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October 17, 2012

Radio Liberty to Expand Online, Cease Russia Broadcasts

by VOA News

U.S.-funded media outlet Radio Liberty says it will end its radio broadcasts and move to digital platforms to comply with a new Russian law prohibiting foreign control of broadcast licenses.

In a Moscow Times article, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steve Korn says the station is adapting to new legal realities and changing technology and distribution systems.

Korn says Radio Liberty's future lies in digital, Internet and social media, where it hopes to reach "young, urban and educated Russians" who "are at the forefront of change and who will lead Russia in the future."  He says there was no alternative to compliance with Russian law.

The new law, spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin, bans radio broadcasting in Russia by companies that are more than 48 percent foreign owned and goes into effect November 10, when Radio Liberty, known in Russia as Radio Svoboda, will end its morning broadcasts after nearly 60 years.

Critics say RFE/RL is trying to move away from radio and avoid angering President Putin.  They say it creates the impression that the United States is pulling out of Russia.

Korn says Radio Liberty's switch to a digital format is necessary and reflects a more efficient use of funds on programming and cutting-edge equipment and technology.

Last month, RFE/RL announced it is reducing its staff by a substantial amount.

Analysts say Radio Liberty's disappearance from the airwaves will allow Putin to further tighten his grip on the flow of information in Russia.

The broadcasting law follows Russia's expulsion last month of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the American foreign aid program.  Russia accused USAID of trying to "influence political processes through the distribution of grants."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty operates under the authority of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent federal agency responsible for all U.S. government and government-sponsored, non-military international broadcasting.  The Voice of America also operates under the BBG.