Archive | June, 2013

Syria Stories: Six Syrians share tales of survival with the world

In March of 2013, MBN launched the Syria Stories website at The mission was simple: instead of focusing on ballooning death tolls or curating graphic video, we would focus on six — only six — individuals. We sought out people living inside and around Syria willing to share deeply personal, first person stories with us. With parallels to other wartime diaries throughout history, the project was designed to share lyrical, poignant moments of despair and hope in Arabic from six civilians in the crossfire in real time.

Read more on BBG’s innovation blog.

Voices from the Field: Mohamed Moawad

Mohamed Moawad reports from dangerous territories in Libya.

“The past two years were overwhelmed by violent and non-violent social conflicts that are shaping the present and the future of several societies in North Africa and the Middle East. In the midst of turmoil, I have been working as a Radio Sawa reporter to make the voices and aspirations of those who were asking for change heard as well as the reactions of politicians and military leaders trying to sustain the status quo. My reporting assignments took me to Juba earlier in 2011 to document the split of the South Sudan from Sudan and to Libya at the height of armed conflict between the rebels and Qaddafi forces. During the decisive eighteen-day Egyptian Revolution in January and February of 2011, I camped out in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

I moved across the front lines among protesters and police in Cairo, and along the dangerous roads of Benghazi, Ras Lanuf and Misrata in Libya.  Through my reporting I was able to capture the dynamics of NATO air attacks, the fight between Qaddafi’s forces and the rebels and various manifestations of impending humanitarian devastation. I was one of only four foreign correspondents who managed to enter the city of Misrata, against all odds.  Our United Nations humanitarian boat fell under heavy bombing by Qaddafi’s forces.

I missed death twice. The first time by escaping from a car I was riding in seconds before it was hit by a rocket. The second brush with death was in May when Qaddafi’s forces targeted the IOM (International Organization for Migration) boat I was on trying to get back to Benghazi.

During the three weeks I spent in Misrata, I stood directly in front of the perpetrators of violence on both sides.  One of the most chilling moments from my time in Libya was hearing the last words of American photojournalist Chris Hondros, minutes before his death. They still ring in my ears. “I was expecting to die covering a war, not a revolution!” he said.  The pain he must have suffered still haunts my memory of him.

I will always look forward to covering frontlines despite the dangers inherent in such an assignment. “War is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary,” as war reporter Chris Hedges said. As journalists, we need to be where people need their story told.  We can’t stop wars or conflicts and we can’t save lives, but we can give a voice to the voiceless. We can be a witness to shine a light on the darkest corner of human nature.

I will keep telling stories of people hoping you would listen.  If I do not come back, I am sure some journalist on the frontline will bring you my story.”



Mohamed Moawad accepting an award at the New York Festivals


Mohamed Moawad has been a radio broadcaster for Radio Sawa since August 2011. He earned three awards for Radio Sawa at the 2012 New York Festivals for his coverage of the Egyptian Revolution and the events in Libya.  He interviewed local peoples in Tahrir Square who called for change and those on the front lines in Misrata fighting pro-Qaddafi troops.

Behind the Scenes: Aladin Telalagic and Kim Conger

Earlier this month, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) hosted Innovating at the Speed of News, a digital innovation expo highlighting the tools that the BBG uses to reach and engage audiences worldwide. One of the featured innovations was Pangea, a next-generation content management system (CMS), which is used across four of the BBG’s broadcasting networks and was developed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Aladin Telalagic and Kim Conger visit RFE/RL’s offices in Washington, D.C.

Aladin Telalagic: “My proudest moment while working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty came when I received an email from André Mendes stating that Pangea was selected to be the platform for shared content management among the BBG’s broadcasters.

I have personally been working on Pangea since 1998 when we published the first version; it is now in its sixth edition. One of the reasons why Pangea is so useful is that it’s tailored for journalists. We set up three teams that looked at the CMS of the other entities and analyzed them for their technological, usability and financial elements.  Technological considerations included the scalability and reliability of the CMS, usability looked at how the user would interact with an agency’s website and the financial team considered the costs of content management.  We wanted to make sure that everyone’s voice was heard and that all opinions were taken into consideration.  As a result, Pangea is efficient and user-friendly.”

Kim Conger:  “I have worked on the Pangea platform with Aladin since 2005. It has been very rewarding to be a part of a product that has such an impact on RFE/RL’s — and now the BBG’s — mission. The RFE/RL Digital team is a very talented group of people who enjoy what we do and work very well together. We’re like a family and are fiercely protective of that. Aladin and I work very hard to get the right people with the right talent and temperament to get the job done.”

