Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America are two great examples of radio being used as a tool to enhance liberty and share information. In Eastern Europe and many parts of Central Asia, they are the core of broadcast efforts meant to supplement the party line of state-controlled media.
I was speaking with a colleague the other day after I posted my piece about RFE/RL and in a few brief sentences she added a lot of perspective. She is from Georgia; not the one that Atlanta is in, but the one that has unfortunately been in the news so much recently. In a short exchange over Skype, she let me know how happy she was that I had done a piece about Radio Free Europe. “It was our only real news when I was growing up,” she said, and then went on to tell me about the way that people were often arrested for listening to it. Those few sentenced solidified my conviction that these stations are important more than anything else I have seen or read on the subject.
The fear of transparency and freedom of information/expression runs deep in Central Asia, international human rights groups rank it as one of the worst areas in the world in that regard. Now it seems we have a new example of this in Kyrgyzstan, an area where government has been steadily clamping down more and more on unofficial media for a few years now.
Via the Associated Press:
Kyrgyzstan’s state radio station has taken BBC programming off the airwaves, days after withdrawing broadcasting rights from U.S.-funded Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz Service.[…]
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz Service, Radio Azattyk, also has had its radio frequencies withdrawn, which [Melis] Eshimkanov [head of the state oeprated Kyrgyz National Television Corporation] said was due to shortcomings in contractual obligations. Radio Azattyk has declined to comment.
Ata-Meken opposition party leader Omurbek Tekebayev said the move to shut down Radio Azattyk’s broadcasts is part of a broader effort to clamp down on independent media in the country.
The importance of these broadcasts is something thrown into sharp relief by the government clamp down. Radio has always been at the forefront of the battle for freedom of expression, incidents like this show that it must still be making an impact.
If I had to pick only one good thing I could say about radio for today it would be this: dictatorships fear its power. Only those who are doing something wrong need fear the influence of objective news and info. Let us hope that the people of Kyrgyzstan find a way to access the programming on Radio Azattyk again soon!