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Senate Passes Lugar bill to permanently authorize Radio Free Asia

The United States Senate unanimously approved U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar’s legislation to promote the free dissemination of information in East Asia through the permanent authorization of Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Senators Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Al Franken (D-MN), and Dan Inouye (D-HI), Jim Risch (R-ID) and Jim Webb (D-VA) cosponsored the legislation, S. 3104.

“The Senate’s unanimous approval of this legislation indicates the importance we place on the free flow of information, particularly in countries noted for their lack of an open press. Radio Free Asia brings news and information to societies whose governments often prefer them to receive only filtered news and censored reports. The Senate also commends the courage and dedication of RFA’s journalists,” Lugar said.

Congress first created Radio Free Asia in the mid-1990s to broadcast local language news into Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, North Korea, Tibet and Vietnam. The initial hope was that the nations served by RFA would loosen their grip on censorship as their economies modernized and living standards improved. Such reforms have remained elusive.

The annual Freedom of the Press Index, published by the human rights organization Freedom House, indicates that censorship and intimidation of the media have worsened during the last five years in areas served by RFA. Governments often jam AM transmissions and routinely hack into RFA’s websites and servers. Still, RFA broadcasts are reaching audiences through short-wave radio and the internet by using proxy servers.

Though Radio Free Asia has been funded by Congressional appropriations each year since it began broadcasting, it has never had the operating certainty of being permanently authorized by Congress. The legislation must be passed by the House before it is sent to the President for his consideration.