Radio Free Asia (RFA) is a private, nonprofit international broadcaster created by the U.S. government that broadcasts and publishes online news, information, and commentary to listeners in East Asia while "advancing the goals of U.S. foreign policy." RFA is funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent agency of the United States government[2] responsible for all non-military, international broadcasting sponsored by the U.S government (such as Radio Free Europe), which appoints the board of RFA. RFA distributes content in nine Asian languages for audiences in six countries.

History

Radio Free Asia was originally founded and funded in the 1950s by an organization called "Committee for Free Asia" as an anti-communist propaganda operation, broadcasting from RCA facilities in Manila, Philippines,[3] and Dacca and Karachi, Pakistan (there may be other sites) until 1961. Some offices were in Tokyo. The parent organization was given as the Asia Foundation. In 1971 CIA involvement ended and all responsibilities were transferred to a presidentially appointed Board for International Broadcasting (BIB).

With the passage of International Broadcasting Act in 1994, RFA was brought under auspices of the United States Information Agency where it remained until the agency's dissolvement of broadcasting duties and transitioned to U.S. Department of State operated BBG in 1999. In May 1994, President Bill Clinton announced the continuation of Radio Free Asia after 2009 was dependent on its increased international broadcasting and ability to reach its audience. In September 2009, the 111th Congress amended the International Broadcasting Act to allow a one-year extension of the operation of Radio Free Asia.[4]

The current Radio Free Asia is a US-funded organization, incorporated in March 1996, and began broadcasting in September 1996. It bears no relation to the 1950 organization.[5]

RFA broadcasts in nine languages, via shortwave, satellite transmissions, medium-wave (AM and FM radio), and through the Internet. The first transmission was in Mandarin Chinese and it is RFA's most broadcast language at twelve hours per day. RFA also broadcasts in Cantonese, Tibetan (Kham, Amdo, and Uke dialects), Uyghur, Burmese, Vietnamese, Lao, Khmer (to Cambodia) and Korean (to North Korea). The Korean service launched in 1997 with Jaehoon Ahn as its founding director.[6]

After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 American interest in starting a government broadcasting organization grew.[7] The International Broadcasting Act was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1994. Radio Free Asia is formally a private, non-profit corporation.[2] RFA is funded by an annual federal grant from and administered by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The BBG serves as RFA’s corporate board of directors, making and supervising grants to RFA.

International response

Radio jamming and Internet blocking

Since broadcasting began in 1996, Chinese authorities have consistently jammed RFA broadcasts.

Three RFA reporters were denied access to China to cover U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit in June 1998. The Chinese embassy in Washington had initially granted visas to three but revoked them shortly before President Clinton left Washington en route to Beijing. The White House and United States Department of State filed complaints with Chinese authorities over the matter but the reporters ultimately did not make the trip.[2]

The Vietnamese-language broadcast signal was also jammed by the Vietnamese government since the beginning.[2] Human rights legislation has been proposed in Congress that would allocate money to counter the jamming.[2] Research by the OpenNet Initiative, a project that monitors Internet filtering by governments worldwide, showed that the Vietnamese-language portion of the Radio Free Asia website was blocked by both of the tested ISPs in Vietnam, while the English-language portion was blocked by one of the two ISPs.[2]

To address radio jamming and Internet blocking by the governments of the countries that it broadcasts to, the RFA website contains instruction on how to create anti-jamming antennas and information on web proxies.[2]

On March 30, 2010, China's Web filter, known as "the Great Firewall", temporarily blocked all Google searches in China, due to an unintentional association with the long-censored term "rfa."[2] According to Google, the letters, associated with Radio Free Asia, were appearing in the URLs of all Google searches, thereby triggering China's filter to block search results.

Arrests of journalists' relatives

In 2014-2015 China arrested three brothers of RFA Uyghur Service journalist Shohret Hoshur. Their jailing was widely described by Western publishers as Chinese authorities' efforts to target Hoshur for his reports on otherwise unreported violent events of ethnic Han-Uighur tensions in China's Xinjiang region.[14][15][16][17]

Mission

Broadcasting Information (Channels 1, 2, 3, 4)
Language ServiceLaunch DateDaily
Broadcast Hours
BurmeseFebruary 19978 Hours, Daily

÷ over 3 channels

CantoneseMay 19987 Hours, Daily

÷ over 2 channels

KhmerSeptember 19975 Hours, Daily, 1 ch
KoreanMarch 19979 Hours, Daily, 1 ch
LaoAugust 19975 Hours, Daily, 1 ch
MandarinSeptember 199624 Hours, Daily

÷ over 3 channels

TibetanDecember 199623 Hours, Daily, 1 ch
UyghurDecember 19986 Hours, Daily, 1 ch
VietnameseFebruary 19978 Hours, Daily

÷ over 2 channels

RFA’s self-stated mission is directed by the 1994 International Broadcasting Act. RFA claim their intent is "Acting as a substitute for indigenous free media, RFA concentrates its coverage on events occurring in and/or affecting the countries to which it broadcasts."[3]

However, the International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (Title III of ) is more explicit about the political mission of RFA:

the continuation of existing U.S. international broadcasting, and the creation of a new broadcasting service to people of the People's Republic of China and other countries of Asia, which lack adequate sources of free information and ideas, would enhance the promotion of information and ideas, while advancing the goals of U.S. foreign policy.

Criticism

In 1999, Catharin Dalpino of the Brookings Institution, who served in the Clinton State Department as a deputy assistant secretary deputy for human rights, called Radio Free Asia "a waste of money." "Wherever we feel there is an ideological enemy, we're going to have a Radio Free Something," she says. Dalpino said she has reviewed scripts of Radio Free Asia's broadcasts and views the station's reporting as unbalanced. "They lean very heavily on reports by and about dissidents in exile. It doesn't sound like reporting about what's going on in a country. Often, it reads like a textbook on democracy, which is fine, but even to an American it's rather propagandistic."[3]

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service of the U.S. government, official state-controlled newspapers in China have run editorials claiming Radio Free Asia is a CIA broadcast operation, as was the case with the first Radio Free Asia.[7]

North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency has referred to Radio Free Asia as "reptile broadcasting services."[3]

Kim Chol-min, third secretary of North Korea, in statement submitted at the United Nations, accusing the United States of engaging in "psychological warfare" with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea through RFA.[3]

Following the Burmese Saffron Revolution in the fall of 2007, the Myanmar junta held rallies attended by thousands holding signs that condemned external interference and accused Radio Free Asia, the Voice of America, and the BBC of "airing a skyful of lies."[3]

In October 2007, Burmese state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar singled out "big powers" and Radio Free Asia, among other international broadcasters, as inciting protesters during the Saffron Revolution.[3]

Awards