Aladin: “In addition to enabling content sharing, Pangea also makes economic sense. In this atmosphere of sequestration, we saved BBG over $1 million.  The websites are also more responsive to users.

Pangea provides the backbone for around 200 of the BBG broadcasters’ websites, including those of Voice America, Radio and TV Martí, and Middle Eastern Broadcasting Networks.  It also hosts the Global News Dashboard, mobile platforms for each entity and Showcase.  The tech team regularly updates Showcase with new training materials and design planning tools. The various BBG agencies can use the site to train themselves to use Pangea and see what their agency’s site would look like on the Pangea platform with their own branding.

The BBG has also accepted our vision for the development of mobile software.  We have spent two years analyzing the Android and iOs markets for RFE/RL and the other agencies are cloning our code to use.

On a personal level, the selection of Pangea was also very gratifying. I joined the team in 1999 as a maintenance engineer, moved up to department programmer, and now I work as the Director.  My team is very dedicated and put a lot of time and energy into the project.

I also feel personally accountable for the security of the websites hosted by Pangea.  When the Russian Government attacked RFE/RL’s website, I worked more than 24 hours to block their interference. It’s our responsibility to protect the data on the servers.  The language services, clearly, are a target.”

Kim: “The BBG has faith that our team is up to the challenge. We are meeting that challenge and it’s gratifying.”


Aladin Telalagic, Director of Internet Technology, and Kim Conger, Deputy Director,  helped create Pangea, RFE/RL‘s best-in-class content management system. Pangea now serves four of the BBG’s broadcasters. By migrating content into a shared management system, BBG has improved coordination and interoperability among our broadcasters, reduced systems duplication, and expanded in-house capability.


Voices from the Field: Franak Viačorka

The Vaclav Havel Fellowship is a joint program between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that is inspired by the former president’s belief in the transformational role of journalism in challenging tyranny.  It provides direct work experience and mentoring at RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters to journalists from countries in RFE/RL’s broadcast region where media freedom is stifled. More information about the program can be found here.

Journalists shouldn’t afraid of government. Even if it seems to be impossible, we journalists must find the opportunity to show the truth as it is.

Franak Viačorka in Belarus

When I was sixteen, my radio program “Young Voices”  appeared on the web and on air twice a month on the Belarus Service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.  The program was about my generation of youth, its activities and its struggle for freedom. I already had some journalism experience; at the age of 13, I was making reportages for independent radio stations about youth protests in Belarus and had created an informational portal about the presidential electoral campaign in 2001. “Young Voices” built on this experience and really gained traction.  After it began broadcasting, I was interrogated by the KGB for the first time. I was a teenager, and the interrogation demonstrated the power of free information to me. Once RFE/RL wrote about my detention, I was instantly released.

After this, I understood that my mission is to inspire free speech and free thought in Belarus.

As a result of my work in journalism, I have been jailed four times and expelled from the state faculty of journalism for “professional inconsistency.”  One morning I left my house to buy bread, and I was detained by two men from the security service. They handcuffed me and took me to the army in spite of the law and my own medical health.  I spent eighteen months of service in the Chernobyl Zone. Those months were like prison for me because of the “special treatment” and “political re-education” I received. I was forced to clean toilets with bare hands. I celebrated New Year 2010 in the hospital with a scab and others soldiers.

Viačorka in prison in February 2011

This did not stop me, though, because I began to write a blog about the realities of the army.

With my blog, I was fighting for the rights of myself and the other soldiers.

I took photos of the toilets and the inhuman conditions of the cells and put them on the web via an “illegal” mobile phone.

Photos of the toilets that Viačorka was forced to clean by hand. He posted these photos to his blog in protest of the inhuman conditions.

The blog became popular, and RFE/RL republished it. In some ways, the blog was a success because the soldiers and I were granted time off in the city, the right to call home, more or less edible meat, and the toilets were partly reconstructed. I was also granted the right to serve using my native Belarusian language.  Finally, I proved that I was drafted illegally.

I also managed to participate in local elections during my time as a soldier. I was registered as a candidate to the local council of deputies.  RFE/RL and my blog made me well-known in the town as ‘the people’s journalist.’  Of course, the elections were falsified, and I did not win.  However, I did succeed in proving these falsifications occurred. I hid myself in the voting cabin and made a video with a smartphone. In the ballot box, there were 750 extra ballots with the opponent’s name.

Poles even shot a feature movie based on my story, and it was shown in a majority of cinemas in Poland. It was also shown at the Cannes Film Festival.  In Belarus this movie was forbidden.

RFE/RL was the first to write about it.  You can read their story here.   The trailer for the movie is also available to watch here.

I think in Belarus, independent journalism is too strongly connected with politics.  Journalists in Belarus are being persecuted by the Government, the same and even harsher than oppositional activists.


