This week our group visited Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to learn more about the organization and the operations of it. After arriving at RFE/RL, we were given a heartier security screening than what we received at the airports coming here to Prague. After learning just how important RFE/RL really is and how this organization affects so many people’s lives, I now understand why the heavy security was needed.
We were introduced to Akbar Ayazi, the Regional Director of Broadcasting, overseeing Radio Azadi, RFE/RL’s Afghanistan and Pakistan broadcast services. He explained his department, the services his stations offered, and the parts of the world that received the broadcasts.
It was what he talked about next that blew my mind. Mr. Ayazi explained that the majority of listeners in Afghanistan and Pakistan really only received their news about local and world events from RFE/RL. Previous to his stations, these listeners did not have access to news. He explained that the people of these two countries were extremely grateful to not only have some kind of representation in the media that they had access to, but also to have a chance to be heard by this same media outlet. Mr. Ayazi said that they received phone calls, emails and even hand-written letters from the listeners expressing their gratitude for the broadcasts. What I find most amazing is that Mr. Ayazi said that the literacy rate between the two countries was very small, so to receive over 500 hundred letters a month was extraordinary.
He pointed to the two display cases full of of letters, journals, and other types of writings received by his organization from the Afghan and Pakistani listeners. At first, I thought it was strange to see so many letters from listeners writing to send their thanks, but after thinking about how easily we take for granted our free media, it was no longer seemed strange.
Mr. Ayazi’s fellow colleague unrolled a scroll that was over 70 meters long, that was sent in by a listener, who wrote to express their gratitude about the broadcasts. It was because of RFE/LR that this listener and hundreds of thousands just like them, were able to learn of events in their own country. The scroll was full of Arabic text and beautifully hand drawn illustrations. I can’t imagine the time it took to complete this scroll. Mr. Ayazi later explained that his department had received scrolls of even longer lengths, the longest scroll was over 102 meters. If that scroll was anything like the 70 meter one, it would be just unbelievable to see.
I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of having that much gratitude towards anything, never mind the media, especially a radio station. How starved for information are those listeners that they would spend so much time on a thank you letter? I can’t speak to the the listeners’ lives as lesser than mine because I’m not sure of the actual quality of life, but it does really help shed some light on the freedom of the media and the exchange of information in countries like that.
After my visit to RFE/RL, I will honestly try to never take media, even poor media outlets, for granted again. Even more importantly, is that I have learned just how important it is to have access to media. As Americans, we don’t think twice about flipping on the radio, turning on the television, or jumping online to learn of the events of the day both locally and worldwide. Even if the radio waves, television channels and internet sites are full of rubbish, we should be grateful that we have the opportunity and chance to access all mediums so easily.