks of life — from activists to cab drivers — and asked them about their lives, their family histories and their hopes and fears for the July transition to Chinese rule.

March: RFA launched its Korean Service with service to North Korea. RFA rented a small office in Seoul, South Korea.

May: Tibetan Service added programming with Kham and Amdo dialects.
RFA opened its Tokyo, Japan office.

June: RFA opened its Taipei, Taiwan office.
North Korea began jamming the Korean broadcasts.

RFA staff covering the Hong Kong handover in 1997.

June and July: RFA undertook an ambitious 12-day special program from Hong Kong focused on the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1 of that year. RFA broadcast from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. The programming included a one-hour daily live broadcast and a record-setting three-hour live broadcast of the July 1 handover ceremony. The Hong Kong special got a head start by beginning its programming before CNN and other major networks.

August: RFA launched its service to Laos.

August 18: China began jamming RFA’s Mandarin broadcasts on most frequencies.

September: RFA launched its service to Cambodia, in Khmer language.

One year after its first broadcast, RFA was broadcasting 17 hours a day in all of the countries mandated by Congress.

October: Jamming of Tibetan broadcasts began.

1998 - More Overseas Office Openings and Website Launches

Top Story: RFA broadcast coverage relating to the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. This included live reporting from the Square on June 4; and a 14-part series of interviews with the victims’ family members—most of whom had never spoken out—that was turned into a CD and distributed free to listeners by request.

The Clinton Administration and Congress discussed ways of promoting democracy and human rights in China other than through denying normal trade relation trade benefits. One suggestion was to dramatically increase funds to expand Radio Free Asia and Voice of America broadcasting into China. The Radio Free Asia Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-261) authorized $22 million for broadcasting in FY1999, plus $8 million for one-time capital costs.

February 1: RFA opened its Bangkok, Thailand office.

March 1: RFA officially opened its Seoul, South Korea office.

May: RFA launched its Cantonese Service.

By mid-year RFA had created a true digital, all-access facility, capable of moving audio files quickly across multiple audio systems. Few radio stations had until now been able to achieve this. RFA became the first subject in a series of Radio World articles called Transition to Digital.

RFA journalists Feng Xiaoming and Arin Basu meet President Clinton at the White House.

June 24:  RFA journalists Xiaoming Feng and Arin Basu meet with President Clinton at The White House. The interview, completed minutes before Clinton’s departure for China, was meant to display support for RFA after China withdrew visas for them as well as for the visa that had been granted to RFA producer Pat Hindman. Clinton told our reporters that he knew that they were “bitterly disappointed and angry” and said that the Chinese authorities had “made a big mistake.” He also said that he would ask China to stop jamming RFA broadcasts.

August 15: RFA opened its office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It included two digital editing stations and a production studio used heavily by the Khmer, Lao and Vietnamese services.

September 13: RFA opened its office in Dharamsala, India.

October: RFA launched its website, which provides audio broadcasts and additional written material.

December: Uyghur Service launched.
1999-  Funding Is Approved To Begin Broadcasting 24 Hours Per Day To China

Angry Chinese chant anti-US slogans in front of the United States embassy on May 8th 1999 in Beijing. More than 2,000 furious Chinese protested outside the US embassy against NATO's bombing of Belgrade. AFP PHOTO

Major Stories: In the aftermath of the May 7, 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, RFA’s coverage of the bombing and demonstrations was extensive in its Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan, and Uyghur programs. RFA reported apologies by the U.S. and NATO, which the Chinese media had failed to mention. Listeners who responded to the call-in programs were critical of both the U.S. and the Chinese government’s handling of the demonstrations. Throughout the Kosovo crisis, RFA reported on the suffering due to ethnic cleansing, which the Chinese media portrayed as a product of NATO bombing.

Hong Kong commentator and labor activist Han Dongfang exposed a series of strikes, demonstrations and worker unrest throughout China on his program Labor Corner. These events had never been reported by mainland Chinese or foreign media.