Franak Viačorka, the first Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow at RFE/RL, is a journalist, filmmaker and political activist from Minsk, Belarus. Franak has worked as a journalist and editor for several independent publications in Belarus, including as a freelancer for the BelaPAN news agency (2005-2008), as executive editor of the Belarusan Popular Front’s monthly journal “Naviny BNF” (2005-2008) and since 2011 as director of the “Citizen Journalist” initiative Viachorka also worked from 2008-2012 with the independent satellite TV channel Belsat. Since completing his Fellowship, he has continued to work with RFE/RL as the Belarus Service’s New Media Manager and as a presenter on the RFE/RL Belarus Service program “Zona Svobody.”

In 2006 Viačorka starred in the award-winning documentary, “A Lesson of Belarusian,” which chronicled his life as a pro-democracy youth activist in the run-up to the country’s 2006 presidential elections. He is also the co-screen writer and second director of a 2013 film, “Viva Belarus,” about his army service and the circumstances faced by young conscripts.


Voices from the Field: Irina Gotisan

The Vaclav Havel Fellowship is a joint program between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that is inspired by the former president’s belief in the transformational role of journalism in challenging tyranny. It provides direct work experience and mentoring at RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters to journalists from countries in RFE/RL’s broadcast region where media freedom is stifled. More information about the program can be found here.

Irina Gotisan, left, talks with other 2013 Vaclav Havel Fellow Tahmina Taghiyeva, center, and John Todoroki of the Prague Freedom Foundation, right.

“Before receiving the Vaclav Havel Fellowship at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, I was a reporter at the national TV channel from the Republic of Moldova, Moldova 1. A reform was in progress here when I joined the news room in May 2010 that was attempting to transform the outlet from a propaganda tool by the former ruling Party of Communists to a genuine modern news room, competing with private TV stations.

I was conscious about all of the difficulties at Moldova 1, but I wanted to be part of this reform and contribute.

As a reporter at Moldova 1, I mainly covered political topics, and I produced short informative reportages during electoral campaigns. It was difficult to try to regain the confidence of Moldova 1’s viewers. Sometimes it was difficult to obtain interviews. Sometimes when I tried to speak to people in the street, they would refuse to talk to me because of the microphone I was carrying, saying that I was representing ‘the Communist’s TV.’

The new management together with a new team of editors, presenters and reporters had to work hard to restore the public trust in the main news program, Mesager – The Messenger. The task was difficult enough because some colleagues who used to work at the station during the communist regime and embraced Communist ideology tried to resist the reform. Despite the resistance, the efforts of the new team to regain the confidence of our public and to present truthful journalism at the public national channel were appreciated by the EU, the OSCE, and the U.S. State Department, as well as local media NGOs.


Seda Stepanyan, center, joined Gotisan and Taghiyeva in the studios of the Washington, DC bureau of Bloomberg News on April 8, 2013. The three women won 2013 Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowships.

The Vaclav Havel Fellowship represents a good opportunity for me to know more about documentary films. Even though Radio Free Europe produces short video features and not documentaries, but I have the possibility to learn more about how to identify an interesting topic, how to shoot and how to edit the video. Also, a very interesting experience for me was the radio journalism, because I only knew how to do television reporting. Through this fellowship, I met a lot of interesting persons.  I visited new places in the world, and I enriched myself not only professionally, but also spiritually.

After this fellowship I plan to bring my contribution to developing the new advocacy and production department at the Independent Journalism Centre back home. I also want to improve my skills and knowledge in documentary production.       

I hope that, one day, the Moldovan mass media will be appreciated as a free one in the Freedom House reports. I am also optimistic that one day the journalists from my country will be more courageous and will do more investigative materials about corruption and social issues and, after that, the persons responsible for some wrong doings, especially politicians, will be punished.

I hope that journalists will not allow anybody to influence them and that our politicians will understand that mass media is a watchdog and not a puppy with which they can play games.


Irina Gotisan, a journalist specializing in visual media and documentary film, is fulfilling her fellowship in Prague with RFE/RL’s Moldova Service. From 2010-2012, Gotisan worked as a reporter covering political and social issues for TV Moldova 1, a national, public television channel. A recipient of the Chisinau Press Club’s “Hope of the Year” award in 2010, Gotisan has held several journalism internships, including one with AICI Network, a media program funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). In 2006, Gotisan joined the International Relations faculty at “Perspectiva International” University in Chisinau, where she taught courses on globalization and international relations. Gotisan is a 2012 graduate of the Television School in Bucharest, Romania and holds a Masters degree from the Academy of Public Administration in Chisinau.