After almost two decades of dramatic change in Iraq — and violence targeting some of its staff — the U.S.-funded Radio Free Iraq will sign off tomorrow, July 31.
“The resources of RFI will be merged with Radio Sawa Iraq to provide the audience with extensive Iraq-specific news and informational programming,” according to RFE/RL. “The new Radio Sawa Iraq programming will be broadcast on both its existing frequency and those of RFI during a period of transition.”
Consolidating Radio Free Iraq with Radio Sawa has been discussed since at least 2012. The planned closure had brought criticisms from some in Congress and among rights groups. BBG leadership meanwhile has said it seeks to modernize and make more efficient its multiplatform offerings, despite budgetary challenges and a fast-changing media landscape.
The Broadcast Board of Governors’ Middle East Broadcasting Networks manages Radio Sawa. MBN President Brian Conniff was quoted saying, “At this moment in history, when Iraq is threatened by an extremist Islamic insurgency and faces numerous challenges in rebuilding from decades of open warfare and authoritarian rule, we believe adding RFI’s signature programming to the Radio Sawa Iraq lineup will provide the audience high-quality content that will enhance their listening experience.”
The Arabic RFI service was created in 1998 and is distributed via FM and satellite radio as well as website, mobile and social media platforms. Its stated goal is to “Radio Free Iraq provides in-depth news and analysis and fosters informed, balanced debate of issues that are not otherwise reported in the country’s fragmented media,” according to a BBG FAQ page.
The page states that as of June, RFI had 11 employees in Prague and six in Baghdad, plus 40 stringers in Baghdad and major Iraqi cities as well as several countries including Egypt, Israel and Jordan. It has been led since 2004 by journalist Sergei Danilochkin. It’s not immediately clear how many of those positions will be cut or retained; Radio World has requested that info from BBG.
According to the announcement of the final broadcast, RFE/RL Editor-in-Chief Nenad Pejic made note of sacrifices by RFI colleagues including the murders of correspondents Khamail Muhsin Khalaf and Nazar Abdulwahid al-Radhi and the death of RFI Baghdad Bureau Chief Dr. Muhammad Bdaiwi Owaid al-Shammari. “RFI correspondents have also suffered kidnappings, death threats, harassment, and physical injury while reporting the news,” the organization stated.