January 15: The BBG’s report to Congress focuses on the continuing efforts of RFA to counter the suppression of its programming including broadcasting into China via multiple transmission sites and on varying frequencies.

July: RFA launched the only international Uyghur service, targeting listeners in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China and in Central Asia.

July 30: RFA obtained permanent transmitter sites on the islands of Saipan and Tinian, respectively, in the Northern Marianas Islands. CFO Patrick Taylor considered RFA’s purchase, which is now managed by the IBB, to be an early major breakthrough for RFA.

Congress appropriated $22 million in FY1999 for RFA to expand its broadcasting to 24 hours a day into China and continue broadcasting into five other Asian target countries.

2000 –  Covering Korea

Major Story: RFA’s Korean Service covered two historic news events in 2000. These were an unprecedented summit between the leaders of North and South Korea—which RFA covered with live morning and evening broadcasts for three consecutive days—and a long-awaited reunion among relatives who had been separated since the 1950-53 Korean War.
 

Gao Zhan (R), who was released from jail in China, talks to reporters with her husband Xue Donghua at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan on July 26th 2001. Gao Zhan was convicted of spying for Taiwan and sentenced to 10 years in jail. AFP PHOTO/Jeff KOWALSKY

2001

Major Story: RFA reported extensively on China’s spy trial and expulsion of scholar Gao Zhan. An academic at American University, Gao subsequently broadcast on-air columns exclusive to the Mandarin Service.

May 1: RFA opened its Ankara, Turkey office.

2002

Major Story:  RFA breaks the first news that Chinese authorities had detained 23 people suspected of leaking documents related to Beijing’s 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

May 15: RFA opens its New Dehli, India office.

2003

Major Story: RFA broke stories about the Chinese government’s crackdown on minority Uyghurs and the existence of a system of forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

September 1: RFA closes its Tokyo office after six years due to cost-cutting measures.

2004 – Websites For All Of RFA’s Services

RFA's original Khmer website.

Major Story: RFA’s Khmer Service made news worldwide by reporting on the plight of Montagnard refugees stranded in the Cambodian jungle.

September 20th: RFA websites in nine Asian languages plus English and several additional dialects were launched. Conversion systems were introduced in order to display Uyghur and Cantonese in all scripts of the same languages. For example, Uyghurs can choose to read the news in Arabic, Cyrillic or in Latin-based script. Cantonese speakers can read the news in traditional or simplified characters.

2005 – RFA Begins Podcasts and RSS feeds, Rebiya Kadeer Arrives in U.S.

Major Stories: RFA Khmer gave extensive coverage to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ongoing crackdown on human rights activists and independent media, as well as preparations for a U.N.-led tribunal aimed at bringing Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.

Rebiya Kadeer talks to RFA and greets family and members of the Uyghur community from the Washington, D.C. area after her arrival at Reagan National Airport, March 17th 2005.

March 17: Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent businesswoman and political activist from China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, and a member of the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority, was released early from prison on medical grounds into United States’ custody in advance of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to China. On March 17th, Kadeer flew to the U.S. and joined her family in Washington, D.C. after spending five years in prison, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. RFA’s Arin Basu interviewed Kadeer after her arrival to the U.S. about her plans to help the Uyghur People.

All RFA broadcast programming is made available via podcast as well as RSS feeds.

2006 - RFA Joins YouTube

Major Story: The Vietnamese Service reported extensively on a new democracy movement called Bloc 8406, named for the date of its founding. The police have harassed and detained some of the group’s members, but Vietnam’s state-run media have suppressed the story.

RFA launches multiple channels on YouTube offering our language services’ video production and redistributing citizen journalist content.

RFA now has 10 unique interactive Web sites, nine in Asian languages with 11 scripts, which add a multimedia dimension to RFA’s broadcasts and encourage citizen-journalists to submit content for eyewitness reports.

December: RFA renovated and expanded its Seoul, South Korea office.

Supporters of the protesting Buddhist monks take part in a procession in downtown Rangoon, September 25th 2007. AFP Photo.

