In a live telecast on C-Span August 5, Radio Free Asia Director Libby Liu addressed a roundtable of public diplomacy specialists and focused on RFA’s U.S. government-funded multimedia network’s broadcasts to the Peoples Republic of China.
RFA broadcasts on television, radio, and a variety of online channels to six East Asian countries: Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea and Vietnam. The PRC is a major focus, with four of RFA’s nine language services directed particularly to China. They are: Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan and Uighur. Other languages are: Burmese, Cambodian, Lao, Korean, and Vietnamese.
Ms. Liu was addressing a monthly First Monday forum organized by the Public Diplomacy Council, the Public Diplomacy Association of America, and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication, Leadership, and Policy.
“Local news for local people in closed societies,” Libby Liu said, summarizes the key role of RFA. To achieve these successfully, in her view, one must “know your audience, know your adversary, deliver the truth, and strive for that ‘epiphany moment’ in which a user questions what he or she experiences on his or her own country’s media”.
Radio Free Asia is one of five American-taxpayer funded multimedia global networks. The others are: Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Network in Arabic, and Radio-TV Marti in Spanish to Cuba.
RFA is financed by a grant from the U.S. Agency for Government Media (formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors). This grant supports Radio Free Asia’s nine language services, BenarNews, and the Open Technology Fund. OTF was established in 2012 to empower world citizens’ access to the internet and online media (see the U.S. Congress mandate).
RFA also houses BenarNews, a separate private news service. BenarNews was created in 2015, President Liu explained, to counter extremist rhetoric targeted at underserved Muslim populations in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Its reports focus on factors that impact the lives of these audiences including corruption, unemployment and disenfranchisement. This year, its mission has expanded to counter Chinese Communist Party-driven narratives directed at those audiences.
Ms. Liu also cited China’s “fast track” policy in expanding its media reach to all areas of the world by displaying its global reach on a slide shown to the PDC/PDAA members and GWU students. She said RFA was the first to report how extensive the PRC’s efforts are to imprison massive numbers of Uighurs in northwestern China. RFA contract reporters in China have even had family members kidnapped by the PRC, and “targeted for their work.”
She also expressed concern about mainland Chinese who live in Hong Kong and participate in the current and apparently unrelenting street protests there. They’ve joined hundreds of thousand protesters opposed to Beijing-appointed leaders of the prosperous city. As Ms. Liu put it: “In Hong Kong, as elsewhere, the truth matters a lot.”
Earlier this month, RFA produced and broadcast a video entitled “China’s People’s Liberation Army Shown Quelling Hong Kong Protests in Video.” It featured a photo of young female protester shouting outside Hong Kong’s Eastern Court and holding a placard that read “Release the righteous, investigate corrupt police.”
Quoting from the RFA report: “The video, which was released by the (PRC) Hong Kong garrison to mark the Peoples Liberation Army’s 92nd anniversary August 1, showed soldiers engaged in an ‘anti-riot’ drill, shouting at the crowd: ‘Take the consequences at your own risk’ in Cantonese.”
I interviewed President Liu after her presentation, and she confirmed that U.S. international broadcasts to China are growing rapidly as they expand to include on line services in many forms. Between them, RFA and VOA each reach 35 million PRC users weekly, or 70 million altogether, according to 2018 surveys.
In another report August 7, RFA focused on North Korea: “New propaganda initiatives by authorities in North Korea call for citizens in the reclusive country to fully dedicate their lives to the state. A new prime time TV series attempts to
encourage young people to go to work in rural areas to solve food shortages, but, according to RFA, “it is being widely panned by local audiences.
“It depicts children of high-ranking officials giving up their dreams of going to Kim Il Sung University (the country’s top school), to help fulfill the party’s agricultural quotas in the countryside.
“Maybe airing these kinds of propaganda shows would have worked 40 or 50 years ago,” according to one of several residents interviewed by RFA. “Although the food situation is said to be unstable this year, the people are well aware that even a tenth of the money they’re spending on nuclear weapons and missile development will solve our food problems.” Now, that’s a real-life “epiphany moment” for all of U.S. international broadcasting.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More