 

2007 – The Dawn of Citizen Journalism

Major Stories: Burma’s “Saffron Revolution” dominated news coverage from Southeast Asia in 2007. RFA played a unique and critical role in bringing both the peaceful uprising and the junta’s deadly crackdown to world attention. RFA Burmese broke news of the initial violence, which sparked escalating protests and led ultimately to a crackdown in September in which dozens were killed, thousands taken into custody, and many tortured.

Eye-witness accounts, mostly in the form of videos and photos taken with cell phones, reach our news room. Our editors – researching and vetting this budding citizen journalism – integrated this new form of reporting to our daily offerings online.

As a result, RFA online is a vibrant community of virtual friends, sharing views and information, taking part in citizen discourse that their respective governments deny them.

Lao Hmong refugees at Thai border camps, July 2007.

RFA Lao produced a series revealing that countless Lao women seeking an escape from poverty end up as sex workers in Laos and neighboring Thailand.

 

2008 – Earthquake and Olympics in China, Unrest in Tibet

RFA's Jill Ku interviews one of the few petitioners who dared to show up at one of the special protest parks set up by the Chinese government during the Olympics. Police quickly appeared and escorted the woman away.

Major Stories: In addition to its reporting of the devastating April Sichuan earthquake, RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese services provided extensive coverage of the Chinese government’s crackdown on media and dissent in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, despite authorities’ pledges for greater openness. RFA tracked the post-Olympic tightening of media restrictions and the crackdown on civil liberty groups, such as Charter 08.

RFA’s Tibetan Service, broadcasting in Uke, Amke, and Khamke, led the world in its coverage of the March unrest in Lhasa. RFA’s groundbreaking reporting is profiled by the Wall Street Journal, NHK Japan and others and RFA’s reports are picked up by major wire services and prestigious media around the world.

2009 – RFA Joins Facebook and Twitter

Major Stories: The Burmese Service provided extensive coverage of the trial of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest. RFA interviewed her lawyer, U Kyi Win, whose request for the trial to be open to the public was denied.

April: The Khmer Service began webcasts of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal along with extended broadcast coverage. The service also reported on the Cambodian government’s ongoing campaign of legal intimidation against the country’s journalists.

June: The Mandarin Service covered the 20th anniversary of the crackdown of protesters in Tiananmen Square with interviews of survivors and multimedia images and exclusive video online. RFA covered the one-year anniversary of the deadly Sichuan earthquake and questions that remain, as parents of the children who died in a shoddily constructed school building attempt to bring their case before a Chinese court of law.

July: During the Uyghur demonstration, RFA closely covered events in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and throughout the mainland. RFA broke the news about the Guangdong factory riot that led to the protests.  Despite the media blackout enforced by Chinese authorities, RFA continued to provide solid eyewitness news coverage cited by The Associated Press, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and South China Morning Post.

Throughout the year, the Lao Service reported on Thai plans to forcibly repatriate 5,000 Hmong refugees back to Laos. RFA’s reporting included the May pullout of Doctors Without Borders from Huay Nam Khao camp and the swift Thai military operation that emptied the camp.

In addition to the RFA YouTube channel, all RFA services now have branded Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. RFA introduced cell-phone-ready feeds for the Mandarin and Korean services and launched a special, comprehensive video series on the Mekong River ahead of the World Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

2010 – Permanent Authorization for RFA, A Nobel Prize for Liu Xiaobo

An empty chair for Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on December 10th 2010.

Top Stories: With the naming of imprisoned Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo as the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, RFA’s Mandarin service covered the crackdown on Liu’s friends, family, colleagues, and fellow activists in the months ahead of the December 10 ceremony in Oslo, Norway. This included pressure placed on Liu’s wife, who was put under house arrest, as well as travel restrictions on Liu’s attorney, and Chinese rights lawyers and activists.

The Korean Service broke the news worldwide about a poster in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang that suggests the dictatorship, despite public claims otherwise, was taking responsibility for the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship, the Cheonan. The poster, a photograph of which RFA obtained exclusively, shows a helmeted sailor smashing a ship similar to the Cheonan with a fist and in translation reads, “We will smash you with a single blow if attacked.”

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi waves to supporters after her release in Rangoon on November 13th 2010. AFP PHOTO

The Burmese Service began offering its listeners the opportunity to engage freed political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi on a weekly basis. The radio forum, the first of its kind to feature the Nobel laureate and democracy icon, allows listeners to ask her questions on any subject of their choice from sanctions to democratic reform. In addition, the Burmese service extensively covered reaction and analysis of the election, and interviewed former U.S. First Lady Laura Bush, an advocate for human rights in Burma.

The Cantonese Service broke the news that China’s Daya Bay nuclear power plant near Hong Kong had leaked radioactive iodine from an improperly sealed fuel rod. The coverage was widely picked up by local Hong Kong television, radio, and print news.

Permanent Authorization For RFA
RFA has been funded by Congressional appropriations each year since it began broadcasting but it has never been permanently authorized. Rather, its continued existence is dependent on annual legislation extending its life from fiscal year to fiscal year. In 2010, RFA’s grant funding was scheduled to run out on September 30. This uncertainty eventually led to overseas rumors of the imminent closure of some or all of RFA’s nine language services.

Bills were introduced in the House and Senate to amend the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 to make permanent the authority of the BBG to make grants to operate RFA. The legislation states that Radio Free Asia provides a vital voice to people in Asia and that permanently authorizing funding for Radio Free Asia would (A) reflect the concern that media censorship and press restrictions in the countries served by RFA have increased since RFA was established; and (B) send a powerful signal of our Nation’s support for free press in Asia and throughout the world.

At the same time, Freedom House, which monitors press freedom throughout the world, documents in its Freedom of the Press Index that censorship and intimidation of the media have worsened in the areas served by RFA, particularly in the last five years.

March 11: U.S. Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana introduces S.3104, legislation that would promote the free disemination of information in East Asia through the permanent authorization of Radio Free Asia. Additional sponsors of the bill are Senators Kaufman, Franken, Inouye, Risch and Webb. The bill referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

“Recent high-profile cyber attacks underscore the reality that certain governments still believe in blocking uncensored news from their citizens,” Senator Lugar said. “Permanent legal authority for Radio Free Asia would send a strong signal that the U.S. supports freedom of the press across the globe.”

March 18:  Companion legislation is introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ed Royce of California (co-sponsored by Reps. Berman, Ros-Lehtinen, and Schiff) as House Resolution 4886, which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. The House version of the bill has 31 co-sponsors.

“With this legislation, Radio Free Asia can continue to bring its message of freedom, democracy, and respect for the rule of law – creating a space where civil society can flourish under the continent’s oppressive regimes. They cannot hide,” declared Royce.

RFA President Libby Liu moderating a panel discussion on media freedoms at the Newseum for Freedom House's unveiling of its annual press freedoms report, May 2010.

June 25: The Senate passes S.3104 with an amendment by Unanimous Consent.

June 30: The House debates the bill for forty minutes. The bill passes by voice vote at 8:38 PM and is sent to the President.

July 13: President Obama signs S. 3104, providing permanent authorization for Radio Free Asia. The bill become public law.

After the President signed the bill, The White House said: “The mission of Radio Free Asia directly reflects the value Americans place on freedom of and access to information, which are vital to the democratic process and consistent with the principles of freedom of opinion and expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Over the last 14 years, RFA has brought accurate and timely news to the people of seven Asian countries without a free press. Starting with just two language services, it now broadcasts in nine Asian languages and numerous dialects. It has been honored with a wide variety of prestigious journalism awards over the years for providing factual and impartial news as well as analysis, commentary, and cultural programming.

We will continue to work closely with Congress to support the critical work of RFA, and thank Senator Lugar and Representative Royce for their leadership in advancing this legislation. We look forward to increasing RFA’s audience reach in the years to come.”

September: RFA’s Korean Web Editor develops the first RFA application for iPhone, offering the full length broadcast in Korean. The Broadcasting Board of Governors elected Victor Ashe and Michael Meehan as Chair and Vice-Chair respectively of the corporate board of Radio Free Asia.

December: All RFA services have a mobile website available for smart phones such as iPhones and Androids.

December 10: RFA is in Oslo to cover the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and the unfolding story. On the same day, RFA launches a new blog which takes a fresh, in-depth look at human rights issues in RFA’s broadcast region.

December 17: The Broadcasting Board of Governors passed this resolution celebrating and commemorating RFA’s 15 years of impact broadcasting.

2011 – Fifteen Years Of Bringing Free Press To Closed Societies

Major Stories: China’s quelling of news related to the revolts in the Middle East prompted many sources, including Reuters, to cite RFA’s reports about media censorship and Web filtering within the mainland. Human rights groups pointed to RFA stories about abuses that were also picked up widely. RFA continues to report on the increasing crackdown against dissidents and activists in China as Chinese authorities round up more bloggers and activists such as prominent artist Ai Weiwei, who remains unheard from since his detention on April 3rd. RFA’s also features extensive coverage of the food shorage in North Korea.

January 5: RFA breaks the story of the Vietnamese police attacking a U.S. Embassy official and barring him from meeting with a dissident Catholic priest in central Vietnam. Christian Marchant, a political officer with the U.S. embassy in Hanoi, was roughed up outside the home for retired priests in Hue where Nguyen Van Ly, 63, is being held under house arrest after being released from jail on medical parole last year. The New York Times and several other publications picked up RFA’s breaking news.

Chair of RFA

 

January 21 – 23: BBG Governor Victor Ashe and RFA Executive Editor Dan Southerland visit RFA’s bureau in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. During the visit, they also have a series of high-level meetings with diplomats and civil society leaders including: Mr. Christophe Peschoux, Representative of UN Office for Human Rights in Cambodia; Ms. Kek Galabru, President of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO);  Mr. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Interior; Ms. Carol Rodley, US Ambassador to Cambodia and Mr. Youk Chhang, Director Documentation Center of Cambodia, among others.

On April 27th 2011, Lobsang Sangay (left) the declared winner of the Tibetan exile government elections, gave Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service his first interview since being named Prime Minister-elect.

March 13: On the heels of the Dalai Lama’s announcement of his intention to hand over political leadership of the Tibetan government in exile to the next prime minister, RFA’s Tibetan service hosted a live debate with the three final candidates vying to be elected the head (or “Kalon Tripa”) of the Central Tibetan Administration on Sunday, March 13.  The debate was broadcast live via short-wave radio, satellite television, and webcast as part of RFA Tibetan’s series of seven town hall-style events being held in Tibetan exile settlements in India and featuring parliamentary candidates ahead of the March 20 general exile government elections.

April 27: RFA Hosts First Interview with Exile Tibetan Prime Minister-Elect Lobsang Sangay. The declared winner of the Tibetan exile government elections, Lobsang Sangay, gave Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service his first interview since being named Prime Minister-elect.

Welcome!

This year, Radio Free Asia celebrates 15 years of bringing objective, accurate, and timely news to people in Asian countries that restrict free speech and free media.
 
While much has changed at RFA since we began in 1996, our mission has remained the same: to advance the principles of the fundamental right to the free-flow of information and the right to seek, receive, and impart information.
 
Please take a moment to explore this webpage where you can revisit important milestones, accomplishments, and moments from RFA’s early days to the present.
 
—Libby Liu, President of RFA

BBG resolution

On December 17, 2010 the Broadcasting Board of Governors passed this resolution celebrating and commemorating RFA's 15 years of impact broadcasting.

Click here to read the resolution (PDF)

RFA Home Page

Contact Us

For comments, suggestions and general questions, please email: contact@rfa.org
 
Media Inquiries:
Rohit Mahajan
Media Relations Manager
Email: mahajanr@rfa.org
Telephone: (202) 530-4976
 
RFA Headquarters and Mailing Address:
Radio Free Asia
2025 M Street NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036 USA
Telephone: (202) 530-4900

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